Silencing the Inner Critic: How Self-Talk and Feldenkrais Can Help Tame Anxiety

A topic that came up a few times in my individual sessions this week was the question of self talk.

Self-talk refers to the internal dialogue, our inner voice. Its a conversation that most of us have with ourselves throughout the day. It can be either be positive and supportive, or for some of us, negative and self-critical.

How supportive is your inner voice?

Self-talk plays an important role in managing anxiety and improving mental health.

Negative self-talk can contribute to feelings of anxiety. It can increase feelings of self-doubt. Something I know well from the old days. My inner voice would tell me as I stood on stage that I would miss the next shift, or play with a scratchy tone. Thinking about it now, I’m amazed I played anything at all with my own best frenemy inside my head!

Why am I talking about thinking when the Feldenkrais Method is about movement?

Nothing happens in isolation. Thinking-moving-sensing-emotions happen all at once, together. In every action. They all affect each other. Negative self talk activates the sympathetic nervous system into our Flight-Fright-Freeze response. It’s the same as if it were a physical threat. Physical symptoms increase, such as shallow, fast breathing, and elevated heart rate.

But practicing being more positive self talk can help to reduce symptoms. Positive self-talk can help calm ourselves down, and decrease our heart rate. (Another client this week checked her heart rate at the end of the lesson, to note that the session had reduced it considerably!)

How do you put that into practice, if your habit is on the more negative side of things?

I use various Thought Tools myself and with clients. Here are a few simple ones that I’d like to share.

  • Ask the question: is this useful right now? Is the self talk helping you achieve what you need to achieve, or getting in your way? Usefulness is less judgemental, and more pragmatic. Something your inner self may find easier to take on board.
  • Acceptance. I thank my internal voice for trying to keep me safe. Sounds silly, I know, but it can help your brain relax if the thought is being accepted. In turn, that helps you to let go of the particular thought if it isn’t helpful.
  • Write it down. Looking at a thought on paper helps to sift the brain swirl from something we need to take action on. It’s also much faster to write down a few sentences than mull over them for hours.

Learning and Communication

Often we speak to ourselves in a way we would never accept from anyone else.
How often have you taken on information when someone is mean, sarcastic or droning on at you? It’s hard to learn when we feel under attack. We learn best from teachers who like us, and see the best in us.
You’re not different. It doesn’t matter whether the voice is internal or external, the impact is the same.

If it’s not already, ideally you want your internal dialogue to be that of a friend. Someone who appreciates you. Not that you need to allow everything, you can hold yourself to account, but in a kind way.

How to quiet down the constant monologue?

One of the reasons I kept coming back to Feldenkrais classes was the quietness of the inside of my mind. In each lesson, I had to concentrate on an increasing number of physical strands at the same time. We’d be thinking about breathing, movement of different parts of me, quality of movement, together. There was less and less space for my internal voice, and it got quiet.

So peaceful.

How we communicate with ourselves non-verbally is also important.

In a Feldenkrais class, I’ll direct you to move yourself with kindness. Not to strain, not to push, but to enjoy what and how you can move within your easy range. Learning in the comfort zone rather than outside it. In a 1-to-1 lesson, I do the same, but with my hands.

When you move or talk to yourselves with greater compassion, there’s space for growth. The first step is becoming more aware. Aware of the differences between your habitual communication with yourself and the new way. Over time you become more aware of your negative self-communication-patterns. As you try out different options, you’ll have more positive ones to replace them with.

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