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How to stop negative self-talk

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Ruminating can keep you awake, frustrate your days and send you down a rabbit hole. Here’s what you can do.

Photo by Sonnie Hiles on Unsplash

A coworker says something that sits with you all day and you ruminate. You start that self-talk loop and you spiral off into imagined outcomes that well, in reality, just aren’t real. But it happens and it’s legit. It’s your inner voice and it’s powerful, but you are more powerful than it.

Says Ethan Kross, Ph.D., an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist, the founder of the Emotion & Self Control Lab at the University of Michigan, “At the most basic level, we use it to keep nuggets of information in our heads. It also acts like a reminder app: A verbal thought will pop into your head about something you have to do. The inner voice is considered a part of our verbal working memory system.”

Psychologists say that while that inner voice is good, it can also be damaging. We may remember something important, but it is also where we start criticizing ourselves. Then one bad thought leads to another and we’re stuck in that loop. This all plays a role in our mental-health and stress levels. As stress levels increase, it can impact other aspects of our health including sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease. So fighting that inner chatter is important on many levels.

How to redirect negative self-talk

There are a number of things you can do and over time, you’ll find the one or a few things that work best for you. There’s no instant fix, but with some steady practice, you can gain control.

Stepping Back: When the ruminating starts, step back. Talk to yourself in the second or third person. This distances you from the emotion and helps you become more aware. Apparently actor Jennifer Lawrence uses this technique regularly.

Creating Order: Maybe a desk clean-up or tidying up and organizing a part of your house that you think is a bit messy. Spending time doing this can distract you from your thoughts. Practice third-party talking as well. Organizing a physical space can help you grain a sense of control as well.

Change of Scenery: Go outside. Find the time for a walk in nature. A local park, a short hike if the weather isn’t too bad. Distracting scenery can give the brain the break it needs. If it’s late at night, don’t fight it by stressing over lack of sleep. Get up, read a book, watch some telly.

Over time, you can develop these mechanisms and they’ll start to work for you. There’s no instant fix unfortunately, but there are ways. Mental fitness is as important as physical fitness.

You might also enjoy this article on the language of apology.


  • Alex Hurst is a writer for HUM@Nmedia covering Optimyz and Silver magazines in print and digital editions and is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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