A CBT look at unhealthy Covid19 self-talk

How are you explaining the Covid19 pandemic situation to yourself? 


In these dramatic times it is important to regulate overly dramatic self-talk – things are bad enough without giving them a distorted exaggeration, right? Yes, it is a pandemic, it’s a very big deal.. It is a sudden lockdown and restriction of normal life. It is a sudden uncertainty of the future, socially and financially. It is a threat.  It is not a neutral or positive event, it is most definitely a highly negative event – and we are not robots so we’re going to have a negative response to a negative event – with emotional and physical upset. CBT can help you moderate your responses.


With CBT – no matter what the circumstances – we build a skillset of awareness and management of how we explain the world to ourselves, because overly negative self-talk can cause us unnecessary upset, and maximises our discomfort –  in other words, be careful what you are saying to yourself, your body is taking it literally.


CBT journalling: notice and map your-self talk habits in writing. Why? When we write down how we explain things to ourselves, it is easier to see when the thoughts and beliefs are not helpful and not precise – it is more efficient to identify sensationalised dramatic statements, and then to edit the statements to dial down the dramatics and replace with a new cooler more precise and proportional self-talk. This is called ‘learning by discovery’ in a way that your brain likes, where you catch and edit your own style of narrative, not your therapists. Change how you view the world, and it will change how you feel and behave. You can learn to cope very well – it’s a real training science, and it really can rewire the brain, and skill you up with good habits.

Look at these ABCD models to see how to map thoughts and how they make us feel and behave –

ABCD Covid19


Consider your B, and ask yourself: is this overly dramatic? Is that helpful or unhelpful? Is that rational or irrational? Is that helpful or unhelpful? If I accept these statements 100% how will it make me feel and behave? Will this kind of thinking make me cause myself and others unnecessary upset ? What is a more cool and rational way to explain the situation? * design new self talk that dials down the drama, edit your language

Check out the following examples of unhealthy B and C examples that could do with some editing:

Omg this is a f-ing disaster.

We are so screwed.

I can’t bear it.

I can’t cope.

It’s not fair.

We’ll never get back to normal life.

It will keep coming at us until we’re destroyed.

Life will never be the same again.

Covid19 is evil.

We are under attack.

I am totally alone.

I’ll never see my friends again.

My friends/family aren’t there for me.

People are bastards.

I’ll never date again.

I’ll never have sex again.

I’m going to get it and it will be horrible and unbearable.

My children will die.

If I get it I’ll be one of those who dies, alone.

If I get it I’ll be left disabled, it destroys your hearts and kidneys.

It destroys families.

There will be a Great-Depression unlike any we’ve ever seen.

Society is gone!

Democracy is gone!

I’ll be unemployed and won’t be able to get a job.

The kid’s school year is destroyed and they’ll never get back on track.

A year of school/college is totally wasted.

There’s no point in working/studying as everything is on hold.

It will be like this for years.

I can’t help but eat every ten minutes, I’m disgusting.

I shouldn’t go out for exercise. In fact nobody should go out under any circumstances, it’s far too dangerous.

Nobody should go to the shop at all unless it’s an absolute emergency – one big shop a week, alone, is allowed, people who go more often are evil selfish idiots.

People who bring their children out for walks are terrible parents who don’t deserve their kids.

People don’t GAF.

People who bring their kids to the shop should be fined! Name and shame!

Joggers are bastards!

Gtfo the middle of the footpath you animal!

People must move to the edge of the footpath when they see me approach, or I am entitled to glare and curse and mutter at them.

Groups must fall into single file formation when others approach on the same footpath, or I am entitled, and indeed obliged, to shout and roar at them.

Cyclists should never break safe distance rules or I will shout ‘wtf asshole’ after them, and maybe flip the bird.

Politicians are milking the situation to pretend to be statesmen, God I hate [insert who].

Typical rage behaviours I’ve come across  – the below, shouted or muttered at people breaking safe distance recommendations  (it’s very like road rage):

  • For effs sake
  • You effing a-hole
  • Wtf!
  • Jesus Christ!
  • You selfish pr*ck / b*tch!

What is self talk? It is how you are explaining things to yourself. What are your thoughts and beliefs about a particular situation? What are you predicting will happen. Are you ‘anticipating and problem solving’ in a cool rational way? What are you ‘worrying’ about?

Self talk is also known as: Narrative. Framing. Perception. And indeed, just ‘thinking’.

Key ideas:

Dramatic negative self-talk is careless and casual, and contributes to pumping up our threat response (stress hormones), which all makes us feel emotionally upset and more likely to cause us self-sabotaging behaviour.

I call it ‘the language of battling demons’ – this kind of shorthand might be efficient and colourful paraphrasing, but it maximises your discomfort and elevates your threat response. (Some might need a beta blocker medication to regulate – google it and ask your doctor).

A regular statement of clients these days: “I don’t know how I’m supposed to get  through * it*.”

Know what you can control and what you cannot control. Be present in the moment. We cope because we have no choice – the question is, will we cope well, or badly, (or middle-ish / up and down). Just do your best – it’s a fluid situation and we get to remake our attitudes and choices every d

So how do you define ‘it’ exactly? What is *it*? Unpack that statement… expand, be precise. Explain it as if you were explaining to a child. Talk to your inner child. Then edit a new statement to be more detailed and precise. E.g:  ‘It is hard dealing with this situation, it’s difficult to cope very well and to be cool and rational all the time. Sometimes I get a bit dramatic and unmoored, but actually, if I stay in the present, and accept reality, keeping an eye on when I’m being over the top or hyper with my statements, I’ll feel and cope better. I can roll with it and do my best, and things will likely be manageable even if difficult. I’ve got this. I can cope – I would prefer it if I coped very well all the time, and I’m coping poorly sometimes, but I am coping, and my best is good enough.’.

Regulate your stress hormones and emotions and actions by regulating your self-talk – create a hyper-rational ‘you’, and use it to create new self-talk, to challenge the automatic irrational self-talk that you catch yourself doing. Think of it as a ‘Spock’ you, a ‘no-drama-Obama’ you. ‘What would Obama say? What would Spock say?’

Making sense of things through how we feel is not helpful – feck your feelings, they are not facts. Events, no matter how negative, only influence our emotional state, it is our overall perception plus our nervous system that causes them.)

Mindful rage exercise visualise and mantra: Ah, here’s rage, cool down you little ape.)

Use a sense of humour and strong visuals for your own mantras and guides self visualisation.


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