Now we are all starting to go out more and socialise again, I wanted to acknowledge how we can all experience anxious or self critical thoughts.
I have noticed, when meeting up with various girlfriends recently, how we’ve all shared thoughts of feeling slightly anxious about how others are perceiving us. Due to the various lockdowns over the last year and a half, we’ve been working from home, not exercising as much and possibly eating and drinking more, and for some of us, this has resulted in a slight change in appearance. Perhaps we’ve put on weight, are not as toned as we once were or are not looking so primped and preened as we used to. Various friends have shared some form of self criticism about their appearance. One friend referred to this as her ‘lockdown arse’. Another friend said she couldn’t possibly come out socially until she’d had her hair done and lost a few pounds. It occurred to me how we can all be self conscious and bothered by what others are thinking of us when we’ve not seen them for a while.
We worry about what we think we should look like and worry that our friends will make judgements or look at us in a negative light if we are not the same shape/size as we were when they last saw us. Our internal dialogues are often talking to us in a critical way. We forget that we are acceptable to our friends however we are because it’s our friendship that is valued. Others want to see us for who we are and because we’re their friend not for what we look like.
If it wasn’t appearance that was being fretted about it was not having anything to say. Again because of lockdown and not being able to do much, friends would worry about not having anything to talk about, being dull and boring and having nothing interesting to say. Forgetting that we have all been in the same boat.
When these worry or self critical thoughts creep in they can have a profound effect on how we are feeling. They can make us feel anxious, low and even depressed. Our thoughts are very influential over our emotions and our behaviours. They can prevent us from doing what we’d really like to do. Thoughts not only affect our moods and behaviours but can affect our self esteem and our self worth. Yet when you unpick thoughts they are often not facts, they are our opinions. Thoughts can feel believable, real and true, yet really they are just a string of words. Our thoughts can be quite bullying, they can tell us that we’re not good enough, that we should be this or that, they come thick and fast and once you get on the negative spiral it can be quite difficult to get off. They are instantaneous and we often don’t question them. Our thoughts are our internal dialogue and can be very harsh and self critical. We wouldn’t talk to others as we do ourselves. So why is that ok?
When I’m aware I’m starting to get into worry thoughts about what others might think I find it quite useful to ask myself is that a fact or an opinion? Often I’m making an assumption or mind reading. If this is the case it can be helpful to ask yourself if there’s another way of looking at this? What would my best friend say to me in this scenario? Or what advice would I give to someone else? And would this matter in 6 months time? These sorts of questions can help us to gain an alternative perspective, to a more balanced way of thinking, that is kinder and more realistic.
These questions are some of the prompts on a CBT technique called a STOPP record.*
So the next time you are worrying about going out with your friends because you may look a little different or not have much to say try challenging those thoughts, ask yourself is that a fact or an opinion? Remind yourself that we can all have unhelpful thoughts at times, its normal.
(* The STOPP record technique can be found here: https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/STOPP5.pdf)
Rebecca Mead is an accredited, registered and experienced Psychotherapist offering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) to individuals adults. Rebecca is available at our Brighton and Hove Practice.
Further ready by Rebecca Mead –