Negative Self-Talk Examples in High Stress and Anxiety
Updated: Aug 8
Understand how your thinking changes under stress and anxiety with these negative self-talk examples, and what to do about it
Your mind is lying to you. Tricking you. Telling you untrue things.
That’s right, our mind can be our ally or worst enemy.
And under stress and anxiety, it tends to be our worst enemy.
“No one likes you”
“You suck at your job”
“You’re a big failure, why do you even try?”
Does this sound familiar? I’m guessing the answer is yes, since our thoughts change in very predictable ways once stress and anxiety take hold.
And this way of thinking that can kill productivity and motivation, make it hard to fall and stay asleep, negatively impact our relationships, and so much more.
Therefore, understanding how our thoughts change under stress and anxiety and recognizing negative self-talk examples common to ourselves under stress is a crucial part of maintaining a good mood, managing stress and anxiety, and reaching our true potential.
Negative Self-Talk: Why Do We Do it?
The short answer to this is we don’t choose to do this. I mean, who wants to think in negative and distracting ways?
However, the stressed and anxious mind will often make this decision for us and start the negative thought cycle.
And this can be quite frustrating. Having negative self talk interferes in so many ways. Our mood. The quality of our relationships. Our focus in the workplace. And more.
When we are feeling stressed or anxious, our thoughts will change in a predictable way. They will become more negative, untrue, unhelpful, and catastrophic. This is something that is quite automatic and happens naturally as our mood changes.
When we have more of these stress and anxious thoughts, this further increases anxiety and causes us to behave in ways we do not when we are not stressed. This might include procrastinating, being more snappy with others, sleeping poorly, or eating more or less than usual.
From an evolutionary perspective, perceiving danger, threats, and possible catastrophic situations can be helpful.
However, in modern day society, these thoughts are triggered by everyday situations, such as a stressful work meeting, a fight with a loved one, or parenting stress. While this form of thinking is helpful from an evolutionary perspective in a moment of danger, it is not helpful in modern day society.
While negative thinking is unhelpful, learning how our thoughts change in predictable ways under stress and anxiety can equip us with the tools to catch it early and manage the thoughts before they interfere with our mood, focus, and day-to-day activity.
5 Negative Self-Talk Examples
Negative self-talk can sound like many different things. However, negative self-talk tends to be pretty predictable under high stress and anxiety. Here are five negative self-talk examples in common categories of anxious thinking:
1. Fortune Telling
This is an unhelpful thinking style that is common under high stress and anxiety. When we are stressed or anxious, we tend to make unhelpful predictions about the future.
It’s helpful to note that these predictions are usually negative, worst-case scenarios. While they are possible, various worst-case scenarios are unlikely. Because we are not fortunetellers, it is not helpful to spend time trying to predict what will happen in the future.
Example 1: I am going to lose my house if I can’t pay my bills. We will be out on the street and have no money to survive.
Example 2: If I don’t finish this work project perfectly, I’ll get a bad review, and I will probably get fired.
2. Mind Reading
Mind-reading is when we make predictions about what someone else is thinking.
Like fortune-telling, these predictions tend to be negative, worst-case scenarios, and generally are unhelpful and untrue.
Because we are not mind readers, we have no way of knowing what others are thinking.
However, telling ourselves that they are thinking very negative things about us can increase stress and anxiety and also negatively impact our relationships.
Example 1: My boss didn’t say anything during the meeting. He was obviously bored and thought that I had nothing important to say.
Example 2: My boyfriend clearly doesn’t care about me. He is probably thinking about leaving me and this relationship and finding someone new.
Example 3: My friend hasn’t responded to my text message. She must be mad at me.
Catastrophizing is a very common form of anxious thinking. This involves coming up with the worst-case scenarios that are possible. It is unlikely that all of the worst-case scenarios that we think of under stress and anxiety are likely to occur.
However, they can feel very real and further increase stress and anxiety.
Catastrophizing often goes with fortune-telling and mind-reading, since we tend to think of the worst-case scenarios when predicting things about the future or what someone else is thinking.
Example 1: My doctor called me about my test results. It must be cancer or something life-threatening.
Example 2: My boss said he wants to talk to me. I’m either getting fired or being put on probation.
Example 3: What if I go to this party and no one talks to me? I’ll be so embarrassed.
When we are stressed, anxious, or upset, we tend to negatively label ourselves with harsh words and descriptions.
These are unhelpful because they tend to be very general statements that are overly harsh.
Negatively labeling ourselves also further increases stress and anxiety and lowers our self-esteem and confidence.
Example 1: I’m such a loser. Why would anyone want to talk to me.
Example 2: I’m a failure. I can never focus at work and do my job.
Example 3: Everyone else is so much more successful than me. What is wrong with me? Why am I so stupid?
Example 4: I don’t deserve to be happy or successful. I’m a bad person.
This unhelpful thinking style involves taking personal blame for things that we are not responsible for and cannot control. Anxiety often tricks us into believing that if we blame ourselves, we have a sense of control over the situation.
However, personalizing does not actually give us any control, and in fact, it further increases stress and anxiety and lowers our self-esteem and confidence.
Example 1: My boss looks annoyed. I must’ve done something wrong.
Example 2: My wife yelled at me. It’s my fault for asking her so many questions.
Example 3: My team project isn’t going well. I’m a bad leader and it is all my fault.
How to Manage Negative Self-Talk
Now that you are aware of the different types of negative self-talk that are common under stress and anxiety, it’s important for you to manage with a variety of strategies.
1. Notice Negative Self-Talk Early
Its helpful to start to monitor your own thinking and look for themes. We all have common anxious thoughts that come about when our mood changes. While the themes will be similar and usually in one or more of the categories above, the specific thoughts that come to you will be individual.
Therefore, identifying the thoughts that are common to you when your mood changes is very important.
A great way to do this is by journaling. When you notice that you are feeling stressed or anxious, write down the thoughts that you are having. This is a form of self-monitoring, which includes monitoring our thoughts, behaviors, and moods.
The more information that you can gather, the better that you will be able to notice and address unhelpful thinking early on.
2. Relax the Mind and Body
It’s also helpful to be mindful of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety that you experience. When we are stressed and anxious, we experience a series of physiological changes that can result in overthinking and difficulty relaxing.
Therefore, learning to relax the body and mind is an important part of managing unhelpful thoughts and reducing overthinking.
3. Directly Address Unhelpful Thoughts
Once you have identified the unhelpful thoughts that are present, it’s also helpful to directly address the thoughts with a series of cognitive exercises. This can include thought stopping, questioning the thoughts, and defusing from anxious thoughts.
Once we recognize the presence of these unhelpful styles of thinking, it’s important to address them so they are not negatively impacting us.
Negative self-talk is common when we are feeling stressed, anxious, or experiencing other negative mood changes.
Understanding the negative self-talk that is common to you and learning to address it can be one of the best ways to improve your mood, decrease stress and anxiety, and even boost productivity in the workplace.
Negative self-talk decreasing your mood? My Master Stress Method, 1:1 coaching will teach you to identify and address unhelpful thinking and so much more for reduced stress, improved sleep, and better attention and focus.
Book a discovery call so we can talk about how you can take back control of your mind and your life.
------About Dr. Julia
Hi! I'm Dr. Julia. Health psychologist, stress and sleep expert, and creator of the Master Stress Method.
I have worked with thousands of individuals in major hospitals, university medical centers, and primary care settings to improve their stress levels, sleep, and overall emotional and physical well being.
My current focus is helping busy professionals prevent and manage the high stress that is getting in the way of their productivity, mood, sleep, and their ability to reach their full potential.
My 8-week, 1:1 coaching program has helped hundreds of stressed out, overwhelmed, and burned out clients significantly reduce their stress and anxiety, improve their sleep, and maximize their productivity, in just 8 short weeks.
I can't wait to help you stop the struggle with stress, for good. Let's chat :)