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"Mind over mood"

Negative self-talk feeds negative emotions

"I can't do that!"

"I'm not good enough."

"I'm fat and ugly."

This is the kind of negative self-talk that feeds low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. You can break this habit by practicing more constructive and helpful ways of thinking.

"To some extent, everybody has self-concept issues," says Deborah Warner, Lead Faculty at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, Los Angeles. "But negative thinking can begin to rule your behavior. By changing these automatic thoughts, you can change your life. It's a matter of mind over mood."

Most negative self-talk is false, irrational and self-defeating. We develop the habit to protect ourselves. We use it to keep from trying things that may be scary or uncomfortable. "I can't do this" may really be a way of saying: "I don't want to face the risk of failing at this."

In order to counter these thoughts and feel better, we first need to "catch ourselves in the act" of negative self talk. Ask: "What am I saying that is making me feel badly? Do I really want to do this to myself?"

Examine your self talk. Test the validity of your perceptions by asking yourself questions, such as these:

  • What evidence backs up this thought?

  • Are there any other ways that I could look at this situation?

  • What is the worst thing that could happen?

  • What is most likely to happen?

  • Is thinking this way helping me to feel good or to achieve my goals?

Negative self-talk:

Are you experiencing any of these destructive kinds of thinking?

  • "Catastrophizing:" Learn to recognize that some bad things aren't disasters, but inconveniences or mistakes.

  • Thinking in "shoulds:" Replace the words should, ought or must with the word could.

  • Black or white thinking: Avoid thinking only in extremes, seeing your efforts as total failures or expecting the worst.

Positive Self-Talk:

When you find yourself thinking this way, think of a positive and encouraging statement that counteracts the negative self-talk. For example, change:

  • What if I don't pass the exam? into How can I prepare for the exam?

  • I'll never get this done. to I've been on tight deadlines before and I usually manage to get the job done.

  • I can't do this. to This is an opportunity to learn something new.

  • I don't have the energy to exercise. to I can start slowly by going for a short walk.

  • Write your observations in a notebook and refer to it when you find yourself experiencing negative thinking.

  • Positive self-talk can motivate you, build self confidence, and keep you focused on accomplishing goals. Learn to turn your negative self-talk into positive self-talk and watch your mood improve.

What’s me and what’s my illness?

Understanding yourself when you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder

You’ve always thought of yourself as creative, productive and sociable. Now that you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you wonder how many of the qualities that made up “you” are symptoms of your disorder.

Where do you stop and the disorder begin?

“Were my periods of high energy, creativity and accomplishment nothing more than signs of an illness?” you might ask yourself, says David J. Miklowitz, PhD in The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide. “How much mood variability am I ‘allowed’ before people think I’m getting sick again?”

It feels now that it’s all about your illness. You may wonder when you’re happy if it’s a sign you’re becoming manic or if when you’re sad it means you’re depressed. But your feelings might be the same as those other people experience.

It’s important to separate your personality, habits and attitudes from your symptoms, says Miklowitz. Being especially energetic for several days may not be a symptom, but not being able to sleep for several nights may be.

Compare your personality traits to the symptoms you have when you’re manic or depressed. It may help to ask those close to you what they observe, he says.

Here are some examples from The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide:

  • Your personality traits

  • Conscientious
  • Dependable
  • Optimistic
  • Sociable
  • Ambitious
  • Intellectual
  • Affectionate
  • Talkative
  • Rebellious
  • Your manic or depressive symptoms

  • Grandiose
  • Depressed
  • Racing thoughts
  • Full of energy
  • Highly distractible
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Irritable
  • Wired
  • Unusually passive

Man with bipolar disorder looking thoughtful“Having bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you have to give up your identity, hopes and aspirations, says Miklowitz. “Try to maintain a healthy sense of who you are and think about how your personality strengths can be drawn on in dealing with the illness.”

Many people with bipolar disorder, productive people with successful relationships, accept their need to take medications and have developed strategies for managing life’s stresses, he says.

The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide by David J. Miklowitz (2002.) Guilford Press.

Positive Self-Talk Negative self-talk