Anxiety is closely related to negative self-talk. The thoughts we have can trigger a response in our body and in our emotional state. If we have negative thoughts, then we will likely experience accompanied unwanted feelings and physical sensations.

For example: if we think of something stressful we have coming up (perhaps a final exam), then we are likely to have a physiological (body) reaction, such as increased heart rate, sweaty palms, etc, as well as a negative emotional response. The negative emotional response could be fear, anger, or anxiousness, to name a few.

The tricky part is: usually we are not aware of the thought that precipitated the physical and emotional response. When we start to use our awareness to link them all together, we realize that our thoughts really do create our reality.

Here are some things you need to know about negative self-talk:

1. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. Thoughts are just thoughts. The only power they have is the power you give them.Unfortunately, most of the time we are not filtering our thoughts with this level of intention. Instead, we are simply accepting them as truth (with a capital T). We believe all the mean, nasty, cruel, and unhelpful things that we say to ourselves.With practice, you can learn to develop awareness of your thoughts. Then, you get to choose which ones to believe and which ones to let go. I recommend only holding onto thoughts that serve you.

2. Negative self-talk causes avoidance, and avoidance causes suffering. If you talk yourself out of doing things because of fear or worry, you only reinforce your anxiety. You also put off being proactive about things that would actually help to alleviate the anxiety. Here’s an example; let me paint a picture for you. Let’s say you have some social anxiety. There is a networking event that would provide you with a great opportunity to meet new colleagues and gain recognition for the new book you just wrote. However, you experience negative self-talk that tells you nobody will like you or people will judge your work. This may lead you to avoid the event. You then start having more anxiety about the avoidance. You know you should go, but you can’t bring yourself to do it. Your colleagues ask why you’re not attending, and you go to great lengths to explain or justify your reasons for not going (none of them are true).

Now you have just exerted a tremendous amount of energy, avoiding something that probably isn’t all that scary in reality. Now it has become a big thing in your mind, and the anxiety around it has gotten much worse. All of this is because you believed your negative self-talk and allowed it to create avoidance, instead of taking action toward what you really want.

3. Negative self-talk is a learned behavior that can be changed. You can re-wire your brain to operate differently. Here’s how it works: what you think about the most creates deep grooves in your brain’s feedback loops. If you often revert to negative self-talk, that is the feedback loop that will be the strongest (or have the most well-worn pathway).

Re-training your brain to focus on the positive or helpful thoughts will carve out a new, healthier pathway in the brain’s circuitry. Once you practice utilizing this new feedback loop more and more, the easier it will become. Thinking positive or affirming thoughts will become your new norm.

It is possible to overcome negative self-talk and develop supportive mental habits.

The take home: By first bringing awareness to the thoughts, then taking action toward what you want, you can begin to change your reality. Because negative self-talk is usually deeply ingrained, I recommend working with a professional who can help guide you through these steps of the process. You don’t have to do it all on your own.

Click here to watch an in-depth video on how to re-wire the brain.