How To Understand Your Internal Dialogue Before It Overwhelms You

The past year has been so chaotic for a lot of us that our internal dialogue is often magnified with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If you're looking for some ways to understand yours before it overwhelms you, here's how.

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The flurry of thoughts that cross our mind is somewhat like having multiple tabs open on your laptop, and then furiously trying to juggle between them. It can be difficult to not feel overwhelmed, or learn to slow down, and untangle these thoughts. The past year has been so chaotic for a lot of us that our internal dialogue is often magnified with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re looking for some ways to understand yours before it overwhelms you, here’s how:

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1. Write it down One effective way to navigate through your emotions and thoughts is by writing them down, and working through them on paper. Journaling allows you to organize your thoughts, keep track of any triggers, and it is known to have a positive effect on your well-being.

There are people who prefer to start their day by journaling, while others do it at the end of the day- see what works for you, or if you’d prefer to do it in the moment. You can also try keeping a daily thought record, which lets you track any self-defeating thoughts you may have, and helps one break out of the thought pattern, and look at revisiting how you respond to a particular thought or situation. If you’re looking to journal, but aren’t sure how to get started, here are some introspective prompts for you to begin with.

2. Take a moment to pause When you find yourself overwhelmed, take a moment to just pause and practice deep breathing. Stop whatever it is you’re doing, and focus on a few moments of stillness and your breath. Deep breathing helps stabilize our fight or flight response and our thoughts, and the time allows you to reset your spiraling thoughts. It also gives you space to realize the actuality of a situation, and that you envisioning the worst possible outcome isn’t necessarily accurate to reality.

3. Watch out for any triggers This is where your journaling practice can come in handy, as it lets you keep track of what triggered your internal monologue. Was it a late-night email from your boss? Was it a last-minute meeting? Or you’re running behind schedule again?

Identifying what triggered your thoughts will allow you to look at coping mechanisms you can turn to or address the situation. Are you able to have a conversation with your boss about respecting your work-life balance? How can you better prepare yourself for a spontaneous meeting? Does deep breathing help there? How can you rejig your schedule to ensure you aren’t in a rush at the last minute?

4. Watch your words This is really important. When you catch yourself being self-deprecating or reprimanding yourself unnecessarily, think whether you speak to a loved one the same way you speak to yourself. We need to extend the same kindness and room to make mistakes to ourselves that we do to others. While it is good to be aware of your shortcomings, you shouldn’t always be your harshest critic.

Learn to appreciate yourself and your journey. Think twice before your self-critical and self-defeating thoughts get in the way of your daily life and goals. If you catch yourself saying something like “Ugh, I’m such an idiot,” stop, pause, and revisit that thought. Look at turning that thought around, and saying something like “It’s OK, I messed up. I will learn and avoid doing it in the future,” or “Mistakes happen. I’ve had a lot on my plate. I will learn to work through this as well.” Our self-talk plays a huge role in our overall well-being and self-esteem, so look at reigning in the negative self-talk.

4. Seek support Whether it’s from a mental health professional, or you just want to speak to a friend, when you find yourself overwhelmed, turn to a safe space where you have a sounding board and can openly share your thoughts without risk of judgement.

Often, those around us can get us to focus on the bigger picture or offer a perspective we may not have thought of or are too overwhelmed to think of. Cultivate a safe space with a close friend or with your therapist where you are able to work through your internal dialogue, and get advice, or just have someone simply redirect your thoughts to a different place. 

5. Practice, practice, practice Tackling our internal dialogue is hard work and not something that will happen overnight, which is why it’s important to be consistent with the coping strategies you turn to retrain your thoughts and how you approach a situation.

Be patient with yourself- this takes time, especially as unlearning unhelpful thinking patterns is often a lengthy process. Find and try the different tools that work best for you, and stick to them to be able to understand and control your internal dialogue before it overwhelms you and gets the better of you.

Related: Four Ways Businesses Can Support Employees' Mental Health Amid COVID-19

Aakanksha Tangri

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Aakanksha Tangri is founder of Re:Set, a resource platform for fostering gender, inclusivity, mental health and well-being.