The Positives of Positive Self-Talk on Mental Health
Illustration by Mallory Taylor
Content Warning: Discussions of anxiety
Our mind has many thoughts on a day-to-day basis – experts believe around 60,000 to 80,000 a day! Many of those thoughts come to us consciously, meaning we are aware of them, and sometimes thoughts can come unconsciously, meaning they can just pop up out of nowhere. What remains constant is the pattern of our thoughts. Some folks can remain in a pattern of negative thoughts about themselves and those around them, while others can remain in a positive pattern or a mixture of both. Personally, remaining positive can be difficult, which I believe a lot of people can relate to, however having a mental illness can make things even more difficult. For me, finding positive things to think of when I am riddled with fear from anxiety, for example, can make it seem impossible at times to think positively or see things in a positive light.
When I first developed anxiety, it was very easy for me to be my own personal hater. It didn’t matter if those around me were giving constant reassurance or trying everything to boost my spirits up, I often felt defeated. Missing school or turning down invitations because of my anxiety was not something that made me a positive teenager at the time. Although I was able to push past my anxiety in some aspects, it still made me feel insecure and overwhelmed – it still does at times! As I’ve gotten older, I have taken the time to discover who I am as a person and who I want to expose my energy around – which I’ll get to later. With time, I found it a lot easier to be content with myself, but of course, there are still days when I wish I could change things about myself or find it impossible to find the positive in anything.
Before I get into some of the tips and tricks that I have found to help me think more positively about myself, I thought it would be important to define positive self-talk, seeing as how I am bringing it up a lot. I define positive self-talk as an action that we can do for ourselves that involves giving compliments, kind thoughts, and words of encouragement. For me, I give compliments all the time to friends, family and even strangers, but when it comes to myself there are some moments where I end up drawing a blank. In an environment where compliments can be given through double-taps and with the media idealizing the lives of celebrities, it can become easy to start to compare ourselves to others without realizing our own qualities.
I have discovered that if I am not consciously thinking positive things about myself, I won’t do it. Designating time out of the day to reflect on myself in a positive way – such as if I am looking in a mirror or when I complete a task – has been an important element that I always try to incorporate. In my opinion, today’s society has made it seem as if you compliment yourself or feel confident, you are “full of yourself” or self-absorbed, which I believe explains why it is so easy to be hard on ourselves and find flaws. I have noticed that I could tell you five things I don’t like about myself at lightning speed, while it takes me a bit of time to give five compliments about myself. Thinking positively about yourself is not something that should be shied away from and should be encouraged more.
In relation to this, I am a big supporter of discovering who you are: whether it’s finding out who and what you like; what you support and don’t support; if you’re team pancakes or team waffles. There are, I think, many important things that you need to reflect on first before it becomes easier to talk positively about yourself. Some of us are so busy trying to get to know others that we do not take the time to get to know ourselves. Once I opened my mind to new things and started to learn about matters that are important to me, I discovered that I was more content with myself, which led to thinking more positively about myself. Even giving myself the compliment that I practice inclusiveness in everything I do is something I can praise myself on now that I’ve learned more about who I am. It’s interesting how much you can praise yourself on when you open your mind and your heart, and take the time to learn about yourself.
There are three main elements to my positive self-talk journey that I want to share with you. The first being, healing is not linear. What this means is that those who may be going through a tough time, or those dealing with a mental illness, deal with it and their healing process in their own way. Think of it as a wave in the ocean – the wave will go up and down, and so will you. Reminding myself of this and knowing it’s okay when I feel down helps to keep my thoughts and feelings in check. When my “wave” is down it can be extremely easy to remain in a negative thought pattern. By knowing I don’t have to be positive and happy all the time I am able to give myself words of encouragement, and give myself positive pushes when I need them, which is something that is impossible to do when in a negative thought pattern.
The second element I like to live my life in is gratitude. Motivational speaker Jay Shetty sat down with Ellen DeGeneres and said something that I carry with me. He said, “When you’re feeling gratitude, you can’t be in another state… you can’t be angry or sad or disappointed when you’re being grateful.” Practicing gratitude is an element of positive self-talk because you’re reminding yourself of all the things you have in your life, instead of focusing on what you want or wish you had. It keeps you in the moment and you’re able to ground yourself in what is around you. When I have anxiety, it makes it seem like I am not in the moment, and instead, in my head. It often takes effort to take myself out of my own thoughts and look around, but practicing gratitude helps me to achieve this. Simple things that some individuals can take for granted, such as a roof over your head, turning the shower on, flushing the toilet, things that surround us constantly, deserve feelings of gratitude from us. I notice that when I take the time to do this, I am able to see the positive in more things. Positivity attracts positivity.
The third element I consciously decide is whom I want to expose my energy around. I am lucky that I have an amazing mom and a great group of friends that I can vent to and vice versa, and who understand if I may just need a night in when they invite me out. Before I found this friend group, I used to worry about if I was being a bad friend or if they would understand or not when my anxiety was high, which left me in a constant worried and negative mindset. It was only when I changed my thought pattern and began the process of positive self-talk when I realized that my energy is precious and it’s up to me on how I want to spend it. Being around those that repressed my energy did not contribute to my life in a positive way, and it was then when I realized how vital it was to cut them out of my life completely. It is totally okay to determine whom you need and whom you do not need in your life, and when I realized this, I discovered that I should save my energy for positivity. Finding those you can be around that can help you think positively takes time, which is why I believe accepting yourself first and loving yourself is an important step before you can be susceptible to the positivity around you. Practicing positive self-talk will make you realize that you can be your own source of happiness and positivity, which is extremely important. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many people you surround yourself with, you will always have yourself, and so working toward being your own best friend is a great goal to have. This won’t happen overnight, but in time it will if you consciously work toward it.
When you are practicing gratitude and reminding yourself that you, your thoughts, and your healing is not meant to be in an upward direction all the time, it can become easier to think more positive thoughts. Below, I have created a three-step activity that can help you go down the road of self-love and care. It’s easy to remember because you increase what you write as you go through each step. The first step you only have to write one thing down, the second step you write two things down, and so on. This activity is something you can do every day (such as before you go to sleep at night) and by the end of the week you’ll have an entire list of positivity. Challenge yourself to add even more to the list and continuing on with four things, five things, and so on. How long can you make your list?
1. What is one thing I love about my personality?
2. What are two things that I am grateful for today?
3. What are three things that made me smile today?
If you’re like me, thinking positive things about yourself at the top of your head can be challenging, but hopefully these writing prompts can help you a bit and guide you if you’re not as familiar with incorporating positive self-talk in your daily routine. Sitting with yourself and reflecting can be a great way to achieve positive self-talk and let it become a natural task.
Even simply thinking of a positive thought when you think of a negative one is an easy way to counteract the negativity and change your thought pattern. For example, you may think, “I’ve never done this before and I’ll be bad at it,” which you can change to, “This is a great opportunity to learn and grow”. This way you can change your entire opinion around the negative thought. Accepting that the negative thought came into your head and consciously redirecting it to a positive thought demonstrates your dedication to improving your overall thought pattern – that should also be praised!
Changing my thought pattern was not easy, and I still think negative thoughts, but it is what I do with those thoughts that have changed. I no longer accept the negative thoughts to be true and I make sure to always follow up with a different, more positive, way to look at it. When my anxiety is high and likes to convince me that I can’t do something, I remind myself that I can do it, even if I may not 100% believe it. “Fake it ‘till you make it” can come in handy when you can’t always find the positive, and eventually it will become second nature.
Leave a comment letting Shameless know how you practice positive self-talk and let’s get a self-compliment train going!
About Alexandra Few: Hey, I’m Alex. I’m a twenty-something, astrology obsessed, iced coffee lover, and Netflix connoisseur. I spend my time scrolling through dog Instagram accounts and getting through my day with as little anxiety as possible. You can find me on Instagram.