You overcook the holiday cookies and think, “I’m just not good at baking,” you begin an exercise routine, miss a day, and think, “I never stick to anything,” or you wake up in pain and tell yourself “things will never get better.” We have all done it! It would be hard to find someone who has never engaged in negative self-talk at some time in their life. Even Eckhart Tolle had to start somewhere… So how can challenging negative self-talk improve chronic pain? Let's find out!
What is Negative Self-Talk?
Negative self-talk comes in many forms. It may sound like we are stating a fact, “the cookies burned, I’m not good at baking,” a reasonable warning, like that of a parent, “if I try that yoga position, I will fall,” or it can be darker and more extreme, such as “I’m such a failure” or “pain is ruining my life.” Essentially, negative self-talk is anything we say to ourselves, out loud or within, that hinders our growth and ability, sets negative expectations for the future, or detracts from our self-worth and self-esteem.
The Consequences of Negative Self-Talk
The occasional self-deprecating thought doesn’t pose an issue in itself. However, just as gratitude attracts more to be grateful for, pessimism breeds more negativity. The more negative thoughts we have about ourselves, the more likely we will think negatively about ourselves! The vicious cycle as our own worst enemy can seriously impact our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing.
When we keep beating ourselves up and view the future with pessimism, we may start to believe we are helpless. Feeling helpless to change who we are and our circumstances can understandably lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. As any pain warrior knows, when our mood is low, our pain may be higher, negatively impacting the time we spend doing what we love or spend with who we love. This contributes to negative self-talk, and when we aren't challenging negative self-talk, it lowers our mood, exasperating our pain.
The Benefits of Positive Self-Talk
It has been proven the more neutral or even optimistic we can be regarding our experience as pain warriors, the healthier our social, emotional, cognitive, and physical wellbeing can be. Take this example:
Thought: This pain is ruining my life
Behavior: Isolation and withdrawal from family and friends
Emotions: Sad, lonely, defeated
Physical Experience: Fatigue, loss of apatite, stiffness from inactivity
Let’s imagine a more positive illustration.
Thought: I am bigger than this pain!
Behavior: engaging with life, seeking support, self-care
Emotions: hopeful, grateful, peaceful
Physical experience: Refreshed, relaxed, comforted
Studies have shown, when we have positive expectations about our pain, we have a less painful experience. Simply put, when we believe things will go well, they are more likely to!
For instance, if we think we will get through our pain flare, we are less likely to be anxious, depressed, and frustrated and more likely to seek support, practice good self-care, and stay on the lookout for brighter days. Please read our recent blog for more about how positive mindsets can be an effective pain management tool.
Challenging Negative Self-Talk
Hopefully, it is becoming clear, the more we can silence the “critic” in our head and tune into our inner cheerleader, the happier, healthier, and hopeful we will be!
Remember, many of us have had a lifetime of negative self-talk, so much so that we may even struggle to recognize it at first. When we approach challenging negative self-talk as a process, it can protect us from falling into the trap of negative self-talk about our self-talk!
Be patient with yourself and begin by simply observing your thoughts, learning to identify negative self-talk in all its forms. By becoming more aware of those pessimistic thoughts, you may find that they will start to naturally diminish, as will the power they had.
Here are more helpful tools and tips to help you silence negative self-talk and celebrate yourself and your life instead!
In with The Good, Out with The Bad
When you find yourself caught in a spiral of rumination, drown it out by transforming the negative self-talk into positive affirmations. For instance, replace “I can’t take this pain anymore” with “I am learning so much about my strength.” Visit our blog for more encouraging affirmations for chronic pain.
Feelings are not facts, and thoughts are not always reality. Check-in regularly with mindful minutes when you take an objective look at your circumstances. You may even find a few things to be grateful for.
Don’t shy away from asking your inner Debbie Downer questions such as, am I exaggerating, generalizing, or catastrophizing? Be on the lookout for words like never, always, no one, and everyone.
There is no Crystal Ball
Negative self-talk is often based on a future you can’t predict, for example, “this pain will ruin my life!” When thoughts like these arise, focus on what you know to be true right now, don’t forget to “reality check” while you are doing so! Ultimately, the best predictor of the future is what we do in the present; think positive!
Remember that many of us have had a lifetime of negative self-talk. Approach challenging your negative self-talk as a process to protect you from falling into the trap of negative self-talk about yourself!
Don't forget to be patient with yourself. The more you try, the easier it becomes, and you can live happier, healthier, and more hopeful than ever before!
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