How to Stop Completely Spiraling Every Time You Receive a Little Criticism

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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If you’re like me, any sort of negative feedback can really sting and unleash a wave of sadness, frustration, and self-doubt. Does my roommate’s complaint about the trash mean she secretly hates me? My boss just pointed out that I forgot to send an important email…does she regret hiring me?

Some criticism can be downright harsh (and entirely unproductive)—but even gentler, constructive feedback can make me panic and overthink everything. That’s because “criticism can sometimes trigger underlying negative beliefs we hold about ourselves,” Nelly Seo, PsyD, a psychologist specializing in anxiety and trauma at Therapists of New York, tells SELF. Maybe you can’t let go of that one critique from your performance review because deep down you’re worried you’re not qualified for your job, for example. Or perhaps you had a hyper-critical parent who made you feel like you never measured up, so every suggestion about your cleaning habits feels like a direct hit to your self-worth.

You can’t go through life getting only five-star reviews—no matter how perfect you try to be—so it’s important to learn how to navigate these inevitable situations without letting them chip away at your self-esteem. The next time you’re convinced you’re a total screwup or failure (seriously, you’re not!), give some of these expert-approved coping strategies a try.

1. Excuse yourself and try to find a moment alone.

Maybe your manager picked apart every detail of that project you worked so hard on. Or you and your partner just got into a nasty argument, where they called out the fact that you always check your phone on date nights.

When you feel your eyes watering up, your voice cracking, or your heart racing in these moments, the first thing you should do, according to Dr. Seo, is step away if you can—whether that means taking a breather outside or excusing yourself to hide in a bathroom stall.

For one, physically walking away from a stressful environment (and the person who triggered your teary-eyed response) can help you gain a clearer perspective when your mind is clouded with anxiety, she says. Plus, you’ll be able to regulate your emotions in private—without the pressure to put on a happy face in front of others.

2. Do a quick body scan to shift your attention away from your spiraling thoughts.

While you’re collecting yourself, Dr. Seo also recommends doing an easy mindfulness exercise called a body scan. Like the name implies, you focus on different parts of your body, one by one, starting at your feet and making your way up to your head, then back down to your feet. As you’re doing this, take notice of any sensations in each area: Are your toes feeling particularly cold or warm? Is there any tingling or tightness in your legs? Tension in your chest?

Research has shown that this popular mindfulness technique can help decrease anxiety. By bringing your attention to physical sensations, Dr. Seo explains, you interrupt any intrusive thoughts. “Our bodies are always in the present,” she says, “whereas our minds can travel between the past, present, and future.”

3. Distract yourself with the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise.

Another trick to get out of your head and back into the present moment is something called the 5-4-3-2-1 method, Elisa Martinez, LMFT, a San Francisco–based therapist who specializes in anxiety and self-esteem, tells SELF.


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