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Why a Shift in Self-Talk Is the Ultimate Self-Care Strategy

Taking care of ourselves starts with changing the way we talk to ourselves

Scroll through your social media feed on any given day, and you’re bound to see something related to the topic of self-care. Typically, it will come in the form of a list that includes several suggestions for taking care of yourself, such as drawing a bubble bath, sipping tea, writing in a journal, or going for a walk outside. The fact that such material is being promoted is promising, and the recommendations often made within self-care conversations are likely to soothe anyone who tries them. But seldom mentioned in these conversations is one of the most important forms of self-care: self-talk.

If you’ve been in therapy or delved into the self-help genre, you’re likely to have encountered the term self-talk, which—as anyone might be able to guess—refers to the way we talk to ourselves. It has a lot to do with our sense of wellbeing, and it’s something that can either help or harm us in pretty significant ways. What we refer to as negative self-talk is typically at the root of many mental health challenges, such as stress, depression, and anxiety. Alternatively, a shift into more positive self-talk has been found to powerfully affect the way we think, feel, and behave.

Making deliberate shifts in your self-talk is one of the most meaningful ways you can care for yourself, especially if you tend to speak to yourself unkindly. The first step toward turning self-talk into self-care is to develop mindful awareness of your thoughts, noticing how you speak to yourself on a regular basis. Most people are pretty unaware of the kinds of things they say to themselves. They’re either too distracted to pay attention or have grown so used to it that they don’t recognize the negative effect it’s having on them. Start to take an inventory of your self-talk. Recognize the way you treat yourself, and practice stopping unhelpful thoughts in their tracks. By becoming more aware of the tone of your self-talk, you’ll be well on your way to positively shifting your inner experience.

The next step in your process of transforming self-talk into self-care will be to take control of the ongoing conversation you have with yourself. The reality is, everyone has an inner critic inside of them, and it can be pretty cruel and unrelenting. For some, the inner critic is an outright bully that tortures them every waking moment of the day. But even if it isn’t so extreme, you probably have certain streams of inner chatter that, if you aren’t careful, can cripple you. Caring for yourself means catching critical self-talk and replacing it with a more affirming inner narrative. If you struggle to think about what self-care self-talk sounds like, imagine talking to yourself as a loving parent would. Be kind, encouraging, gentle, and generous with the messages you send to yourself. Be reasonable with your expectations. Be accepting, and extend forgiveness. Over time, this shift into a more nurturing internal conversation will improve your mental and emotional health, thus supporting your general wellbeing.

Self-care is important, and there’s no doubt you’ll benefit from doing more of it. But to even get to the point of taking care of yourself with green juices or days off work, you have to believe you’re worth it and give yourself permission to make self-care a priority. Your self-talk is precisely the thing that will make the difference between being open to self-care or neglecting your needs; so take stock of how you’re speaking to yourself, and take on the challenge of making it more caring.

More from Denise Fournier Ph.D.
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