Coach Courtney wrote a comprehensive article (https://locomotionfit.com/what-is-stress) on everything you need to know about stress. Today we’re going to focus on mental and emotional (vs. Physical) stress via self talk.
Mental and Emotional Stress
Mental or emotional stress is one of the primary factors that traps you in a fight-or-flight state. Fortunately, with practice, you can control it. Granted, this category encompasses a number of factors including things like overextending yourself, pressure to be the best, comparing yourself to others, ruminating and worrying, lack of purpose, unresolved trauma and isolation, so we are going to focus on one specific behavior- negative self-talk.
Did you know that the way you talk to yourself can elicit a stress response similar to what you may experience if you run into a bear2,3? How crazy is that. Negative self-talk refers to your inner critic (“I am an idiot”, “I can’t do this”, “I always mess this up”, “I have no self-control”, “everyone hates me”, “this happened because of me”) but this dialogue can take on several forms (perfectionism, filtering, mind-reading, self-guessing, personalizing/blaming, catastrophizing) and often mimics the voice of a parent, friend or partner that has hurt our feelings.
You can start to turn this around by simply noticing what you are saying to yourself and labeling the thought as “negative” or “positive”. This will give you an idea of when and how often you are doing it and give you a chance to stop the thought process.
If you recognize that you are consistently negative in specific situations, like at work, initiate a short movement break during that time to stop the cycle. Stand up, stretch and BREATHE or step outside for a 10 minute walk. Pay attention to the sky, the cars going by, the trees… whatever is around you, just don’t bring those thoughts outside with you. This will give your nervous system a break.
When you run into negative thoughts, especially ones that keep coming up, ask yourself how true it is. For example, if you think “I’m never going to get better at this”, think of a time you surprised yourself and did improve on something.
Finally, challenge yourself to add a positive thought to counter the negative one and do so in the third-person (you, he, she). This might sound weird, but research has shown that speaking to yourself in the third-person provides some psychological distance from the experience, which helps you to regulate your emotions4. So, if you are stuck on thinking “I am fat” immediately replace it with something that you like about yourself like “you are strong”. Each time you do this, a little water leaves your bucket.
Written by Coach Courtney