Here’s why to look inwards and engage with your inner critic during this turbulent period of change.
Lockdown is a difficult time for many people. It’s unsurprising that we’ve seen a spike in anxiety at a point when we’re facing huge changes to our daily lives, coupled with a crippling sense of uncertainty about the future.
More than that, though, being separated from our friends and family – along with a routine that may well have been thrown into disarray – means that many of us will have been forced into close proximity with that inner critic we normally try to avoid.
“In quarantine, sooner or later, your inner world comes knocking, and unfortunately, for many of us, it won’t be a friendly visit,” writes psychotherapist Sean Glover in Psychology Today.
“Many of my patients have experienced a resurgence of anxiety and depression since the lockdown began. Critical inner voices muted for years have returned with a vengeance.”
While your immediate instinct may be to suppress that nagging and often unkind internal dialogue, lockdown may actually be a good opportunity to lean right into it. Here’s why:
Value this empty time to go within
Cynics among you may roll your eyes at the idea of “going within”, but it doesn’t have to mean immersing yourself in healing crystals or day-long meditation sessions.
Instead, you can use lockdown as a means to slow down a little and actually peel back the layers of what’s going on inside your head – something we so rarely do in normal day-to-day life.
“Most of us live our days without examining ourselves or others or our relationships to others; the world in which we all live,” author and community leader Parker Palmer tells the mental health podcast The One You Feed. “We live our days without paying attention to much of that because everything is fine.
“But when everything isn’t fine […] then we have a chance to think about a whole lot of things, to examine a whole lot of things more profoundly.”
In your non-coronavirus life, you may blitz out that inner critic by staying busy: but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gone away. In contrast, this turbulent lockdown period can be your cue to name and tame your negative thoughts by coming face-to-face with them.
“When you’re in motion, moving from place to place, your focus is outside of yourself,” says Glover. “Frequently, you don’t have time to spend with your thoughts and feelings – you’re just too busy checking off your to-do list. But does a busy life necessarily mean a happy one?”
Relax into the unknown
Another important part of this process is learning to trade external control for an internal sense of trust. We’re living through this huge tidal wave of uncertainty right now. Your instinct may be to plough right on and stay as busy as possible to regain some semblance of control over the situation.
But again, pausing to listen to what you’re thinking about, and rooting out the source of your fear, can be a more helpful way forward.
“When we can slow down enough to ask ourselves, ‘what do I *actually* need in this moment?’, we create an opportunity to meet our needs instead of continue doing what we *think* we need but isn’t actually serving or supporting us,” says therapist Lisa Olivera in a recent and insightful post on Instagram.
For example, you might think you need self-improvement, when what you actually need is self-acceptance. And what you think you need to fix (your negative inner voice, for example), you instead need to simply be with.
Once you’ve managed to process the shockwaves that the current situation has caused a little, you may want to take the chance to examine your thought processes more closely.
This will probably feel uncomfortable at first, as it’s so counterintuitive to the way that we live our lives. When times get tough, we naturally search for solutions instead of accepting things for the way that they are.
But the circumstances of lockdown are uniquely placed to allow us to stop participating in the cycle of doing and achieving and instead simply be.
“As a society, we’re being asked to disengage and turn inwards,” notes author and speaker Mirabai Starr, speaking to The One You Feed. A central part of this, she says, is “ceasing from our efforts to bend the world to the way we want it to be”.
Recalibrate your inner critic
So now that you have this opportunity to sit and be with your inner critic, how can you shut off its power?
To replace the negative dialogue with more positive voices, Glover suggests a series of strategies including gratitude.
“Gratitude is a force that can unleash tremendous trapped energy,” he says. “It can lighten your load and refresh your outlook. Gratitude journals are an excellent tool for inspiring more gratefulness in your life. If journaling isn’t for you, try writing a letter to someone you appreciate. Tell them how much they mean to you; not only will you make your day – you’ll make theirs too!”
It should also come as no shocker to find that being kind to yourself is also key.
“Find a way to praise yourself,” Glover says. “Go ahead, admire, and celebrate yourself. After all, you’re hanging in there; you’re still here, you’re still striving. You’re like Rocky Balboa, still on your feet and fighting.”
So, there you have it: the next time you find your inner critic bubbling up, don’t try and drown it in action. Instead, stay with it a little while and gently push back against what it has to say.