Words have power
Talking to ourselves is something we all do on a daily, if not minute-by-minute basis. Right now, like many of you, my self-chatter is full of what is happening with the global coronavirus pandemic and how it is impacting me and my family. Unsettling, upsetting and worrying are just three words that spring to mind.
That choice of words is not surprising bearing in mind that we are all worrying about our parents, our children, ourselves, our livelihoods and our future. It’s not surprising that our minds are in a riot of fear; pouncing on every news bulletin, Twitter rumour and WhatsApp group message, grabbing anything that seems vaguely factual and running away with it. It’s at precisely this point that we need to be extra vigilant, not only with the words we are putting into our heads but also what is coming out of our mouths. Just a few little word swaps have an outstanding effect on our psyche, in either a positive or a negative way.
When times are tough as they are right now, when every news station and paper is revelling in wall-to-wall reporting on every terrible thing that is happening in the world, the words we are surrounded with seep into our subconscious and lodge themselves there. Just think about what that is doing to you, listening to hourly hypothesising about how truly awful everything is? I’m not saying that we need to self-isolate with our fingers in our ears, but sticking to the facts rather than the worst-case guessing helps our fearful brain focus on truth rather than fiction.
So what can you do to calm yourself down, to not feel so stressed, and not talk yourself into feeling overwhelmed?
The first thing you can do is be mindful of how you talk to yourself; the words you use to talk to yourself right now. Don’t say things like: ‘it’s the end of the world’ even if you are joking around. When using catastrophizing language, our brain doesn’t know the difference between our fearful projecting thoughts and reality, and it will accept them as fact. So, it’s no wonder that you feel so awful – your brain has decided that all these terrible things that you are thinking about and saying aren’t just worries – they are facts!
The second thing to do is step away from negative people who are getting off on all this drama. You’ll know them; they’re the ones constantly messaging ‘news’ updates without checking whether they are true or not, using excitable, negative and frightening language. These people are extremely unhelpful, not only to themselves but to everyone around them. So stay away, and find someone else in your friendship group who you can talk to about how you are feeling who won’t fuel your fears.
This really is a time to think about how we talk to ourselves and others – what is our language saying to ourselves, how are we talking ourselves into feeling? The wrong words can make us feel angry, depressed and fearful which releases stress hormones – the brain reacts in the way you have told it to, it goes on guard, standing by on full alert, ready to protect us from harm. Your fuse is short, you are on edge, you are ready to react! And not in the best way. Using the right words can shift our perspective, can fill us with love, joy and gratitude. Think about what that does to our bodies – we feel lighter, energised, better able to cope with difficult times. There may not seem to be much around us to be grateful for at the moment, but if you look hard enough you can find comfort in even the tiniest of things. The longer days, the promise of Spring and the self-belief that this too shall pass. Even if the only thing you have to be grateful for is the fact that things will never be this awful again, it’s a starting point, so use it.
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Thinking about what I should say to her has made me stop and think about what I would say to my teenage self, if I ever could. It made me stop and think about me then, me now, and the me in between.