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Excerpted from The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne. Copyright © 2005 by Edmund Bourne. Excerpted by permission of New Harbinger Publications.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Itís what we say to ourselves in response to any particular situation that mainly determines our mood and feelings."

  Edmund Bourne,
The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook,
Part 1

Imagine two individuals sitting in stop-and-go traffic at rush hour. One perceives himself as trapped, and says such things to himself as "I canít stand this," "Iíve got to get out of here," "Why did I ever get myself into this commute?" What he feels is anxiety, anger, and frustration. The other perceives the situation as an opportunity to lay back, relax, and put on a new tape. He says, "I might as well just relax and adjust to the pace of the traffic" or "I can unwind by doing some deep breathing." What he feels is a sense of calm and acceptance. In both cases, the situation is exactly the same, but the feelings in response to that situation are vastly different because of each individualís internal monologue, or self-talk.

The truth is that itís what we say to ourselves in response to any particular situation that mainly determines our mood and feelings. Often we say it so quickly and automatically that we donít even notice, and so we get the impression that the external situation "makes" us feel the way we do. But itís really our interpretations and thoughts about what is happening that form the basis of our feelings. This sequence can be represented as a timeline:

External Events -> Interpretation of Events and Self-Talk -> Feelings and Reactions

In short, you are largely responsible for how you feel (barring physiological determinants, such as illness). This is a profound and very important truthóone that sometimes takes a long time to fully grasp. Itís often much easier to blame the way you feel on something or someone outside yourself than to take responsibility for your reactions. Yet it is through your willingness to accept that responsibility that you begin to take charge and have mastery over your life. The realization that you are mostly responsible for how you feel is empowering once you fully accept it. Itís one of the most important keys to living a happier, more effective, and anxiety-free life.

Anxiety and Self-Talk

People who suffer from phobias, panic attacks, and general anxiety are especially prone to engage in negative self-talk. Anxiety can be generated on the spur of the moment by repeatedly making statements to yourself that begin with the two words "what if." Any anxiety you experience in anticipation of confronting a difficult situation is manufactured out of your own "what-if statements" to yourself. When you decide to avoid a situation altogether, it is probably because of the scary questions youíve asked yourself: "What if I panic?" "What if I canít handle it?" "What will other people think if they see me anxious?" Just noticing when you fall into "what-if thinking" is the first step toward gaining control over negative self-talk. The real change occurs when you begin to counter and replace negative "what-if statements" with positive, self-supportive statements that reinforce your ability to cope. For example, you might say, "So what," "These are just thoughts," "This is just scare-talk," "I can handle this," or "I can breathe, let go, and relax."

I want you to consider some basic facts about self-talk. Following these facts is a discussion of the different types of self-defeating inner monologues.

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