If you have social anxiety, you might be familiar with negative thoughts. Consider all the thoughts in one’s head during a stressful time, for instance…
• I’m not good with people.
• They’re all laughing at me.
• I can’t think of anything to say.
Part of the problem is that your brain has developed a negative script response to stressful situations. Over time you have learned to fear social situations and to expect them to go badly. But the good news is you can change the script. All those negative messages can be un-learned and rewritten so that you have positive, supportive thoughts instead. That is the basis for cognitive behavior therapy, and it’s remarkably effective in enabling you to free yourself from anxiety.
1. Identify the negative thoughts
Sit down with a pen and paper and write down all the thoughts that pop into your head in stressful social situations. Everything from “I’m not wearing the right clothes” to “everyone knows I’m stupid,” whatever your message is, make a list. Now take a look at them. Even if the thoughts feel real, you can guarantee that they are not grounded in reality.
2. Replace them with positive affirmations
Take a look at your list. For every negative thought, think of a positive one. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think it’s true. Make them aspirational but achievable. Instead of “I never know what to say,” you might write “I am thoughtful and articulate” or “I am calm and confident.” Keep your positive messages short, clear and believable, so as not to trigger that negative self-talk.
3. Be kind to yourself
Get rid of that Inner Critic and its bunch of ‘shoulds.’ Replace it with whatever generous support is meaningful for you, whether it’s Jiminy Cricket, a Good Wolf or a Good Angel. Keep kind, supportive messages running through your mind, don’t leave room for the negative self-talk to get a word in edge-wise.
If you find your self-talk is tending to scold or say “you must,” turn it around and be encouraging. Be your coach and cheerleader and talk yourself through stressful situations. Remind yourself to breathe and be calm. You can do this!
4. Leave reminders
Physical affirmations can remind you to check your self-talk. Many people find placing positive affirmations on post-it notes or cards on the fridge, desk or bathroom mirror helpful.
There are also apps that will send positive affirmations to your smartphone or tablet throughout the day.
Use whatever tools you need to keep rewriting that self-talk and turn those negative messages into positive self-talk!
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