Self-Talk and Improved Mood

When you take responsibility for feelings rather than blame people or circumstances beyond your control, you seize the power to change and grow and make your life better. What you say to yourself about a situation often has more impact on your mood than anything else. So if you can become more aware of your self-talk and replace your bad habits with good ones, then you can have a powerful effect on how you feel each and every day.

Improving your self-talk is especially good for people who frequently feel anxious, depressed, angry, or bad about themselves. You can do this by keeping a log of your most troubling reactions and reviewing it with your therapist. Be sure to note the a) triggering situation, b) problematic feelings, and c) automatic assumptions–i.e. self-talk. And then come up with d) more realistic-or-positive views or explanations and notice e) the better feelings that come with them.

To illustrate this, let’s look again at that all too common trigger of running into Friday traffic on one of our lovely Los Angeles freeways. File that in column A. Are you someone who finds themselves constantly gnashing their teeth, clutching the wheel for dear life, or nearly giving up while on the road? If so, then admit to the anger, anxiety, or despair that those reactions represent. Deal with what it is like to be you. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming everyone one the road feels the same way. If traffic makes you uncomfortably nervous, for example, then file it in the column B, and let’s look at your self-talk.

So far, your log might look like this:

A) Triggering Situation B) Problem Feeling C) Auto Assumption D) More Positive View E) Better Feeling
Friday traffic Nervous      

Are you telling yourself that stop and go traffic puts you in danger of a serious accident? Yikes, that would make me break out into a sweat. How about challenging that view of the situation, either at the time, if you can, or later with your therapist’s help. See what you come up with. I might tell myself, “At least we are all going slowly, so there is really less chance of any serious collision,” and feel that much calmer for it. Ultimately, this entry in your logbook might look like:

A) Triggering Situation B) Problem Feeling C) Auto Assumption D) More Positive View E) Better Feeling
Friday traffic Nervous Jams are dangerous Less chance of serious injury More calm

Now, it’s your turn. Look for times when your reactions to things in your life seem to do more harm than good to you, your relationships, or your mood. Record at least two of these in your logbook and fill out all the columns before your next session. If you prefer you may use an expanded, but easier-to-remember format which refers to automatic assumptions and more positive views as automatic and alternative thoughts, and it lists them before the feelings they cause.

Triggering Situation Auto Thoughts Auto Feelings Auto Behavior Alt Thought Alt Feeling Alt Behavior
Friday traffic Jams are dangerous Nervous   Less chance of injury More calm  

This format makes it easier to see how automatic thoughts can lead to feelings and on to behaviors, like saying something you might regret, and help you know what to do about it. Keep in mind that you won’t always have something to fill out in the automatic and alternative behavior columns unless you’re prone to speaking/acting on impulse.

Either way, recording events and reworking reactions may seem difficult to do at first and indeed it is. Just write stuff down and do your best. Even if you make mistakes, you will then be more likely to remember the new self-talk habits (cognitive-behavioral techniques) you will learn when we review your work together.

Yes, it’s hard to think of these new ways of looking at situations super-fast, while still in the moment. But you don’t really have to in order to start making your life better. Often a tough situation can sour your mood for the rest of the day or the weekend, and being able to reframe it even hours later can save you much quality of life. Besides, you will be teaching yourself a new skill that will improve with practice, and ultimately you will be able to challenge and reframe your automatic thoughts in an increasingly timely manner. If you apply yourself to it, your new and improved self-talk can become second nature and help you feel so much better.

–Dr. Adam