Negative self talk is an all-too-common experience that can greatly impact our emotional well-being and overall quality of life. It is the internal dialogue we have with ourselves that is self-critical, judgmental, and pessimistic. While it may seem harmless, negative self-talk can have significant and lasting effects on our mental health, including increased stress, anxiety, and depression.
Research has found that negative self-talk is associated with a range of negative outcomes, including decreased self-esteem, heightened anxiety, and even physical health problems such as headaches and insomnia (McKay & Fanning, 2016). One study found that individuals who engaged in negative self-talk had increased activation in the amygdala, a part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety. Another study found that negative self-talk was associated with decreased overall life satisfaction (Barnes et al., 2012).
How to improve your thinking
Negative self-talk can become a habit that is difficult to break, but there are several strategies that individuals can use to reduce its impact on their daily lives. One approach is to challenge negative thoughts by questioning their accuracy and exploring alternative perspectives. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m never going to be able to do this,” try reframing the thought as, “This is a challenge, but I’ve overcome difficult situations in the past.”
Another strategy is to practice self-compassion, which involves treating oneself with the same kindness, concern, and support that one would offer to a close friend. This can involve acknowledging and accepting one’s own imperfections and mistakes, and offering oneself words of encouragement and support in difficult times (Neff & Germer, 2013).
It can also be helpful to identify triggers for negative self-talk and develop strategies to avoid or manage them. For example, if a certain social media platform consistently triggers negative self-talk, consider taking a break from it or limiting the amount of time spent on it. If a particular person consistently makes negative comments that trigger self-criticism, consider setting boundaries or limiting contact with that person.
In addition to these strategies, practicing mindfulness and gratitude can also be effective in reducing negative self-talk. Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment, while gratitude involves intentionally focusing on things that one is thankful for. Both practices can help individuals cultivate a more positive and balanced perspective, which can help counteract negative self-talk.
…negative self-talk can have significant negative effects on our mental and physical health, but there are several evidence-based strategies that can be used to reduce its impact. By challenging negative thoughts, practicing self-compassion, identifying triggers, and cultivating mindfulness and gratitude, individuals can take steps to improve their emotional well-being and quality of life. Remember, changing self-talk habits can take time and effort, so be patient and persistent in your efforts to cultivate a more positive and supportive inner dialogue.
Barnes, L. L., Harp, D., & Jung, W. S. (2012). Reliability generalization of scores on the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 72(2), 476-483. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013164402062004005
McKay, M., & Fanning, P. (2016). Self-Esteem: A proven program of cognitive techniques for assessing, improving, and maintaining your self-esteem. New Harbinger Publications.
Neff, K. D., & Germer, C. K. (2013). A pilot study and randomized controlled trial of the mindful self-compassion program. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(1), 28-44.