Menu

How Reframing Your Self-Critical Thoughts Can Help Ease Anxiety

“Don’t let the sadness of your past and the fear of your future ruin the happiness of your present.” ~Unknown

I know what it feels like to be scared.

I know what it feels like to question your sanity, your worth, your place in this world.

Sometimes, all I can do is repeat the words it’s okay over and over and over again in my head, until I kind of, somewhat, maybe start to believe it’s true.

Anxiety sucks. Depression does too. They’re not my favorites of the emotions we humans get to experience. But, truthfully, they have a purpose.

I’ve been having panic attacks for a little over six months now. They’re still new to me, and every one is so different.

The physical symptoms change, I’m still learning what my “triggers” are, and the ups and downs between my moods vary in time and extremity. But there’s one thing that has been consistent since the beginning, which is that every time I start to feel anxiety or depression creep in, I instantly hate myself.

I sense the pit of worry in my stomach, and I hate myself. I wake up feeling sad, and I hate myself. I have to transfer money from my savings account, and I hate myself. I mess up at work, and I hate myself. I feel the uncertainty of my future, and I hate myself.

As soon as I begin to enter that state, it’s the start of the freaking pity party of the century. Pretty soon all of my thoughts sound something along the lines of…

I’m so messed up.

No one else feels this way.

I’m broken beyond repair.

I shouldn’t feel this way.

Why can’t I just be happy?

I’m not good enough to be happy.

There’s no way I’m going to get through this.

I thought I had come so far.

There’s just no point.

I can’t remember the last time I felt happy, or excited, or tired, or bored, and thought anything close to these dark, nasty thoughts. So why do I instantly start abusing myself with such hateful thinking when these specific emotions of anxiety and depression appear?

But wait! There’s good news here. This isn’t just a pity party, after all.

I realized that there’s a way to pull myself out of the cyclical trap of feel sad or anxious, then hating myself for feeling sad or anxious, and then hating myself for hating myself for feeling sad or anxious.

It’s a vicious cycle, but there is a simple solution: compassion, self-love, and reframing.

For example, today I had a series of mini breakdowns, which included locking myself in my car so I could cry in (semi) privacy, throwing up in the bathroom at work because my stomach was so full of acidic worry it made me sick, leaving work early because of how I felt, and sobbing in my shower for about twenty minutes while wasting precious hot water. (#BestDayEver)

So what did I do to turn it around?

I treated myself with compassion and self-love, and reframed my negative thoughts.

I showered, put on comfy clothes, made a cup of tea, and lit my favorite candle. I turned on Girls in the background because Hannah always makes me feel better. I read a few pages from one of my favorite books. I did some deep breathing. I told myself “I’m going to be okay” at least one hundred thousand times (slight exaggeration, maybe).

Then, I started to pay attention to my thoughts as an outside observer. I was able to look at some of the terrible things I say to myself like “I’m so messed up” and “I shouldn’t feel this way,” and was able to crack them open for analysis.

I was able to look at it from an objective point of view and question: Are these thoughts really true? And if not, can I replace these thoughts with ones that are actually true?

Some examples…

I’m so messed up became I’m going through a tough time right now, like everyone else in the world has, but it doesn’t reflect my worthiness or importance as an individual.

I shouldn’t feel this way became It’s okay to feel down or nervous sometimes, because it’s temporary and it doesn’t define who I am.

I’m broken beyond repair became I’m just figuring the craziness of this life out, as we all are, and I’ll feel better soon.

There’s just no point became I have an infinite number of resources and people in my life who love and support me, and I’m worthy of that love and support.

The stories that we tell ourselves are just that: stories. What we say to ourselves in our heads can hugely impact the way we perceive our lives and our self-worth.

As the Buddha said, “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

By becoming more mindful of the stories running through your mind, you’re able to take an objective view on how those stories makes you feel, and then decide if they’re worth keeping around or not. If they’re not, choose to let them go.

Reframing, self-love, and compassion are the three tools I use to help guide me through anxiety and depression. It’s all a learning process, but I can confidently say that this has helped me so much more than self-medicating or trying to ignore the problem.

By observing our thoughts and the way we speak to ourselves in times of struggle, we can get a picture of how much we actually love ourselves, and then ramp up the love and positivity until we can’t help but feel better

If you’re going through anxiety, depression, or any other tough time, I encourage you to:

  • Slow down; hit pause
  • Remember that you’re worthy of love and happiness
  • Take a few deep breaths, and tune into that inner dialogue you have going on
  • See if there are any negative thoughts or stories running through your mind that you can challenge
  • Replace them with positive, love-based truths

Try to remember that we’re all just living, breathing, crazy little human beings, floating around on this planet through a limitless universe for a microscopic moment of time. None of us really know what the heck is going on here.

We’re all just trying to get by, and have a little fun while doing it. Remember that you’re worthy of love from others, but most importantly, from yourself. And try to ease up on yourself. It’s okay to feel bad. It’s also okay to feel good. They’re two sides of the same coin, and that’s what this life is all about… our depth of human experiences and our connection to something more.

I’m thankful for anxiety and depression because those emotions present me with an opportunity. It’s a chance for me to fall victim to my fear-based, negative stories, or for me to choose to see things from a place of love instead. The next time you feel those emotions creeping in, I challenge you to ask yourself, what do you choose?

Profile photo of Lauren Madden

About Lauren Madden

Lauren is a life coach, blogger, and yoga teacher in Phoenix, AZ. She’s actively creating a life that lights her up from the inside out, and helping her clients to do the same! She also has a serious coffee addiction. Check out her blog at seekouthappiness.com.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past & create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Niels

    This… Exactly this! I’ve felt the exact same way for about 7-8 years where I loathed myself for everything. And like you said, at some point I tried being mindful of my thoughts and tried to turn them around. Then the biggest impact came when I found love for the first time(didn’t work out though), which finally really made me feel like I was worth something and actually am a good person. I still have these same feelings from time to time, but I do think that going through these things and working through them, can make someone incredibly strong and beautiful. Much love to you and have a great day!

  • Lauren Madden

    I’m glad this resonated with you! I think we can learn a lot from being in love about how we should actually treat ourselves, yeah? How can we feel worthy / like a good person, even if we aren’t in a romantic relationship with another person?
    Sending courage & love your way <3

  • Abby

    Depression comes and goes for me, like a friend for the past 7 years. I am going thru a difficult time and I don’t see my problem going away anytime soon. So it is something I have to learn to live with. Love yourself first, before you can love others. This is so true. And what really works for me is to pick up a hobby or interest, when my “friend” comes visit, I will indulge in my hobby to perk myself up.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. More stories like yours must make their way to everyday conversation. My mother-in-law goes through the exact same things, thoughts, and moments as you described here. As a by-stander, when it happens it is excruciating to watch. Not only are they on occasion helpless, the person watching (me) feels helpless.

    It is a tough situation to be in. I will pass along your actionable advice to her to see if it helps her in her time of need.

  • JaniceELP

    THANK YOU!!! “Re-framing”, instead of panicking…. Testing the reality of fear-driven thoughts…. What a positive and constructive way of handling otherwise debilitating emotions and negative, fear-inspiring circumstances. No one is ever too old to learn new and better ways of coping with life’s curve balls. I have just learned one.

  • Gaelle1947

    My thoughts…EXACTLY! It’s so consoling to know that someone else feels that way. After more than 50 years of struggling with those demons (I’m sure there are more than one, either that or “it” comes with many facets), and being fortunate to have an intelligent and curious mind, I’ve searched and read everything I could get my hands on, and also was blessed with so many sane and compassionate friends, I managed to muddle through. Antidepressants were tried, but in my case, they zapped the creativity out of me – the lows weren’t as bad, but they killed any spark of enjoyment, excitement and motivation. Totally flatlined me, plus some weight gain effect. So, I got off those in the last year. I discovered that when the extreme sadness or angst hyjacks me before my logical side can kick in to make me breathe, meditate and follow the sage advice such as you gave, I take a couple of benadryl or gravol which almost instantly calms those automatic physical reactions, but not as a cop out, just to create a space in which to allow my thinking brain to intervene and then take control. My doctor has also prescribed a small amount of Valium but only in extremely traumatic cases, and this has helped as well – I’ve only needed this 3 times in the past 30 years, and only for 5 days. Unless one has achieved the highest level “mind over body” control reached through years of spiritual work, all the positive thinking can’t slow down one’s heart beat and other physical reactions that can lead to a lot of damage, to oneself, or to others (like saying something you’ll regret later). I don’t resort to this quick-fix often – and I’m not suggesting it would work for everyone…..but for me, it works marvelously well, and often it’s just a matter of going into a good sleep….then things look better and I can look at situations from a different perspective. I know this is a radical point of view, so I don’t expect many will agree. I am still committed to “do the work”, as you suggest, and my thinking brain is getting stronger and hopefully soon will override that “fight or flight” workings of the primitive amygdala (if you are not familiar with this pesky little gland, check it out on the internet!)

  • Mitchell Hunt

    I’m in the midst of trying not to completely lose it from my anxiety and inability to sleep. Over the last 2.5 years I’ve been on a med that helps with depression and anxiety, but most importantly helped me to sleep. It’s side effects suck and i hate knowing I’m dependent on a pill to let me sleep. So 4-5 weeks ago I cut it cold turkey, which I realize was probably unwise. Should have tapered. So for the last month I fall asleep ok but within 15-45 minutes I wake up feeling panicked. The world is dark and cold… The world feels dead around me while it sleeps. I get up… Because I have to… I can’t stay in bed… It’s too hard to breathe. I feel my chest tightens to where breathing is difficult, my heart is racing. Between struggling to breathe a and the heart racing a I have to get up, walk around, sometimes just walking around the kitchen island for an hour. Once I feel calmed down a little I’ll go lay down again… With dread and pleading that I’ll be able to get some sleep… I don’t, 10-30 minutes later it all starts over. With every passing night like this… For a month I feel like I’m slowly going insane. Crying all the time, feeling panic, mania, hysteria bubbling up in me ready to burst. Hating myself, feeling so alone, feeling like something is close to popping in me and I’ll never be the same again. I saw the family doc. Went to the ER last night. Both no help at all. I’m on the edge. I need something anything to happen but I don’t know what. I’m not even sure if going off the meds is the sole factor of all this or there are other things going on? I’ve been taking cannabis at bedtime. Much more often since going off the med. It helps beat down the anxiety temporarily​, long enough to fall asleep. But as mentioned above it doesn’t last through the night. Often I’ll do additional cannabis in the middle of the night, which again, offers temporary relief, but won’t let me sleep through the night. I won’t nap because I wake up from it 15 to 30 minutes again feeling panicked and like I don’t know what’s real and what’s not. As night approaches the dread and anxiety builds. I set myself up for failure. I take Adderall during the day to keep myself awake. Stay on my feet to avoid wanting to sleep. I go on evening walks, to the gym… hoping I that if I a workout hard it will help with a the anxiety. It’s not helping. At least not that I can see. I’m om the cliff. I don’t know if I can make it one more day. Imxdont want m to be insane. Desperate for help. Something to give me some relief and hope. I’ve dealt with chronic depression for 25 years now… It sucks… But this… This is so much worse.

  • Stephen Spodek

    Thank you!

  • FashionJitsu

    Excellent – so many great points!!! And…you are NOT alone!

  • Amber Summers

    This blog couldn’t have came at a better time. Great tips on what to do when frelingsnof anxiety or depression knock on your door. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Marsha Lutsky Hoak

    Today, I discovered something. I have arthritis and it flared on me about 10 days ago. I had so many things planned to do but today I could hardly get out of bed. I fed my pets and looked at my dirty dishes, laundry and other stuff I wanted to take care of and said “I just can’t do it.” I laid back down again, got up and washed my hair. Okay, you’re probably wondering what I’m trying to say. I started thinking about books my hubby use to read. He passed away in 1991. He loved westerns, especially Louie L’Amour. One of my friends said I should read some of them. I thought “Maybe it will cheer me up.” I called the local library and they said they have several of his books. I drove over there and they had all been signed out by others. Guess the fellow I talked to didn’t check that when we were on the phone. I stood there disappointed and feeling like “now what?” I started to leave and the fellow called me back. He had a series of books on tape of one of L’Amous books. I said “No thanks.” I just want one book to see if it’ll hold my interest. Another lady came up to me with about 4 books in her hands by a different western artist. She said “I know they’re not by the same author but they’re westerns.” I looked at them, tempted but still disheartened. The closest book store was about 20 minutes away and I thought, “Why wasted the gas and the money on a new book. I told her “No thanks” and she looked kind of hurt. I got in my car, ready to go home. I pulled out of the drive and decided to go to the bookstore. They had lot’s of his re-published older books. The ones my hubby probably read back then. I bought one and it was only $5.98. Not a big deal. On the way home, I suddenly realized, I get distracted easily and give in too quickly. I haven’t been my own hero. I was almost willing to go home and have another reason to be sad and I am so glad I didn’t. Having a chronic disease is bad enough. I have to be my own hero..

  • Bullyinglte

    So been there and done that. I know it sucks so bad. Mindfulness is great. There are ways out of the hole. I wish you all the best.

  • Tanya Smith

    First of all, you are very brave for sharing this story with us. Thank you. Secondly, I truly appreciate your honesty in a world full of lies and illusions. Self compassion is something I have been cultivating lately so this was very timely for me. Thanks again.

  • Really solid article! Ive been working on trying to reframe my thoughts for a while now, but you had a lot of really awesome insights İ wouldnt have thought of – such as every negative thought originally having a positive intentıon.

  • Gary Potts

    Really honest piece, thanks Lauren. The fact that it’s a choice resonates, not to imply being self responsible for feeling bad or unhappy, but the empowering feeling of knowing that you can help yourself out of a hole, you don’t have to wait for external help.

  • Great brutally honest article about panic attacks and negative self-talk…one that I had for many years (still have it now, but a lot less;-).

    When it comes to negative self talk, I think of it in terms of peeling an onioin…you kinda need to get to the root source. So, for example, when I have the thought, ‘I’m not worthy of love (often a source of depression with me…)’, I ask myself, ‘When did I decide that?’ (this is based on the assumption that negative self-talk comes from beliefs that we have installed in ourselves, either directly, or indirectly).

    While one needs to be very honest with this approach, I often find, after repeating the question, that an image of my past pops up, where I gave a meaning to an event that caused the belief. Then, I will analyse it logically, give it some mindfulness, and let it go. Surprisingly, this works most of the time.

    Thanks for sharing

  • David Bryson

    What a fantastic perspective you are adopting. You have to end being successful with an attitude and self knowledge as you are showing. Good luck with everything. x

  • You are extremely sensitive and insightful, which is a double edged sword. I am personally going through a challenging time with my emotions, and it is really helpful to read about other people’s inner struggles, because we are not alone. This part really resonated with me: “I have an infinite number of resources and people in my life who love and support me, and I’m worthy of that love and support.” Thank you.

  • Lauren Madden

    “Love yourself first, before you can love others.” >>> THIS is so powerful! Also, I love that you refer to depression as a “friend.” This takes so much of the negativity and power off of the word! Even simple things like switching up the way you talk about depression can have huge changes in your life. Bravo to you! <3

  • Lauren Madden

    Hi Julian,
    I love this idea of an onion!!! It’s so true. How can we discover where these beliefs are coming from? And, are they fear-based or love-based? Being able to let go of the fear-based beliefs is so powerful in transformative change.
    Thanks for your input! Sending you the best.

  • You’re welcome:-)

  • SkyDriver

    Wow, this was really helpful. Thank you so much!

  • Alison Hilaire

    Thank you very much for your article Lauren :-)!

  • Littlered

    I read this just after having a similar breakdown and was looking for something reassuring to read. My reaction was ‘Oh my God! That is exactly what I feel’ where you wrote going home early, crying in the shower, etc. I am now understanding how negative self talk is the cause of all this but I don’t know how to overcome it. I don’t even know where to begin as I am so consumed by the emotions themselves. I always assume the worst and scare myself. Another thing I have analysed that I always have to struggle even for attaining the simplest goals. Sometimes it feels that things work against me(I know that is not a good thought and sounds whiny but still). Even the simplest things like wanting to read a book which is popular but just when I want it, it will be sold out online and not available anywhere else. If I want to go somewhere, that place is closed. I want to help a friend but find myself powerless. I am not exaggerating but this is pretty much how my day goes. I have come across positive thinking and tried to see what is my belief that causes these experiences but I am not able to understand. I want to apply affirmations, visualisations, etc but really don’t know which area do I need to focus on as I don’t know what is it that is causing this. Can anyone please help me with how to begin to change my negative patterns into positive ones and what can I do? Can any one of you objectively as you read this see any pattern from my writing? Any response is appreciated. Blunt and direct is the best response too. Please I need to know! Thanks in advance.

  • Lauren Madden

    Email me and we can chat offline about this. Laurenmadden91@gmail.com <3

  • Thank you for sharing your beautiful and honest post Lauren. I liked especially how you pointed out that our negative self-talk is just stories created in our mind (something that many of us never question). When I self saw this to be true this self-talk stopped having power over me. I believe that there’s nothing we need to do about it. When we truly see that it’s only our thinking, it stops making sense to us focus on it anymore. Out of the space that opens up our true nature can start to shine through.

  • Littlered

    Hi Lauren. Did you get a chance to have a look at my email? Thanks in advance!