How negative self-talk literally made me sick

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Photo: Neil Gavin
As a fitness model, Anna Hanks lives a life of constant travel (and constant scrutiny)—and in the past few years she’s also been diagnosed with celiac disease and Epstein-Barr virus. To confront her health issues, the 24-year-old has seen countless doctors and healers, and she had done so much research that she eventually trained to become a certified holistic health coach in her own right. Here, she shares the story of how she made peace with her body—and the (self-love) lessons she’s learned along the way. 

In my early 20s, as I dealt with the pressures of a modeling career and everything that goes with that, I was also dealing with Epstein-Barr virus (which led to chronic fatigue syndrome). I cannot even begin to express how frustrated and alone I felt in moments during that period of time.

The chronic internal stress of my condition was wreaking havoc on both my endocrine and nervous systems—resulting in severe hormonal imbalances, adrenal fatigue, thyroid inflammation, and a chronic autoimmune disease (celiac disease).

But none of what was happening from a health standpoint made any sense. I knew that I was taking care of myself by working out every day, rarely going out or drinking, and nourishing my body with healthy foods. I surrounded myself with healthy, positive friendships and was (and still remain) in a loving, supportive relationship with my fiancé.

But my thought patterns were toxic. I placed an enormous amount of stress on myself by trying too hard to do the things that I “should be doing”: becoming a “better model” by posting the best photo that would get the most likes on Instagram, creating a following that clients would approve of, and basically seeking validation in others’ approval.

Self-love was not present in my thoughts at all. Looking in the mirror or looking at photos of myself became torture, triggering constant self-criticism.

Comparing ourselves to others is so constant—and so damaging—that an internal “judgment detox” is crucial in moving forward in life.

I had to make a change. My ego had grown bigger than I could have ever imagined, drowning out my inner voice completely. I got sick and tired of being sick and tired—and that’s how the wake-up call started.

I decided to be honest with myself and call “bullshit” on the thoughts that, in my opinion, were literally making me sick. Over the last few months, I finally started healing my body.

What have I learned? Comparing ourselves to others is so constant—and so damaging—that an internal “judgment detox” is crucial in moving forward in life. Real happiness (and in my case, health) has come from looking within and listening to all the messages my body and mind have been desperately trying to communicate to me.

Here’s how I started to begin this process, away from self-judgment and toward self-love.

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Photo: Neil Gavin
Photo: Neil Gavin

I turned off the notifications

Right now, we are a society fueled by the validations and consent of others in order to feel worthy. When we turn into slaves to our phones, something needs to change.

Outside of work or family obligations, I suggest limiting scrolling and posting to certain times of day. I personally have deleted these apps on my phone because habitual checking in throughout the day was consuming way too much of my free time.

I know that I’m my happiest when I’m spending my free time doing all of the things that make my heart sing and make me truly feel alive—and none of those involve a phone!

Photo: Anna Hanks
Photo: Anna Hanks

I stopped making never-ending lists

In my opinion, it is impossible to tackle a to-do list of more than five things per day. That is always when I hit my max.

The minute you begin making a list of 10, 20, or even 30 tasks to accomplish in one day, you are overloading your brain’s ability to focus on what’s important and diminish the level of urgency. Once you create the expectation for yourself that you “should” be superhuman and accomplish all of these lists—and berate yourself internally for not accomplishing them—you will start to stress your immune system and enter “overdrive.”

Seriously, we need to not be so hard on ourselves. I give myself the benefit of the doubt all the time now, because I understand that my negative self-talk was being internalized. That is my greatest lesson to date.

Photo: Anna Hanks
Photo: Anna Hanks

I started meditating and journaling every day

Spend time writing each day (even it’s just a note in your phone) to document all of the good things in your life: the people you meet, the visit with your friend where you had a real belly-laugh-until-you-cry moment, seeing your new nephew for the first time, or getting to celebrate your grandma’s 94th birthday.

Whatever it is that makes you smile, brings you back to the present moment, and allows you to feel “here and now,” that’s the stuff worth capturing. When I write key phrases such as, “I felt free, I felt safe, I felt supported,” it allows me to cherish the memory in a way I will never forget.

Also, I’ve been practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) for about a year. And in my practice, I’ve found myself the needed time to truly let go of all of the tension and unnecessary “weight” that I tend to desperately cling to. Releasing this tightness and pressure in both my mind and body has been such a blessing in letting go of my anger, fear, and other harmful feelings.

Photo: James Farrell
Photo: James Farrell

I strived to live each day in the “middle ground”

I’ve lived at both sides of the spectrum, viewing my choices in life to be “healthy” or “unhealthy.” But I’ve discovered that these are limiting beliefs, and neither extreme will make you happy or bring you inner peace.

A lifestyle that includes a balanced, nutritious diet as well as healthy sleep and workout habits is crucial for functioning as your best self. However, part of showing up to life is saying yes to the spontaneous, unplanned events.

Go ahead and stop by that spur-of-the-moment happy hour and allow yourself to miss your SoulCycle class once in a while, so you can sleep in and binge-watch Netflix. Stay out dancing or karaoke-ing all night after an enjoying a who-cares-how-many-calories-this-is dinner to celebrate your birthday.

The minute we start to obsess over our choices, we become our own worst enemy. I truly believe now that the only thing that matters is: How deeply did you love, both others and yourself? To be able to give and accept more love, you need to give yourself a little space—it’s the only way I’ve found to reach a truly healthy, happy state.

How else to be all about the positivity? Baby steps: Try this Happiness Workout, or maybe just switch it up, salad-wise

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