Popular media can be a nice break when we are under stress, and sometimes it brings surprising insights or reminds us of truths we already know. I happened to watch the last few moments of a drama recently where a professor was lecturing about how the brain reacts to negative words. Words that wound, he said, impact the pain centers of our brains the same way physical wounds do. Our brains don’t know the difference.
This scene reminded me of a business seminar I attended years ago. The speaker told us that getting together with colleagues after work to complain about our jobs, was like reliving whatever happened to upset us in the first place. Our brains don’t know the difference, he said, between the original stressful moment and the one we relive by rehashing the ugly details. Complaining just keeps our stress alive.
Our brains don’t know the difference between the original stress and a rerun.
I thought about trying to find some scientific data to support this, but we all probably have enough experience to back it up. How we talk affects how we go through our day. Our words color our world, and if they are all about stress and negativity, then that is what we continue to see all around us.
If we hang on to old wounds, and old stresses, we can feel just as upset by talking about them as if they happened only moments ago. Furthermore, it is possible to feed the bad memories so they grow worse with time, like an old bruise that we keep hitting again and again.
So, let’s consider where we might be able to change the language we use, to change our stress levels and how we feel about our world.
Take a break from complaining. I tend to be guilty of this myself, so I can testify that feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or overworked, and complaining about it has never done me one ounce of good. It only makes the people around me miserable or anxious to avoid me. And I would like to change that.
Someone posted a quote on social media the other day that said, “try giving up complaining for 24 hours, and see how your life changes.” I am on day two of trying this. I failed yesterday, but I am willing to try again. How about you? Do you think it would reduce your stress?
Gossip. Here’s another bunch of words with no real reason to exist. We may not associate gossip with stress, but there is always an unspoken hint that the person we are gossiping with might just go on gossiping about us as soon as we are gone.
Plus, if we were to imagine words as images existing out in space, where do gossipy words go? They don’t stop with the person hearing them. They go on and on, or they just float out there adding to the general discontent in the world.
Empathy and praise. Even if we don’t have all our negative speaking habits under complete control, I believe we can balance the scale by spreading a little sunshine. Praising the good in people is far more effective at changing situations than trying to correct what we don’t like. Plus praising people with no expectation of any particular outcome feels far better anyway.
Using language that shows we understand people, lets them feel supported. Feeling empathy for other people forces us to stop focusing on our own stress, and raises our own feelings of love and connection with the world around us.
Words of gratitude might be some of the most powerful words in any language. Especially when given to people who have no expectation to receive your thanks. Store clerks, customer service personnel, policemen, your boss. And how about members of our families who may have come to expect very little from us in the gratitude department?
Here’s my challenge. Can you let go of your stress for a day and just be grateful for the people around you? Can you tell them how much you appreciate that they are in your life? When the day is over, we all might feel there was not as much stress there as we thought there was.
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