Words Matter: How the Words You Use Can Decrease Anxiety
A healthy concern for your well-being can make you more likely to anticipate and effectively head-off possible threats. But taken to excess, worrying too much can make your days filled with anxiety and stress. What is a person to do?
One of the most effective ways to combat excessive anxiety is to build confidence in yourself. There will always be unexpected, difficult elements of life that you can’t change, like a sudden death in the family or losing a job, but taking charge of how you view these uncontrollable circumstances and their impact on your life is a powerful way to reorient yourself in any situation. Seriously considering the kinds of words you use on a day-to-day basis is one of the simplest yet most profound ways to identify and change your attitude, anxiety levels and worldview.
Although it’s easy to dismiss our language as having no impact on our behaviors, leading neurological research tells a different story. In their recent book Words Can Change Your Brain, neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg and communications expert Mark Robert analyze ground-breaking research that explores the impact of the words we use on brain growth and activity. Specifically, the authors investigate how our word choices trigger or suspend activity in different parts of the brain and how this neural activity is translated into our behavior.
Taken collectively, the physical act of speaking and hearing words with negative or hostile connotations can increase activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain known for controlling our fight-or-flight responses. Anyone who’s exchanged heated words with a family member or acquaintance will recognize the elevated heart beat and adrenaline rush that can accompany such confrontations. These very real physical sensations, including shaking hands and an unconsciously amplified voice, begin to show as the amygdala prepares the body physically for a fight and shuts down areas of the brain associated with logical thinking and behavioral restraint. This is part of the reason why when we “lose our cool” we can say and do things that we regret later. We’ve been prepared by our brain to fight, whatever the consequences.
By using positive words to describe yourself, your environment and the people around you, you are disempowering the fight-or-flight response that can leave you with that regret over words said and actions taken. In those moments when conversation is getting heated, take a moment to change your inner dialogue. Is the person you’re speaking to an “S.O.B.” or can you see him/her as also upset and irrational? If you can see yourself as patient and calm, using that dialogue might actually help your brain by calming it down.
Identifying the positive in yourself can also help you root out feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem, freeing you to pursue your personal and professional goals without the fear of revealing what you perceive as your personal inadequacy.
Having a better grasp of your own innate competency will increase your confidence in yourself and leave you feeling better prepared for whatever life throws your way. When you know you can handle life’s curveballs, who has time to worry about them?
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