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About Everything Wiki » Books » 3 strategies that will help change the internal dialogue and cope with anxiety

3 strategies that will help change the internal dialogue and cope with anxiety

13 Jun 2023, 00:01, parser
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The constant feeling of anxiety, winding yourself up and waiting for the bad is very exhausting. Clinical psychologist Jill Weber in her new book "Be Spock. Proven Anxiety Management Techniques" has collected simple and effective ways to cope with these feelings and find peace of mind. Lifehacker publishes an excerpt from Chapter 9.


Anxiety is rapidly gaining strength if a person's internal dialogue is filled with harsh and categorical judgments about good and evil, about right and wrong. What and how we say to ourselves affects our self-esteem, how we interact with other people, how much we believe in our strengths and abilities. Anxiety grows even more when our internal dialogue is overflowing with generalizations (never, always, everything, nothing, and so on). Which of these two statements is more depressing?

  1. "I don't live, I exist."
  2. "I'm lonely, I need to develop communication skills."

The latter is more encouraging, right? Although it has a negative emotional connotation, it also determines what real steps can be taken to avoid feeling lonely.

If you are struggling with increased anxiety, there is a high probability that your inner commentator is categorical and cruel. Perhaps the disturbing thoughts appeared under the influence of criticism that you received from others.

Imagine that you have a friend who, every time you plunge into anxiety, tells you that you did everything wrong, and recalls past situations when you made the same "mistake". This person is yourself, and this is how you treat yourself. Agree, it is much nicer and easier to communicate with people who help you feel better and more confident. Start treating yourself with the same warmth and love that friends and family members treat you with. Change the language and tone of your inner dialogue, add understanding and love to it. This will help you feel more comfortable and give you strength and confidence even when anxiety is approaching.

Strategy: determine the tone of the internal dialogue

As you have already understood, the way we talk to ourselves has a huge impact on our anxiety levels. But even knowing this, we allow ourselves to criticize ourselves again and again for any flaw or blunder. Think about the answers to the following questions.

After analyzing the answers, you will be able to change the tone of your internal dialogue to a softer and more supportive one.

  • In what tone do you most often talk to yourself? Is your inner voice loud and impatient or soft and supportive?
  • When you are upset, does your inner voice try to calm you down? Or is he just escalating the situation, criticizing you, making you feel even worse? For example, "You screwed up", "Nothing will work out for you", "No one loves you", "How does anyone communicate with you at all?!"
  • Does your inner voice overshadow moments of joy? When you are truly happy or relaxed, does he interfere with your thoughts, reminding you of what else needs to be done, completed, and so on?
  • Are there any hobbies, activities or people thanks to which your inner voice softens, becomes less harsh and critical? If yes, then this is exactly what you should do more often, and those with whom you should spend more time. If not, by trial and error, find those classes or those people with whom you will feel as comfortable as possible, which will allow you to soften your inner voice in a dialogue with yourself.

Cultivate your ability to calm and encourage yourself, to be sympathetic, forgiving, caring towards yourself. Empathy means that you treat all your shortcomings with understanding and warmth, including anxiety. Forgiving yourself, you rearrange your inner monologue to a softer one, especially in those moments when you are immersed in an anxious state.

Strategy: Elephant

Write a few suggestions on how you will develop a positive internal dialogue in yourself, while not thinking about the elephant. Write whatever you want, all your thoughts about it, but in no case do NOT think about the elephant. There should not be a single thought about an elephant in your mind. Every time you think of an elephant, put an "X" in your notebook.

Well, did it work out? Could you not think about the elephant? Most likely not, and here's why: forcing yourself not to think about something, you get the exact opposite result. This is partly why we get even more upset when a close friend or relative tries to comfort us with the phrase: "Just don't think about it" or: "It's okay, don't worry."

Daniel Wegner, a well-known social psychologist at Harvard University who has studied thought suppression, conducted the following experiment. He asked the participants to share their thoughts, any that come to their mind, but try not to think about the polar bear at this time. If a thought about a polar bear appeared in the participant's mind, he had to press a special bell. It turned out that this was not so easy: on average, the participants in the experiment thought about a polar bear about once a minute.

In order to suppress some thoughts, we literally force ourselves ‑ "stop thinking about it." Our brain keeps track of whether "that" thought has flashed, and if it finds it, it attracts internal control to suppress it. Instead of criticizing yourself for not being able to stop worrying, try to change the thoughts that provoke this anxiety.

Strategy: Replace negative thoughts

When you find a thought in your mind that spins endlessly and arises again and again, write it down and answer the following questions.

1. What gives rise to this thought? What are you doing / what happens in those moments when this thought appears?

For example: I was invited to go out of town with a company.

2. What do you think at this moment?

For example: "No one will talk to me", "I will feel like an outcast", "I will feel bored with me".

3. Determine what emotions these thoughts cause in you, and evaluate your condition on a scale from 1 ("I feel almost nothing") to 10 ("this emotion drives me crazy").

For example: "Vulnerability — 5, feeling of helplessness — 6, anxiety — 9."

4. Is there something that can refute the idea that you indicated in paragraph 2?

For example: "I was invited to go, so at least someone wants me to be there", "I will be able to start a small conversation with someone from the company", "We have mutual acquaintances, at least this already brings us closer".

5. Will you be able to replace the existing negative thought with a more positive or at least more realistic one?

For example: "Even if I'm not the most desirable traveling companion on this trip, I was still invited, I will be able to at least have a little chat with someone from the company, which means I'm not an outcast."

6. Go back to the emotions that you wrote out in paragraph 3. Now evaluate them again, but in the context of a changed, more positive thought. Note for yourself the shifts in scores, even if your score has shifted by only 1 or 2 points.

For example: "Vulnerability — 2, feeling of helplessness — 5, anxiety — 7".

The next time a negative thought appears in your mind under the influence of anxiety, say, "I see you, negative thought." Then consciously replace it with a more realistic one: "Well, at least I was invited."

The effectiveness of all the techniques from the book "Be Spock. Proven alarm management techniques" has been proven by scientific research and long-term practice of Dr. Weber. To make it easier for readers to find useful information for themselves, the author has identified three thematic blocks. The first one — "Feelings" — will help to cope with the symptoms of anxiety that manifest themselves in emotions or bodily sensations, such as irritability, dizziness, frequent mood swings. The second section will tell you what to do if anxiety affects your behavior. Let's say it makes you miss an important event or avoid socializing with friends. And the third part is aimed at getting rid of negative or irrational thinking caused by anxiety.

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