We can’t be there in person to help and support you in a moment of crisis, but there are other options available to you if you can’t turn to someone you trust. By giving us your postcode (or one nearby to where you are right now) we can let you know about services in your area. Remember: this moment will pass; you won’t always feel the way you do right now.
If in doubt always call 999.
Lahna talks to us about Sexuality and Self-harm
Some useful links:
SelfharmUK (that's us!): selfharm.co.uk
Mermaids (Trans* charity): mermaids.org.uk
Albert Kennedy Trust (LGBTQ+ charity): akt.org.uk
Stonewall (LGBTQ+ charity): stonewall.org.uk
Mind (Mental Health Charity): mind.org.uk
Childline (Child Support Charity): childline.org.uk or 0800 1111 or app "For You"
Young Minds (Mental Health Charity): youngminds.org.uk or Parents Helpline 0808-802-5544
We have heard it from parents, teachers and librarians countless times in our lives and, sadly, often negatively, in a ‘don’t make any noise’ sense!
How about ‘quiet’ in a positive way? ‘quiet’ said in a soothing, gentle way encourages us to relax, breathe and slow down.
Silence and quiet are things that are hard to achieve – maybe we don’t enjoy our own company; maybe we like to keep busy and have background noise constantly; maybe silence isn’t something we are comfortable with?
If silence isn’t something you feel comfortable with it, try it in small amounts to begin with. Thursday 14th September is National Quiet Day, a day all about encouraging you to find a place that feels safe and comfortable where you can relax (or maybe even fall asleep, as that’s what tends to happen when we find places that are quiet!).
Finding quiet in our noisy, crammed lives is hard. It is a discipline we have to learn to take time to listen to what our feelings are saying, what our thoughts are wanting us to ponder and what our body is trying to tell us about how we are doing physically.
You might find sitting with your own thoughts uncomfortable; perhaps all your thoughts and feelings come flooding into your head? That’s ok – write them down, tackle them one by one and give yourself time to think through each feeling that comes into your thoughts. Acknowledge it. Name the feeling. Validate it in the way you would let a friend know you understand them – give yourself permission to feel.
Perhaps finding your quiet place will allow you to draw or sing your thoughts? Hey, no one needs to see or hear you (that’s the joy of a quiet place!), so if you want to sing, shout, cry or laugh – do!
Perhaps reading will allow you some time to read for pleasure? Read slowly enjoying each paragraph. Find a book you loved as a child and go back to it.
Perhaps learning to breathe slower, deeper so your lungs are filled like a balloon might help you relax your muscles, your brain and anxieties?
Quiet offers us the ability to listen to ourselves. Giving yourself the gift of quiet allows you to give you what you give to some many others: your concentration, your love and your thoughts.
This year, why not use National Quiet Day to find some quiet to be with yourself?
If you already have your very own quiet place - we’d love to see it! This could be anything from that bench that you always find peaceful on your daily dog walk, that patch of grass on top of that hill with the best view near your house, your sofa at home or even that place you always like to sit at your favourite cafe. Send your images to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post the best ones on our Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter on the day in the hope of inspiring others to find their own quiet places.
You can also follow the hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. #NationalQuietDay
September brings new challenges for many of us – a new term isn’t just back at school or college, it’s all the changes it brings: new classes, new teachers, different people in our classes, a change in timetable, pressured teachers pressuring us to do well, and the hope that this year we will ‘do better’.
What if you don’t need to ‘do better’? what if actually just ‘doing enough’ is good enough this year for you? Pressure to achieve and fear of failure is a big reason why so many of us struggle with our mental health – we are scared that we won’t make the grades, fit in with the right people, that others are better than us, we want to make our family proud and then, sadly, we take it out on ourselves if we think we aren’t ‘doing better’ this year.
So, let’s turn it around this academic year – what if you teach yourself to hear this statement every time you are told about how hard you are going to have to work this academic year: ‘ just do enough, by your own standards’ (this isn’t in any way your ticket to ‘don’t care and just fly by the seat of your pants’!), it’s an instruction to learn something new this year:
Be gentle with yourself. There is only one you.
Good enough might not get you the grades you want but it might just keep you well enough to be able to cope with how you are feeling.
Good enough might just relieve the deep pressure that keeps you awake at night.
Good enough might allow you time to flourish outside of academic pressure and develop new skills on things you are passionate about.
Good enough means that it doesn’t matter how many times you have to ‘start again’, each time is good enough because each day, you are doing good enough.
You are more than ‘good enough’, you really are - whether you believe it not.
As we all start again, have hope that this year, however many times you need to start again in your journey coping with self-harm; it is good enough.
Some people love school – they love seeing their mates every day, they enjoy learning and enjoy the structure of the school day;
Some people really dread school – getting up early, having to wear a uniform, having to sit in lessons that feel irrelevant, being surrounded by people all day and then having homework to do.
For some people the only thing worse than school are the endless summer holidays.
The idea of the summer break is good – waking up late, no plans, chilling out……
But….the reality can be so different after the first 48 hours: seeing everyone’s holiday photos of hot sunny places may make you feel sad or jealous; feeling like everyone else is out having fun and you are on your own, not wanting to join in but at the same time wanting to be invited to join anyway; hoping it might rain so you don’t have to make up a excuse for wearing long sleeves; feeling isolated without the structure of the school day which makes each day feel long; getting fed up playing online games with your sibling….
There used to be a TV programme called ‘why don’t you?’ and it gave you ideas of things to make, do, places to visit with your mates. It wasn’t too bad for the 90’s!
There was a line on the opening song which said ‘why don’t you switch off your TV and do something less boring instead?’ which used to annoy me because if I turned off the TV then, I wouldn’t be able to know what do to!
We want to give you some ideas to get you to turn off your TV (or wifi!) and make the summer feel more positive:
At SelfharmUK we recognize that summer can be hard with lots of additional stresses due to the changes in routine and weather – we will be running our online Alumina self-harm support group each Monday and will be adding new videos and support material weekly.
We hope it helps your summer!
The article below to celebrate World Music Day was written by Sophie, a previous Graduate Volunteer with Youthscape.
I am a massive lover of music; I’m constantly listening to it. I’ve actually got my headphones in now as I write this!
Music is powerful. It can be so influential, and can be used as a way to express feelings, share a particular message, tell a story, and bring people together. There’s always something for everyone’s taste. You can study music, create it, or simply just listen and appreciate it. There is so much I love about music, where do I even start?
I’ve grown up in a musical family. My dad led the music at Church and was always playing his guitar and singing around the house. Whenever we would see his side of the family, it would always end up in a good ol’ sing song, and it still does! My brother is also very musical and I’d say I am too, though not to the same extent – my guitar playing skills are a little rusty! However, as I said, I’m always listening to music, and it has certainly helped me through life.
Music is everywhere we go; most shops we go into will always have music playing in the background, and I’ve even been in some shops that have a DJ! I also particularly like the pianos at St Pancras train station, free for anyone to play. It amazes me how much talent there is out there, and being able to hear a performance live is always so great! I love when you can literally feel the music, the bass in your chest, those songs that give you goosebumps, music that really resonates with you.
I love that music is for any and every mood, from when you need a good cry, to when you’re absolutely pumped and feel on top of the world! Music would help me through times where I felt alone and it would sometimes express my emotions – you know, when there’s a song that completely describes how you’re feeling or what you’re going through? Or when a song puts into words what you struggle to? Music helps calm my anxiety and has distracted me when I need a break from what’s going on around me – headphones in, world out! Music can put me in an amazing mood, it can lift me if I’m feeling a bit down, it can bring back great memories and can make me want to sing and dance around wherever I am (and I will do so where appropriate!)
Music has got me through many hours of work, revision and essays. I know a lot of people who need silence to work, but music motivates me and helps me concentrate (most of the time). I remember my friend once telling me how she got around music being a distraction - she had started listening to songs in a different language so it meant she couldn’t get distracted by singing along to it!
I absolutely love how music brings people together, through the love of a song, band/artist, cause - we recently saw how so many people came together for the benefit concert, to help raise funds for the victims of the Manchester attack and their families. As well as people actually being at the concert, so many people tuned in to watch from home too. Music can connect people across cities, countries and continents, and in a way, it’s like a language we all share.
I just couldn’t imagine a world without music, could you? There are so many reasons to celebrate it today!
It’s more than ‘liking’ a song or favourite band; it’s more than ‘having a sing song’;
When you find a song that says how you are feeling, it opens up emotions that are trapped deep within us.
For me, right now, there are two songs that connect deep within me, both very different in mood and lyrics but both are able to say what I can’t find the right words to. I play these songs over and over; I cry to them, I scream the lyrics when I am on my own, I hit the air at the words that connect hardest to me and after, I feel much better.
Because song lyrics are poetry. They speak emotions, they resonate feelings, they help us find words for pain that we can’t express; song lyrics complete us.
Songs tell a story; one that we ‘get’. We all have songs we play at different times depending on our moods - happy songs we sing to with our mates, angry songs we blare out loudly at home when we are feeling cross and frustrated, sad songs that open up our feelings of pain.
Songs make us feel alive because they are about our story.
Radio 1 are doing a fantastic piece on songs and mental health – getting musicians to tell their journey through poor mental health by relating to the songs they wrote on the dark days. It’s inspiring and comforting to know that those songs were written when that person was feeling like we are – that’s why we can sing with the same feeling they did; because they can put words to our thoughts.
Think about what you are listening to, perhaps write the lyrics to keep near you, maybe send them to a family member or friend so they can understand how you are feeling and what you might be wanting to say – songs are the poetry of our souls: let’s use them to speak out.
As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, Jo Fitzsimmons shares her thoughts on how you could think about managing your mental health going forward in our latest blog.
Here are 10 things you might not have known about managing your mental health:
One Direction: the biggest boy band on the planet; the one with all the screaming fans and everyone wondering about their every move. People will often assume these pop stars and many others in the public eye have a perfect, pain-free life. We might think, if I could have one day in their life, all my problems would seem to disappear.
This week Zayn Malik released his book, “Zayn”. It offers an insight into what he describes as the darkest and most difficult times of his life. It’s even refreshing to hear that sentence isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – I would not wish dark and difficult times on anyone, but I think that sentence causes us to take a step back and realise that those times come to and are felt by everyone.
Zayn openly expresses in his book that during the last few months of One Direction he had an eating disorder. He says this:
“I think it was about control. I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control, so I did, I had lost so much weight I had become ill. The workload and the pace of life on the road put together with the pressures and strains of everything going on within the band had badly affected my eating habits.” (Taken from Zayn Malik’s autobiography Zayn 2016)
There can be many reasons why people can develop eating disorders, and most of us instantly assume it is about being thin. While this can sometimes be the case, as Zayn so eloquently points out one big reason can be about gaining some control.
The online resource Eating Disorder Hope talks about anxiety and control linked to eating disorders:
"Often, it is the case that anxiety precedes an eating disorder. In struggling with severe anxiety, for instance, being able to control the aspect of one’s life, such as food, weight, and exercise, indirectly gives the suffer a false sense of control, which can temporarily relieve symptoms experienced due to anxiety." (Taken from Eating Disorder Hope website 2016)
Zayn has also spoken in depth before about his own anxiety and how he has at times been unable to go on stage due to feelings of overwhelming panic. This is actually one reason he gave when he left the band back in March 2015. Popular vlogger Zoella has also created a fantastic video about her own panic attacks and anxiety, you can see it here
I think it is important for us to try to realise a couple of things from stories like Zayn’s. Firstly, we must remember that all people – whoever they are and whatever they do for a living – feel, live and experience pain. Secondly we should be challenged to think about our own recovery, so ask yourself:
What are the things that are causing you to try to gain some control?
How does controlling food help to make things better?
What things may need to change in order for the need to control to fade?
From there you can begin, as Zayn did, to find a place of freedom.
SelfharmUK eating disorder resources can be found here
A Parents guide to eating disorders can be found here
B-eat are another eating disorder charity that are there to help you
Sanyha is a sixth form student and the self-harm team met her at the Priory School Mental Wellbeing Fayre, Sanyha has suffered with depression and self-harm and uses this blog to talk to us about where she has come from and where she is now. It's really inspiring to read and we hope this helps some of you think about a life without self-harm.
Imagine being so confused with yourself to the point where you can't even recognise who you are anymore; well that was me roughly two years ago.
I was diagnosed with severe depression in January 2015 when I was fifteen years old, at this time I was referred to CAMHS where I had regular therapy sessions since until October 2016. I have been discharged from the services, however in the past two years I had an incredibly difficult time in living my life as the thoughts of worthlessness and uselessness overwhelmed the positivity that I once had. Fortunately, I have regained my usual self through therapy as well as medication which I was put on in December 2015 as this was known to be a better route for me. I went through more than 3 suicide attempts and I am near to 11 months clean from self harm which is such a proud achievement for me.
I can honestly say that, I would never wish any of the experiences I went through on anybody at all because feeling like you want to leave the world is such a horrible feeling and us teenagers should not be thinking such a thought when we have our whole life ahead of us. The same goes for anybody of any age group as everybody has a purpose, whether you can see it yourself or not. This is why mental health awareness is vital and too important to ignore. Since my diagnosis, I have learnt so much about mental health and this has added to my passion about mental health and getting people to start talking about this topic rather than viewing it as a weakness and a taboo thing to talk about. It is my mission to do my best in raising awareness to mental health as it certainly does not get the attention that it should do. I raise awareness through my blog, YouTube Channel, Instagram, Twitter and my Snapchat Vlogs.
Currently, I am at Sixth Form studying Art, Sociology and Philosophy & Ethics and I am absolutely loving Sixth Form life! As well as studying my A Levels, I am beginning an Art Therapy group for the younger students at my school. I have started doing freelance makeup artistry as I have a passion for beauty as well and I also attend blogging events and meetings.
I have huge plans for my future which I did not think I would have as I honestly did not think I would get this far in life but I have, which is saying something – if I can then anybody can! I want to make a difference and I want to inspire, those are my main goals.
Mental health is like physical illness; how long will it take for people to realise this?
You can see more about what Sanyha is up to here http://sanzshares.blogspot.co.uk
There are books that can help with your own recovery here https://www.youthscape.co.uk/store/project/selfharm
Bethany Murray has been known to SelfharmUK for a long time and is an inspirational young person who has overcome some challenging things in her life. She shares openly with us about the struggles she is facing as she transitions to university and gives some hints to help us in our own transitions.
Earlier this week I posted this tweet: "Yes I am rather melodramatic but I feel like my heart is being ripped out when I think of everything being left behind as I move to uni."
At the end of this week I am moving to the other side of the country to study psychology at uni. It's scary. It's a massive change. I am in a period of transition. And, in all honestly I feel a real fear about starting this new phase of life.
Change is one of the most common things people feel afraid of. Myself included.
What's interesting, is that things have changed in my life before...obviously. Life, for each of us, is made up of many different chapters and phases. Before each of these times of significant change in my life I've felt this horrible anxious almost heartbroken feeling. Moving house, starting secondary school, my brother and sister leaving home etc. etc.
I have three simple things I am holding onto at the moment as I enter this new period of change and tradition. If you're feeling similarly worried or overwhelmed while being faced with change in your life, I want to suggest repeating after me:
I have already survived many big changes in my life.
Positive things have often come from changes that I once spent many nights crying over.
If nothing ever changed I would still be wearing a nappy and having my bum wiped.
Change can make us feel scared, uncertain, overwhelmed, bereft, heartbroken and regretful. Yet we must remember that change is good and change is necessary.
Without change we don't grow. We don't have a chance to implement things we've learnt. We aren't able to learn new things. We can't experience more of the amazing world we live in. Without change we wouldn’t be able to find out about things that we currently have no knowledge or experience of. Without change we cannot reach our full potential.
When I know a big change is happening in my life, the thing I struggle with most is the "what ifs?".
What if I make no friends at uni?
What if I get behind on work?
What if I get lost in a big new city?
What if people at home forget about me?
What if I don't have the help I need?
"What if" thoughts come from a place of insecurity. Of anxiety. These "what if" thoughts are never likely to be projecting a positive forecast. And so that's where I have learnt to intervene. My brain chatters away and my thoughts are swirling with fear and uncertainty and all I can imagine is complete and utter catastrophe and so I force myself to imagine a positive scenario for each negative "what if".
What if I meet my life long best friend at uni?
What if the work isn't as hard as I’m imagining?
What if I discover beautiful corners of a new city?
What if writing letters to people at home becomes a new favourite hobby?
What if I meet new people who help me more than anyone I've met before?
For me, as someone who has struggled with self-harm and mental illness for a long time, I know times of transition are particularly difficult. I have noticed negative patterns during these times and are often when I struggle most. And so I have now worked on strategies that help me cope.
Acknowledging that loss is a real part of change is important. With any change happening in life, you will be losing something that has been positive. Even exciting changes may bring sadness about some elements of your life ceasing to be the way they were. It's okay to feel sad about these things. It's okay to need some time to process that.
Focusing on the positives sounds a cliché piece of advice but, it's still probably the best I can give. Sometimes things change in life for very negative reasons, but a lot of the transitions we face in life have many pros as well as the cons we may be focusing on. Keeping these in mind, even writing them down is really helpful.
Finding supportive people with whom you can talk through these fears with will make a real difference. For me, my anxiety gets worse the more time I’m left to think things through alone without another more rational voice. Having people I know I can speak to when I’m facing a difficult change or time of transition is so important. These people make me think about whether the things I worry about happening are actually likely and help me put plans in place for coping with different eventualities.
I want to finish this blog post with a quote that helps me greatly.
“When we make a change, it’s so easy to interpret our unsettledness as unhappiness, and our unhappiness as a result of having made the wrong decision. Our mental and emotional states fluctuate madly when we make big changes in our lives, and some days we could tight-rope across Manhattan, and other days we are too weary to clean our teeth. This is normal. This is natural. This is change.” – Jeanette Winterson
Here at SelfharmUK we want to help people understand their harming behaviour and explore other ways to cope with life's challenges.
If you get in touch we'll listen to your story and suggest ways to help you move forward ... but somewhere along the line we'll almost always suggest you visit your GP. This can be a really tough thing to do, we know it can be scary, and can mean having to tell your parents too (though not always) but we believe it can be a significant step towards feeling better.
We asked GP David Roberts what you can expect when talking to your doctor about self-harm and whilst this article is only a guide - and not a definitive set of facts - we hope it will help you feel more in control, if and when, you walk into that consulting room...
Why do I have to go to the Doctor?
Self-harming is usually an indication that all is not right. People sometimes do it because it relieves internal tension and stress. It is not a very good way of doing this and like drugs, alcohol and smoking ultimately doesn't do any good. But in the short term it gives a temporary relief from emotional pain. However, it can be a symptom of a more serious mental illness and so your doctor can make sure you get the help you need.
Can I go on my own or do I have to take a parent?
You can legally go to the GP alone aged 16, but doctors can accept that you may be able to make your own decisions about your health (eg contraception) from 14 if they think you understand things and are mature enough to do so. A doctor would want you to involve your parent(s) in your care until you are 16 and are likely to encourage you. They would not give you an injection or carry out an operation, or even do an intimate (embarrassing) examination (physical check) without your parent's permission before you are 16.
How can I get ready for my appointment?
Even if you are under 16 That does not mean that you cannot talk to them about your problems or issues. It is a good idea to think about what you want to say and write the main points down. Lots of people get embarrassed at what they want to say and so don't get to the point. Doctors are busy and don't get embarrassed by what you think or say, so it is better to take a deep breath and say it right at the beginning rather than put it off. They won't mind and it will give them more time to talk to you than if you spend the first five minutes talking about a rash that no one can see because it really isn't there! Think about what you want to get out of the appointment - do you just want to tell someone and get it off your chest, do you want help stopping it, do you want them to refer you on to someone who could give you specialist help? If you tell them what you want then they can work out how best to support you.
What will happen if I say I self harm?
Self harming is quite common and they will have seen other people who do it. So they won't be shocked, but they will be concerned. The biggest concern they would have is that you might want to kill yourself. Not many people who self harm want to do this but doctors have a professional duty to assess the risk of that happening. they are obliged to keep what you say confidential and private between you and them, unless you tell them something that they think might indicate that your health is seriously at risk (or you might be planning to do something that might endanger someone else) - see later - in which case they may be obliged to break your confidence. They should tell you this. They will want to help you, and so if you have plucked up courage to tell them, they will try to find ways to do that.
What will they ask me?
This might include asking some deep questions which you might find embarrassing: don't be though, they're only trying to work out what's making you do this. They'll ask about cutting, taking drugs, overdoses, and other ways you might be tempted to hurt yourself. They may ask you about how you feel (low, depressed, crying, worried, frightened, angry) and how things are at home or school or work. If they feel you trust them they might ask you to come back again to see them, and they might suggest that they refer you on to see a specialist from the CAMH service (people who work most of their time with young people with similar problems). They might encourage you to speak to a counsellor at school, particularly if there is someone there you feel you can talk to. They will want to know why you have come to see them at that time and to find out what help you want them to give you. You may not be able to say this, but if you've thought about it beforehand it will help.
Do they have to tell my parents?
They are obliged in law to protect you and others from actions you might take that might harm you or others. But they need to check how likely your might be to do something you say you want to do so they will question you quite hard. If you are under 16 and they think you are suicidal (or planning a murder!) they will have to tell your parents or other authorities. They will still encourage you to involve your parents as they have legal responsibility for you, but if the risk is low in their view, they will try their best to keep what you say confidential.
Will I have to show them where I have self-harmed?
They can't and won't force you (unless they are seriously worried about you being in danger and even then they will ask for advice from someone who specialises in child protection). They will want to assess how bad your injuries are - you might need antibiotics if your cuts are infected, and you might need dressings to protect the wounds.
Remember they aren't easily shocked or embarrassed and really want to help you - showing them the extent of your cutting will help them work out how serious the problem is and how to get you the best help.
Emotionally exploding can be dangerous, often we end up hurting those closest to us and we don’t necessarily feel any better for it afterwards. That being said, sometimes I wish I had just exploded. Instead I was imploding. I thought the latter would be safer, only hurting myself but really it’s just as dangerous as the first option. I thought that I could handle everything I was feeling but the truth is I didn’t even know what I was feeling. I couldn’t separate out my emotions. Was I angry, hurt, depressed, frustrated, sad…? If I couldn’t even pin point what I was feeling, how could I explain it to anyone else? How could someone else understand what I couldn’t understand? So I bottled it up inside, trying to deal with it myself. Anxiety started to become the overriding emotion and once a week I would implode. Panic would take over my body; I couldn’t get out of bed. Simple tasks would fill me with fear and make my heart race.
I tried talking to a friend about it a couple of times – they wanted to help and suggest things that I could do to help myself but I couldn’t hear it. The fact that they could talk about my feelings so rationally and offer solutions so easily just made me feel pathetic. I felt that I was the problem – I couldn’t cope with simple situations that other people could easily manage if they were in my position.
It seemed so hopeless until one day I had arranged to see the careers advisor at my work. Before I knew it I was blurting out an incoherent, blubbering, rambling mess of how I was feeling. She was a stranger, sat there listening in silence until I had finished. When I’d finished, she didn’t try to offer an answer, she simply acknowledged that what I was feeling was valid. I wasn’t crazy, just confused and being too hard on myself. She offered me sessions with a counsellor where I could have the space and time to try and get to the source of what I was feeling, identify what was triggering my anxiety, and work on some practical tools I could use to stay calmer during an episode of anxiety. I’m still a work in progress but, a year after my turning point I feel the burden has lifted significantly. I’m trying to keep my family and friends clued in on what I’m working through so they can help spot when I am feeling overwhelmed. When I feel the tendency to bottle it all up and implode I turn to someone I really trust and simply say “I’m feeling anxious today but I’m not really sure why”. They don’t always understand but they are trying to. I think it helps them to know I am not being distant and moody; I’m just trying to stay above water.
Try talking to someone. If you feel you can talk to a friend or family member then give it a go. If it doesn’t make you feel instantly better that’s ok. There are other options out there. If you would rather talk to a stranger, there are great free services through school, or through a recommendation by your GP. If you don’t know what to talk about or can’t put into words how you are feeling then even saying that is a start. Stop beating yourself up for not being able to cope. It’s ok to admit that you feel overwhelmed. It will take time but you can feel better. You deserve to be happy.
Louise is a Research Scientist working in Dublin i.e. she is a massive geek. She is passionate about informing and encouraging young adults - empowering them to realise how awesome they truly are!
Have you ever noticed your inner critic?
Inner critic: What kind of stupid question is that?!
My inner critic tends to speak up a lot. In fact, for many years I never noticed this critical voice in my head, even as it told me how useless I am, how much I'm failing, how everyone secretly doesn't like me...
I was so used to the constant stream of negative thoughts that I thought it was unavoidable.
Even when everything seemed to be going well, my inner critic would pipe up with words of doom, warning me that something terrible was going to happen. And that it was probably my fault.
It's no wonder I ended up living with terrible anxiety.
Inner critic: It's hardly MY fault you're too lame to take a little criticism. Sort yourself out!
I was scared of everything and nothing, all at the same time. I was afraid of panic attacks. I was convinced there must be something wrong with me. Sometimes it seemed like a phobia I understood – like being trapped somewhere. At other times I felt anxious about existing at all.
The anxiety got so bad I couldn't see a way out. I thought I'd broken something in myself, and that I was stuck with anxiety forever.
Luckily, that wasn't true.
There were many steps that helped me to get on top of the anxiety. One of the first was noticing the existence of my inner critic.
Inner critic: YOU'RE IGNORING ME TODAY THOUGH, AREN'T YOU? HYPOCRITE!
After paying more attention to my thoughts I began to notice how many of them were negative. Even when these thoughts were true, they weren't helpful.
I started to think of this negative stream as my 'inner critic'. Labelling these thoughts in this way helped me to tune them out when they showed up: "Oh, that's just my inner critic again."
(Of course, it's not always easy to tune out thoughts, and I failed a lot – which gave the inner critic something else to criticise! But with perseverance I got better at it.)
Relating to the Inner Critic Long-term
You might think that the best way to relate to the inner critic is to fight back, or to tell them to shut up, or to argue. But actually those ideas don't help very much.
After all, the inner critic is part of me – if I go to war with them, I'm just going to war against myself.
Instead, developing a better relationship with our inner critic seems to help.
Befriending the inner critic seems like such a terrible idea. After all, almost everything they say is unhelpful: "You suck... no-one likes you... why are you even bothering to try."
If a friend behaved like that to you, you'd probably reconsider whether or not they were a good friend.
But when I looked into why the inner critic said what they said, I realised it was usually trying to protect me. They were afraid that if I tried something difficult, I would fail, and that this would be bad for me.
My inner critic was trying to help me, but they're not smart-
Inner critic: Hey!
- and they only have one skill: criticism! So they just criticise... over-and-over again, because they don't know how to do anything else.
In real life when someone is trying to help but doesn't really know how, we usually are grateful - but we would also ignore their advice.
Applying this to my relationship with my inner critic helped a lot. Instead of getting frustrated whenever they spoke up, I thanked them for it and moved on. This way I didn't get angry with myself, or listen too much to their negativity.
Saying "thanks inner critic. I get that you're trying to help, but I don't need that help right now," is much more loving approach than getting into an internal war.
(Of course this is difficult too... love often requires more effort than fighting.)
Anxiety is complicated, and sadly there usually isn't just one magic wand we can wave to fix it.
But perhaps being grateful to your inner critic, and remembering that they're just a part of you that wants you to succeed, can help you to both be more loving to yourself and to ignore the negative thoughts of your inner critic.
Neil Hughes is the writer of 'Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life', a comedy book about anxiety.