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Give Yourself a Break

Self-criticism is such a common component of anxiety that it really could be listed as part of the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder. Anxious thoughts and emotions frequently cause people to be verbally and emotionally abusive to themselves. Being hard on ourselves takes its toll and contributes to:

  • More anxiety

  • Depression (that feeling of not being able to do anything right can decrease confidence, zap motivation, and make living exhausting and heavy)

  • Lack of energy and drive

  • A sense of treading water, of barely getting by

  • Low self-esteem and self-efficacy (the knowledge that you can do things)

If you're living with anxiety, you probably tend to be particularly hard on yourself, placing harsh self-blame for so many things, including having anxiety in the first place.

Being hard on ourselves by using negative labels, finding fault with our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and replaying in our heads scenes in which we believe we did something wrong doesn't help us thrive and achieve mental wellness. Self-criticism keeps us anchored in the past and prevents us from moving forward.

How to Give Yourself a Break

No matter what anxiety tells you, you can move forward. These tips will help you become less critical of yourself and reduce anxiety in the process:

Separate yourself from the problem. Anxiety is sticky and clingy. Once in our head, it doesn’t want to let go. It makes us believe that all of our anxious thoughts, including the negative thoughts about ourselves, are true. Stepping back and looking at the big picture can help you separate from the problem. The problem is an event in your life. It isn’t who you are. Problems don’t make you bad.

Keep it to the issue at hand. Once we start criticizing ourselves for one thing, the harsh treatment easily grows and spreads, becoming a huge blob that threatens to engulf us. Feeling horrible for yelling at your child can quickly grow to remembering past mistakes and feeling like a horrible parent in general. When you notice yourself leaving the current issue and overgeneralizing your mistakes to "everything," stop; take a breath, and remind yourself of the issue at hand.

Change to more accurate thoughts. We think bad things about ourselves. These thoughts are loud and obnoxious but that doesn't make them accurate. Shift your thinking from what you did wrong to what you did--and do--right. What are your strengths? What are your skills? Sure, people make mistakes, but we do more things right. Name those things, and own them.

Act. Criticizing yourself doesn't move you forward. Being hard on yourself keeps you stuck. To get unstuck, use your mistake in a positive way, to motivate you, help you shape your goals, and take action to accomplish those goals.

Self-criticism and being hard on yourself are damaging aspects of anxiety. They are also, unfortunately, part of being human. We'll probably never fully stop being hard on ourselves, but we can stop believing our negative self-talk and letting it keep us stuck. As you use the above tips, you just might find that you like yourself after all. As an added bonus, you could experience less anxiety.

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