One of the tools I hear people talk about often is “positive self talk”. Let me tell you why this is not a good thing when you’re dealing with high anxiety and panic.

During heightened anxiety and panic, positive self-talk is essentially arguing with an anxious mind.  Its often what people do to try to “calm down”. When your terrified brain is throwing catastrophic worst case scenarios at you at high volume and in rapid succession, positive self-talk is an attempt to convince yourself that your brain is wrong and that you are OK.

In reality, positive self talk is fueling the fire and and prolonging your recovery.  Anxious, fearful, irrational thoughts are just thoughts.  They are not actual predictors or creators of reality and while scary, are not actually dangerous.  You do not need to protect yourself against these thoughts or make them go away. Given that our ultimate goal is to un-link fear and danger (in the context of panic and anxiety), every time you start arguing with your anxious mind in an effort to calm down and “feel better”, you are teaching your brain that it must escape from the discomfort and fear.

You repeat a mantra.  You remind yourself over and over that you are OK.  You got this.  You are strong.  This too shall pass. It will be over soon. Do these sound familiar?

Ultimately panic ends – as it always will – and you will mistakenly view that positive self talk as helping you narrowly escape disaster yet again.  This is not true.  Had you remained silent in the face of all those scary thoughts, panic would have also ended, likely sooner.  In this case you would have experienced a positive outcome without having tried to hard to save yourself.  Do nothing – wind up OK.  Teach the fear center in your brain a much needed lesson.  Do you see why arguing with your fear while anxious or in the midst of panic is counter productive?

I am not saying that positive self-talk is always bad at all times.  I am merely suggesting that it is not a terribly effective coping mechanism during periods of high anxiety and panic, and that it can actually contribute to keeping you stuck in the disorder.

As usual, there’s no sugar coating in this one. 🙂

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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Graduate student and therapist-in-training. Author and educator on the topic of anxiety disorders and anxiety recovery. Former anxious and depressed person.