Hello everybody, welcome to episode 132 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino. We’ve got a question today that may be the most anxiety-heavy question we’ve received so far. It’s no secret that anxiety is on the rise and negative self-talk is a source of discomfort for many, so today should provide a great opportunity to talk about how it can be chipped away at and how we can collectively heal the relationship with anxiety. Here’s the listener’s question…
QUESTION: “I grew up with a mom that was too critical and even physical. My stepfather was always grumpy when he came home from work and liked to take his grumpiness and irritation out on me during dinner time or other times as well.
I could go on, but my main issue to this day is anxieties. I've had therapy and have come to realize that self-talk is very important and will help a lot if I were to be more aware of them and change the words from being critical (mom's voice) to being more positive and accurate as to what is really going on.
I actually have a very, good life. Live in a beautiful home, have 2 beautiful kids, great husband, in good health, many things to be grateful for! If I can learn how to deal with my anxieties, my life will be even better.“
Believing in Positive Self-Talk
Ok, there you have it. Thank you so much for submitting this question. Seems like your time in therapy has done you well – I agree that there is immense value in changing the self-talk. Even negative talk in jest runs the risk of turning itself into reality, so self-talk is very important.
The only condition it has, in my eyes, is that it’s much more effective in the way of creating actual positive change if the self-talk is genuine. So positive self-talk is hugely important, but it’s definitely maximized when we actually believe what we’re saying.
The question then, becomes how can we actually believe in positive self-talk, rather than just forcing a contrived sense of positivity on ourselves?
Self-Talk During Different States of Mind
First of all, we all know how different self-talk can be when we find ourselves in the heat of the moment versus when we’re in a more relaxed state of mind. Odd how we tend to be much more level-headed when we’re reflecting, even if the self-talk is still negative.
Since we both believe in the power of self-talk, and it’s easiest to get to the truth of it when we’re not right in the mix of tough times, what do you say we spend some time breaking down that which you find yourself talking negatively about?
We’ll start at the core. Let’s reflect on anxiety itself, something you’ve clearly spoken negatively of.
The Positives About Anxiety
You’ve already given the downsides of anxiety a full examination. Let’s level the playing field and think about the good attributes of anxiety – which all of us seems to forego.
Take your time to ask yourself open-mindedly:
- Why is anxiety good?
- In what ways does it help me?
- Has it ever saved me from making what would’ve been a bad decision?
When I answer this question for myself, I’m able to see a lot of positives in anxiety, something I’ve definitely had my fair share of struggles with. I recognize it as a natural defense mechanism that we all have and always have had. I recognize it as a natural response we have readily available to protect ourselves, even if we can sometimes have a difficult time gauging what is and is not a threat. It’s definitely prevented me from doing some things that would have proven to be bad for my mental or physical health long-term.
And above all, I like remembering the results of a fascinating study I once read: which found that the vast majority of participants (admittedly I can’t remember the exact number, I recall it being somewhere around 70 or 80%) answered “7” when asked how happy they were with their lives on a scale of 1-10.
Like you, things were good enough, but they’d be even better if not for these one or two things they’d like to tweak.
Problems to Solve
My takeaway from that, and what I’m getting at and what I encourage you to reflect on, is if anxiety is a problem you have and then solve, what problem replaces it?
Most people have some sort of problem they want to solve; it comes with the territory of being natural problem solvers. We almost need them.
So if you figure out your anxiety, what problem will you find next?
For most of us, there’s always something. Better to acknowledge this and find contentment with shortcomings, as this acceptance is much more pleasant than constantly wishing for things to be just a little bit better.
Identify When You Experience Negative Self-Talk
Beyond anxiety itself, I also encourage you to sit back and identify specific scenarios in which you’re regularly drowning in negative self-talk.
Maybe it’s when you’re talking to your boss. Maybe it’s planning the family vacations and trying to accommodate everyone’s needs. Maybe it’s doing spring clean up. Anything in which you always dread it and put it off as much as you can.
Go through the same process of examining times like this when you’re not knee deep in them and asking what benefits they do indeed offer, why you catastrophize them, and what value they actually have and therefore how you can adjust your reaction to them accordingly.
Do this from a place of meditation, when your mind is as clear of distraction and bias as it can be.
Editor's Note: Check out Greg's post on building patience for meditation.
Exploring Negative Self-Talk
As a matter of fact, if you really want to challenge yourself, I’ve got one place you can start with that I know you can’t help but to have negative self-talk about: your upbringing with your mom and stepfather.
Surely you identify this as a main source of the anxiety you suffer from today, so it will be a hearty contest to discover how this, too, has truthfully has been a more positive experience than you’ve at least given it credit for.
Let’s ask some questions about it:
- How did it make you more resilient?
- How did it make you a better family woman as an adult?
- Oh, how about this one: How were your parents suffering in ways that they weren’t handling well, and thus, how can you see past their aggression and instead hone in on their vulnerabilities to ultimately forgive them and understand that the bad behavior they projected onto you was really just a reflection of their inability to cope rather than a reflection of how valuable you were and are?
I suggest you sit with these difficult questions and try not to resist them. They’re important for you to genuinely change your self-talk, and if your mom and stepfather are still around, it might not be a bad idea to have discussions with them about this, too.
To sum up, the theme here is that you’re right about the value of self-talk, so don’t make the mistake many people who have made that same realization make, which is assuming that just saying the right words is the magic potion for recovery.
To me, doing that offers some pros and some cons, but a much more useful practice is to question your biases, find at least shreds of legitimate good in the parts of your life that you’ve vilified, truly train your mind to seek balance through positivity.
I appreciate this question coming in, so thank you to the woman who sent it. As you and other listeners probably know, anxiety is far too complex to just be solved by a snap of the fingers. But since we tend to have our guards up around it so easily, a good way to ease into recovery is to simply ask questions as we did today.
I hope that the template laid out today was really helpful for everyone. And if you’re still left with questions about anxiety or any other struggle, please email them to us at advice AT oldpodcast DOT com
Thank you for tuning in, thank you for making this show possible, and I’ll see you all in the next one. Bye everyone.