With a little preparation and forethought, you can develop an effective personal toolbox for dealing with bouts of intense negative self-talk and the ensuing depression or anxiety. So get out your pen and paper–You’re about to create a strategy for when the Critic kicks into high gear.
1. Tell on it.
That evil voice inside your head thrives on secrecy. Everyone will think you’re crazy if you tell them you are obsessed with whether or not anyone loves you! First of all, you’re not telling everyone. You’re telling one or two cool people who know what you’re doing and why, and who are willing to admit that their mind occasionally tries to kill them, too. These same people will assure you that you’re not crazy, that they do love you, and will then invite you for an ice cream cone. Your task when you’re feeling fine? Identify who those trusted souls are, and write them down on your strategy list.
2. Go out for ice cream.
I know this is thoroughly uncool. But this is life and death. It’s imperative you go for ice cream. And when you do, skip the virtuous choices. The point is to have pleasure. If what you really want is vanilla, fine, but if caramel topping and hot fudge sauce would make it a pleasure bath, go for it. Gone sugar free? Have diabetes? On a diet? Allergic to dairy? Here are some ice cream alternatives: Cold watermelon. A frozen banana, whipped, with some cocoa powder, coconut milk, or yogurt. A cold, tall nonalcoholic drink (alcohol will only make you morose) with ice cubes and an umbrella. For more yummy ice cream alternatives, check these out. Preparation: scout out the ice cream places near you. Or, lay in a supply of necessary ingredients and cordon them off so the rest of the household can’t get their hands on them. If necessary, disguise them as cod liver oil or lima beans.
3. Listen to music.
Your choice: Loud and danceable or soft and meditative. Both have their place. Although it has been proven that language and music both share common brain areas, listening to music is one of the foremost tools for dealing with depression and upset. A right brain function, listening to music activates your vision centers and engage your imagination in a way that listening to the Voice of the Purse-lipped Critic doesn’t. And don’t forget the guilty pleasure music. You know, the stuff everyone else in the house hates, but you secretly enjoy? So, what is it? Country? Christian rock? Perry Como? Kumbaya? Metallica? Your preparation for this strategy is to listen to both the music you know you already love and to explore some new listening material and assemble a playlist or two to pull out when your Inner Party-Pooper picks up the megaphone.
4. Say a phrase to stop thoughts in their tracks.
There are many theories on this, including that using a phrase is the wrong approach. I am a verbal person, and I find that using my verbal skills on my own behalf helps rally the healthy parts of me to come to the aid of the parts that are having a hard time. The first phrase I learned to use was simply, “Stop!” I recently read, “No more of that!” It also helps me to see negative thoughts as intrusions, and to treat them as such, setting a firm boundary that they are not welcome. Sometimes I say a prayer. I tend to revert to Christian prayers I never in a million years learned as a Catholic kid growing up in New Jersey, but “Get behind me, Satan!” just pops out of my mouth when I’m feeling attacked. For another approach, Access Consciousness says, “That’s an interesting point of view.” They also have a clearing statement that seems designed to boggle the mind. Most importantly, don’t argue with the voice. Treat it like you would someone who has no social skills. Here in Maine, we politely ignore socially awkward behavior. It’s kind, non-confrontational, and allows the gaff to float away without the added weight of a response. It helps if a socially deft person quickly steers the conversation away, giving everyone a chance to regroup. So, use your stop phrase, then move on to one of the other tools in your repertoire.
5. Laugh at it.
If there’s any way at all to laugh at the voice, do it. Repeat what it’s saying in a funny voice. Exaggerate it until it sounds absurd. Call your inner sh*thead by a funny, demeaning name. Mine is, as I’ve confessed previously, “Silly Poopy Banana Pants.” Sometimes when I say the thoughts out loud, they sound exactly like the soap operas my Mom used to watch when I was a kid and she was doing the housework. “Honestly, Colin! Don’t you see that Jessica just loves you for your fortune?” “When my father created this dynasty, he never intended for the likes of you to be at its helm!” “You are a miserable example of a human being. Get out of my way, or I’ll have you removed!” Think about the kind of person who would go around haranguing someone all day. How happy and powerful can they be, really? Are they getting any? Not likely. Your assignment: think up a name for your Crapthrower. When it kicks into high gear, wag a finger at it, while picking up the phone to call one of your trusted friends, and warn it: “Fair warning, Farts On Self, I am going for reinforcements!”
6. Wear aluminum foil on your head.
Just kidding. But, seriously, certain things serve a protective function from self-obsessed, critical, demeaning thoughts. Chief among them is humor. The kind of humor that plays on common human vulnerabilities, that lets you know you’re not in this alone. (It’s also fun to laugh at other people. See life and death, under Number 2). In your better moments, assemble of stable of materials that always crack you up. When under attack, unleash the humor monkeys. Anything goes, from laughing tracks to Mark Twain. I used to keep a copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by my bedside. John Stewart, Seinfeld, innumerable stand-ups, bloopers, all are available easily. For added protection, expose yourself to laughter on a regular basis.
7. Connect with someone in the real world–as their helper.
You’ve already told a trusted friend you are having a rough time. Now, go out and do something nice for someone else. If it’s a little inconvenient and awkward so much the better. Research has shown that when we go out of our way to help someone else, and that when we persevere in the face of challenges to accomplish something worthwhile, we will not only forget about our own problems, but will help us feel better about ourselves. The only way to prepare for this is to promise you will get up, get out and into public somewhere, and look for someone who needs a hand or a smile. I once saw a homeless person up ahead in stalled traffic and decided to give him the five bucks I had sitting on my dashboard, so that I could have the human contact. Done with the right intentions, an interaction like that can boost your self esteem dramatically. His “God bless you!” hit me in the heart, and as our fingers touched, I felt I’d done something to humanize both of us.
8. Don’t just sit there, do something.
Do not sit and think about shit. Instead, vacuum the house, mop the floors, sort through your sock drawer, take out the recycling, get rid of that pile of bills from last year that are under the coffee table. If cleaning and clearing triggers an inner guilt or shame-fest, then get involved in an absorbing activity: puzzles, coloring (yes, there are some great adult coloring books), crafts, photography, to name a few. Your activities don’t have to be complex, cost a lot, or take you out of the house (although that might help), but they do have to be failsafe. Think: taste, touch, sound, vision. For more suggestions, check out this list.
9. Put down the self improvement books.
Now is not a good time to remind yourself of the many ways you need to improve. It’s one thing to focus on your potential; it’s another to focus on your flaws. In this state of mind, it’s doubtful you’ll be anything but focused on what’s wrong with you. It’s better to read about someone else’s triumphs in the face of adversity, or another inspiring tale. Better yet, start your own book, highlighting the many ways you have succeeded in spite of the obstacles. While the jury is out over whether or not self-help actually helps, the results are conclusive that stories help activate our imaginations and get us thinking in new ways. If you haven’t already done so, pay a visit to your local library. It’s a great way to take care of yourself, get out of the house, and give your brain something positive to do. In your happier moments, try asking others what inspire them and what reading they are currently absorbed in.
How about you? What are your favorite strategies for dealing with negative self-talk? Let us know in the comments below.
As always, thanks for visiting.
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