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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Negative Self-Talk: A Culprit of Anxiety and Depression

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Mar 18th 2011

negative self talkWe’ve all seen those images of a person standing there in reflection with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. The fact is, it’s not too far off from the truth of how things really work. Every day we walk around and there are voices in our heads telling us what to do, how to do it, what’s wrong with us or how we could do better. More often than not, the voices are telling us negative things about ourselves, when we’re anxious or depressed they tell how the future looks bleak, how no one can help us and we can’t help ourselves. How do we get a hold of negative self-talk to live a better life?

In A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbookwe suggest this practice:

Notice if there’s any negative self-talk in your mind at this moment. You may hear thoughts like “This isn’t going to work for me” or “Who am I kidding? Things will never change.” If so, ask yourself if there’s another way you can view the situation. What happens if you do as the sage in the story and say, “Maybe so, maybe not.” Over the next week, take this practice with you into your daily life, looking out for automatic negative interpretations and other mind traps.

If you’re interested in the maybe so, maybe not story, you can get it here.

The point here is to recognize these automatic negative thoughts (ANTS) in the same way we might see that angel and devil in the picture.

They’re just these external objects telling us what to do. When we peel the lens back we begin to see that we are not our thoughts and in fact, they can’t possibly even be true. How would we ever truly know that things aren’t going to better?

If we reach back into our histories and take an accurate depiction of life, we will see that there is ebb and flow to everything, what goes down must go back up and eventually there will likely be a dip again.

The question isn’t how can we eradicate these down cycles; the question is how can we notice them coming sooner and choose not to entertain the ANTS so they don’t sink us deeper. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) which is largely based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a wonderful program guiding us through exercises and practices to help us nip the cycle in the bud when it occurs and become more present to our lives.

We have to think, how much of life do we miss out on when our mind is swimming with these ANTS? Is it possible that we miss out on the pleasant events that could be a source of resiliency? The answer: Yes.

Go ahead and practice today, be on the lookout for the automatic negative thoughts (ANTS), see if you can ask yourself if there is a different way to see this situation. See if you can ask yourself if there is a different way you can treat yourself in this moment. If you are in pain, what do you most need right now? How can you love yourself in this moment?

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 


Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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