Self-Talk: The Most Important Coping Skill

When it comes to mental illness, especially anxiety and depression, people will give you all kinds of ideas for coping with it. Believe me, I have heard it all. “Have you tried essential oils?” “Have you tried going vegan?” “are you eating healthy?” “what about yoga?” and the list goes on and on…and on. Don’t get me wrong those are all great. Many of which I practice myself. When you’re in the middle of a full-fledged panic attack and you have people telling you to “just breathe”, “go for a walk”, “peel an orange” (yes that’s a real coping skill), “do something artistic”, “think positive” or my personal favorite, “just get over it”, it makes the experience even worse.

While these things can be helpful (except the just-get-over-it mentality) if you don’t have the ability to “talk yourself off the ledge” these skills and activities will be useless.

By far the most useful coping skill I continue to practice (keyword practice) is called self-talk. It is the ability to develop that internal monologue to fall back on when you’re in crisis mode. In my life, this has been incredibly useful for coping with my anxiety and depression.

I’m not talking about “thinking positive”. Life sucks sometimes. Mental illness sucks. It is a lifelong weight that will always be strapped to your back. Ignoring it doesn’t work. We live in this culture where its all about positive living, and positive vibes even when things are really sh**ty. Its ok to accept that not everything in life is “for a reason” or “a blessing in disguise”.

People constantly say to me that “positivity is a choice”. Man, I’m really happy for you that you’ve never experienced a mental illness but can you NOT with the “all positivity all the time” nonsense? It’s just not realistic that everything in life is butterflies and rainbows. When I used to hear that when I was younger, it created this feeling of resentment towards myself. “Whats wrong with me?”. It left me feeling incredibly invalidated, I had so much self-doubt and such low self-esteem. I would constantly think “you’re stupid, just get over it” “how can anyone love you when you can’t even go outside your house” “I bet that person thinks I’m ugly, stupid and worthless”. Standing in line at the grocery store was my personal hell. Every interaction I had with any person I would over-think until I would get to my breaking point.

Allow yourself to feel the way you feel and develop that inner monologue to move you out of that place. With practice and patience, I believe this will help you as its helped me.

It’s exhausting to explain yourself to people around you who don’t experience what you do. You’ll have to accept that they will never know exactly what you experience. Having the ability to talk to yourself, will allow you to communicate better with others as well. Accept they won’t understand and tell them how they can help you when you’re in crisis mode.

Something I have also experienced is when I explain what I’m feeling to a loved one they try to “fix” the problem. Again, it’s not something that can be “fixed”. It’s ok to accept that something just really sucks. It’s validating to hear from others “that really sucks, I’m here for you”. That’s it. Just tell me it sucks and hug me because when I’m feeling isolated and stupid I don’t want to hear how to “fix it”. If you’re a loved one of a person who suffers from these things, know that you can’t solve their problems. Just be there. That’s hard enough in and of itself.

I have had crippling social anxiety my entire life. For years I would tell myself “to just get over it”, other people would tell me that as well. This resulted in having severe anxiety and panic attacks. I would pass out in the shower, I would break down and cry in the school bathroom. I would cut myself just so I had something to focus on other than what I was feeling. For years I managed this by engaging in self-harm and smoking cigarettes. It gave me that excuse to take a break and to go outside away from people.

Coping skills are about RECOGNISING the problem, not ignoring it. The reason why all those activities won’t necessarily work without self-talk is that if you’re using an activity to ignore the problem, it’s not going to get better. Furthermore, if you don’t have the ability to talk to yourself, you won’t be able to get yourself to perform those activities.

When I am having an anxiety attack, or I feel myself sinking lower and lower into my depression, I have a few phrases I say to myself. Even when I don’t believe it. When anxiety and depression consume your entire being in darkness, how do you find the light? The most common and most impactful phrase I tell myself is “it’s only temporary”. Life in and of itself is temporary. Everything passes with time. It helps me to know that I will not always feel the way I’m feeling right at this moment. I also tell myself “You exist, what you’re feeling is real, and take your time” This may seem odd but due to my social anxiety I always feel like I’m burdening the people around me. It’s ok to allow yourself to take up space in this world. It’s ok to take your time and feel the way you feel.

I base these statements (and self-talk in general) as a form of fake-it-till-you-make-it.  This is WAY easier said than done. I can not tell you the number of times I have held a razor in my hand, every cell in my body buzzing with the intent to hurt and/or kill myself. When I get like this, I literally want to rip the skin off my body because I’m so uncomfortable in it. I have developed the ability to fall back on my statement “its only temporary”. I repeat this over and over and over again sometimes just in my mind and sometimes out loud until I have calmed myself down enough to go outside and breathe. This alone has brought me back from the brink of engaging in self-harm.

My advice would be to find a phrase that you can repeat to yourself and live by. It may not be something you entirely believe at the moment. When your mind and body are in crisis mode, having this phrase to fall back on is going to be monumental. Your mind tells your body what to do. Once you’re able to talk yourself down, you can go out and do those activities or take a beat to relax and decompress. It all starts with your inner monologue. By having this to fall back on, I have really started to manage my anxiety attacks and depression in a better way.

Now I can tell you that being able to explain my symptoms to myself, helped me communicate that to my loved ones, and to a doctor. I started a medication last year that completely turned my life around. Again, medication helps manage mental illness, but it won’t completely solve the problem. Even still when I go to the grocery store I need to talk myself through it. When I’m going to a social gathering or having people over to my house, I still experience that anxiety. It’s not as bad, but I have skills to get through it now. I talk myself down, I spend a lot of time getting ready and cleaning my house. This helps me manage that social anxiety by having control over what I look like, how clean my house is and what I think to myself. It doesn’t work every single time, admittedly, but my quality of life has drastically improved just by being able to say “it’s only temporary”.

Thank you for taking this time to read this article. I hope this was helpful, I always welcome comments here! Let me know your strategies for coping. You aren’t alone and you’re going to be okay.

Love and Light-

Sunshine

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