Talk to Yourself
We can find strength within ourselves to take good care of ourselves and reach our personal goals even when we have worry thoughts or eating disordered thoughts. We know from the psychology of performance enhancement and the treatment of anxiety disorders and eating disorders that positive self-talk helps improves behaviors and possibly mood. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are distinct entities but can affect each other.
Imagine a competitive diver finding herself at the end of the diving board during a competition. If, in her head, she says to herself, “I am going to do a belly flop.” She likely will perform poorly. However, if she says to herself something like, “I have the strength and skill, this dive will be terrific!” She has a better chance of winning the competition.
People with anxiety disorders can be greatly helped by talking to themselves in order to take some behavioral risks and overcome their worries. Anxiety is a combination of thoughts and feelings, for example the teenage boy with social anxiety whose worry increases every time he considers attending a friend’s birthday party. However, he likely could accomplish his goal of going to the party (and may even have fun), if he could talk to himself in a positive manner. He may say to himself, “I know my stomach is doing somersaults, but I can attend this party.” If he could keep telling himself this message, he likely will be able to go the party, stay for the fun, and not throw up from the worry. This is a much more enjoyable choice than staying home and not seeing his friends. Talking to himself can help him change his behavior and tolerate his anxiety.
Similarly, eating disorder thinking can be effectively confronted by positive self-talk. Many who struggle with eating disorders are battling judgmental thoughts in their heads regarding food intake and exercise regimens. Healthy self-talk, also referred to as positive affirmations, can go a long way in battling restrictive and compulsive behaviors that characterize these illnesses. Positive affirmations such as, “I deserve to fuel my body multiple times daily” and “I cannot be as thin as I want to be if I want to be healthy” can encourage people who are struggling with restrictive eating to feed themselves the nutrition that their bodies need.
Here are three key points to remember as you try this skill to help you overcome worry or eating disordered thoughts:
Use the positive self-talk while you are worried/anxious. The self-talk will help you try the behavior that you want to accomplish. It won’t make the worry go away.
Worry thoughts will eventually get more tolerable or go away. Multiple experiences of using the positive self-talk during times of worry to accomplish the desired behavior is what will help decrease the worry (with eating disorders, improved nutrition also is important).
Positive self-talk can be used for multiple situations such as: performance enhancement, performance anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive/compulsive behavioral issues, eating disorder behaviors, and more.