Why WORDS matter
Words are so f-ing powerful. What we read, hear, and say influences how we behave and how we feel. But not many of us really get taught how to harness the power of words, (both spoken out loud or in our own heads) to help recover from mental & physical health issues, or move forward in life.
I personally had no idea about the importance of words until I recovered from years of chronic pain. When i think back, pain was a word that probably took up 90% of my brain space. I had about twenty descriptive words to describe different types of pain (burning, stabbing, throbbing), and if I thought about what I wanted- uhhh simple, “to be pain-free”.
Neurologically, we are starting to understand their impact on shaping our brains, our reality, our identity and our lives. Words link to states of mind, and to how the body responds. To change your state and set yourself up for success, you need to learn how to channel heath-boosting, helpful thoughts. This all starts with words.
1. FLIP YOUR WORDS
Did you know that hearing the word pain actually primes our brain for any incoming stimuli and alters our perception of feeling. We’re all familiar with getting a blood test - the nurse says “don’t worry this wont hurt at all”, BUT there is an issue because the main thing our brain actually may hear and primes for is ‘worry’ and ‘pain’. This can increase all of those physical sensations. YES - crazy, and thats just on a physical level.
What about our own internal dialogue? I mean, we are the only ones who have the ability to influence this. Its the cliche Instagram quote ‘where our focus goes our energy flows’ ; through neuroplasticity, our neural wiring also goes where our focus is. Negative words becomes a harmless habit, but over time can cause a destructive mindset effecting our mind & body.
When you speak to yourself with words and language emphasising what you don’t want (or negative words), you are 1. operating in fear, 2. literally wiring the brain down the wrong route. These words activate the threat driven survival part of the brain associated with nasty stress hormones.
SO, rather than becoming pain-free, getting rid of anxiety, stopping panic attacks, or beating depression; what do you actually want instead?
2. DITCH THE ‘ALWAYS’ OR ‘NEVER’
“This always happens to me” “I’m always down/anxious” “I never get it right”
How many people do you know that are so good at speaking like this... we are all guilty of saying generalised sentences (yep including myself sometimes). Be aware of words and sentences that create a sense of permanency - implying that your feelings or the situation have been like that every moment of your life, and will forever stay that way. WRONG.
all, every, always, never, any, everybody, nobody, no one
These words exaggerate the truth and can create false illusions. In the past I would say “I’m over it, the pain is always there”, and if anyone had tried to tell me differently… cya. But, without realising, I was fine when sleeping (funny that), and often fine when I was out with the girls, or even when I was deep into a conversation. I didn’t always feel pain.
Generalising creates our version of reality. By just becoming aware, and making small changes to the words you use can create big difference in the way you feel. Notice how things change when you swap always to often, or even sometimes - the hard times or bad feelings begin to feel less permanent - give it a try! If we don’t always (24/7, 7 days a week) feel anxious, then how do we feel in those other little moments? Step by step you’re collecting empowering evidence.
3. SLOW IT DOWN
Its clear that words matter, but so does the tone and speed.
If you are feeling anxious, you will know what the voice inside your head sounds like; it’s probably really fast, really loud, and extremely convincing. Calm and steady words (spoken either from someone else or from ourself) feeds back to the brain that EVERYTHING IS GOOD, which in turn helps switch off the physical stress response.
The opposite sort of thing happens when someone is in a depressive episode, often they speak slower, pause more, and have less variation in tone than those who are not depressed.
Awareness is the first step, and by making small changes tone & speed of our internal dialogue (even if it feels a bit weird at the start), the brain and the body get different feedback, changing the way we feel over time.