Anxiety can be a pretty powerful thing, but the things you tell yourself when you're experiencing anxiety can be powerful as well. So it's important to understand
how to prevent negative self-talk so that you can stop anxiety in its tracks.
When anxiety gets bad, the voice inside your head can get a bit out of control. So in order to prevent things from spiraling, you can learn to identify some dangerous forms of self-talk. "Self-talk plays a critical role in anxiety," Laura Albers, certified master wellness coach by
The International Association of Wellness Professionals and licensed professional counselor, tells Bustle. "[...] Much of our negative self-talk is simply a habit we have learned, but fortunately, we have the ability to break this habit and respond differently." Luckily, you can train to replace a lot of these unhelpful phrases with more helpful self-talk.
It may seem intimidating, but once you pay attention it may be relatively simple to improve. "If you have anxiety, paying attention to the way you think and adjusting your self-talk makes all the difference in shaping your mood,”
Lily Rahimi, a California licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. Once you can master some of these skills, you may find it easier to counter your anxiety when it starts to become more difficult to manage.
Here are 11 things to avoid saying to yourself if you want to stop anxiety in its tracks, according to experts.
If you're thinking you can beat yourself up to get your anxiety to stop, you may want to take a moment to be more gentle with yourself.
Instead, you can flip this narrative on its head. "You may make a mistake, and say to yourself, 'everyone must think I am so stupid,'" Dr. Acacia Parks, chief scientist at
Happify Health, tells Bustle. " Using a mindfulness approach, you may reply to yourself, 'I'm feeling insecure' — acknowledging the feeling, letting it happen, not trying to change it." Rather than calling yourself names, you can focus on your emotions instead.
"I'll Never Feel Better"
Anxiety sometimes makes you feel like you can
predict the future. It's important not to fall for that particular cognitive distortion.
"[One] thing we all say to ourselves that perpetuates anxiety is an all-or-nothing statement such as 'I will never get better,' or, 'If I don’t get this job I’ll always be unhappy,'" psychologist
Maria Shifrin, PhD, tells Bustle. If you really want to get ahead of your anxiety, reminding yourself that you can't actually predict the future may help.
"This Is The Worst Ever"
If you really want to keep your anxiety from getting worse, it's also important to stop any catastrophic narratives you can sense forming in your head.
"A catastrophizing statement [...] usually goes like: 'this is the worst ever and it’s all useless,'" Dr. Shifrin says. "When we only see the worst we set ourselves up for disappointment and worry." Instead, acknowledging your feelings, and saying something like "I feel scared right now," can allow you to acknowledge the severity of your anxiety without accidentally making it worse.
"I Should Be Feeling Better"
When trying to stop anxiety from spiraling, you may jump to "I should" statements. Unfortunately, these likely won't help.
"I always try to highlight 'should-statements' with my clients to help them see the negative effects and come up with alternative self-statements, such as 'I want to,' or, 'I am looking forward to,'" Dr. Shifrin says. Reframing your thoughts this way can relieve some of the pressure of putting expectations on yourself.
If you notice yourself spiraling into all sorts of imagined scenarios, stopping your anxiety will get more and more difficult.
"If a sentence starts with 'what if...?' you probably want to avoid it,"
Jennifer Banta, a licensed psychologist with Ph.D. in clinical-community psychology, tells Bustle. "[...] The majority of things that you worry about will never happen, and then you've invested a lot of energy in a meaningless fantasy." If you can focus on the moment instead, and maybe even do something as simple as a breathing exercise, you may find some much-needed comfort.
"My Whole Plan Will Be Thrown Off By This"
Anxiety doesn't show up when it's convenient. Because of this, you may find yourself feeling like stopping your anxiety is so high-stakes that you don't really have control over things.
“When you have a hiccup or even a major detour from how you wanted things to go, it can be very anxiety provoking," Rahimi says. "When you notice thoughts like this where your anxiety is spiraling, [...] see if you can shift your self-talk into the parts that you can manage and build flexible expectations about how things do not always go as planned." Ask yourself instead, "will this matter to me a year from now?" The answer may help you get back in the moment to address your anxiety more directly.
Blaming yourself for your anxiety will not make your anxiety go away. You may naturally jump to bullying yourself, but you deserve to re-focus when this happens.
"Owning your part in things is important, but if you find yourself taking blame for everything that is going wrong, you may begin to feel overwhelmed or powerless," Rahimi says. "Explore what elements are in and outside of your control about the situation. Then, shift your self-talk from what has gone wrong or not as expected to what you plan to do about it." Writing down a plan, or even saying it out loud to yourself, may help you feel more in control.
If you've had bad moments of anxiety before, the fear of history repeating itself may prevent you from being able to stop your anxiety quickly.
"This type of all or nothing thinking keeps you locked into anxiety," Rahimi says. "When you predict things will go only one way, you do not open yourself up to new possibilities. How you handled something in the past does not dictate how you will handle it now." Reminding yourself to have an open attitude can help you divert from this path.
Miss. Maneerat junloban/Shutterstock
Stopping anxiety in its tracks doesn't have to mean completely surrendering to it. You deserve to remind yourself that you can, and will, get through even the toughest moments.
"Time can seem to stand still [when you have anxiety,]" Albers says. "However, it is important to remind yourself that this is only temporary discomfort. Remember, you’ve been through anxiety before and your panic attack will end no matter what you do." Although you may experience anxiety more than once, you can remind yourself that each time it happens is a new opportunity to react more kindly to your feelings.
You likely wouldn't want someone other than you to tell you to "just calm down" to try to stop your anxiety, so it's important not to speak this way to yourself.
"If it were that simple, and you could calm yourself down just by telling yourself what to do, you would have done it already," Albers says. "Instead, focus on an action that leads to greater calmness, such as deep breathing or
splashing some cool water on your face." It's important to remember to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.
"I Have To Do This Perfectly"
Nobody's perfect, and there's no perfect way to treat anxiety either. Even if you're looking to
self-treat your anxiety, it's important not to create a narrative that sets you up for failure.
"There are sometimes things that you can't control; therefore, this type of thinking will constantly have you on edge and make you worry about possible outcomes,"
Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown, tells Bustle. "Instead of thinking 'I must be perfect' it's better to tell yourself 'I'm going to try my best.'" This is another way to be both kind to yourself, and effective at managing your anxiety.
If you're looking to stop anxiety in it's tracks, it's important that you don't say things to yourself that others wouldn't. You deserve kindness, even from inside your own mind. So if you struggle with negative thoughts, identifying them can be a great first step to feeling more in charge of your anxiety.