When I’m facing bouts of depression and anxiety, sometimes it’s hard to see things outside myself. And if I’m spiraling, it becomes almost impossible. If all you’re trying to do is hold on and survive the next minute, hour or day, it’s easy to forget that you aren’t the only one going through this. But as statistics show, you are not even close to being the only one. But I’m different, I would tell myself. No one is suffering in the same way I am. And I know why I thought that so much when I first faced depression. Even now, years later, there are still moments where that’s in the back of my head when I’m in a tough spot. I never viewed myself as a person just like everyone else, so the way I spoke to myself was extremely terrible (it’s still not great now, but it used to be much worse).
Yesterday I missed an appointment with my psychiatrist. I got stuck in a meeting at work and by the time I reached the doctor’s office, I was too late. It’s easy (and obvious) to see why something like that would cause me stress. Heck, it would cause anyone stress. But while I was waiting to reschedule my appointment (to today, thankfully not too long!), I got rid of the stress. Or rather, the stress got rid of me.
It’s safe to say that life is pretty stressful. Every day brings its own challenges and decisions to make, and every single one of them can affect how the rest of your day goes. It’s enough to make anyone a little overwhelmed on a day-to-day basis. But what if those decisions weren’t such a big deal? What if everything wasn’t some huge decision. What if a choice was just a choice?
I’m sure a lot of you already know where I’m going with this – long story short, s*&% happens – but you might not know why, and why it’s so much easier said than done. I have a difficult time accepting when things don’t go according to plan. It’s not because I’m a perfectionist, though; rather, it has to do with how I view myself.
As I’ve said before, I don’t like myself very much. And so when I mess up, I assume people don’t like me because of it. Why? Because I don’t like me because of it, so I assume people must not like me either.
But that’s ridiculous, right? In my experience, few people get that upset when mistakes are made every once in a while. It gets more frustrating when it happens on a more common basis but for the most part, people forgive an innocent mistake. But I don’t see it as a mistake – I see it as a character flaw in myself.
Now we could talk all day long about why I view myself that way, but I think the more productive path would be to discuss the things I remembered that reminded me that it’s going to be okay:
- It’s going to be okay
- It’s not the end of the world
- Your life will go on
- These things happen
- It will work itself out
Now I hope in a future blog post I will be able to elaborate on these but for now, I’ll just say this: it’s one thing to say these things to yourself to make yourself feel better; it’s another thing to believe, really believe them.
I’m not saying I fully believe in any of those things in the long term. But I believed them today, and at that moment, and that was enough. That method of thinking got me through that moment and on to the next and got me to continue on with my day and my life. When you’re feeling stressed out I would take that phrase – s*&% happens – and add two more words to it. Stuff happens to everyone. We all go through it, and that’s one of the common experiences we have as humans. So maybe you made a mistake today. Maybe something went wrong. Do you need any more proof of your humanity than that?
Self–talk is a buzzword for me – I feel like I use that phrase once or twice a week when discussing my mental health. What do I mean when I say ‘self-talk’? On one hand it’s exactly what it means – talking to yourself. But it can be much more complicated or involved than that. It’s not just the words you say out loud, but the thoughts you consciously – sometimes unconsciously – have. Whether they’re about you or someone else, it’s safe to say that all of us engage in self-talk in one form or another.
As the title indicates, I wouldn’t be bringing this up on a mental health blog if I had a problem with my self-talk being too positive. No, when someone asks me what’s wrong my answer usually is…
I don’t know when it started, but my thoughts about myself have never been all that great. Call it low self-esteem or an unwillingness to care, but I have a tendency to deflect compliments and downplay achievements. Since I’m not your therapist (or my therapist) I’m not going to explore why this happens, but I will tell you some things you might not know about negative self-talk – and how to be aware of it.
Another Buzzword – Cognitive Distortions
‘Cognitive Distortions’ are thoughts that our mind tries to convince us are true. There are tons of them and they can happen in plenty of different situations. While there are tons of ways they can manifest themselves, they all have a few things in common:
- they’re not true
- they’re often illogical
- they can cause psychological damage if left unchecked
There’s plenty of resources available on cognitive distortions if you Google it, but this post from Psychology Today could be a good place to start. Cognitive distortions are basically the various ways our negative self-talk can occur.
It’s More Common Than You Think
Great, so now you’ve read about cognitive distortions and realize you engage in negative self-talk more often than you think. Bravo! But are you aware of how much you really do it? I know I wasn’t. One time to find out, I decided to write down every negative thought I had about myself during a day. Multiple pages later, I realized I had a problem on my hands.
Again, I’m not a therapist so I will not pretend to counsel anyone, but I know there are plenty of things you can do to rewire your thoughts and try to think more positively about yourself. Some things that have worked for me in the past have been
- changing my tone
- not taking every thought so seriously
- don’t suppress these thoughts – acknowledge them and move on
Like any change in behavior, it’s easier said than done. But don’t think that being aware of the issue will solve it.
There Will Be More
There’s a lot more I can – and will – say about negative self-talk, but I think being aware of it is a good first step. Next week I’ll talk more about cognitive distortions and the role they play in negative self-talk.
How did you become aware of negative self-talk and cognitive distortions? I’d love to hear from you!