How Negative Self-Talk Impacts Your Well-Being and What to Do About It
How many times do you look in a mirror and think, “I’m so fat and look terrible in this outfit", “I’m so ugly, I hate how I look” or ‘I look so old.” If you’re like most people, you may have some sort of daily negative thoughts that you write off as being totally harmless.
But actually, these thoughts are not harmless. Thinking negative thoughts throughout the day can directly impact our nervous system and endocrine system. This field of research is also known as psychoneuroimmunology, and researchers have been verifying and studying this phenomenon for decades.
In this blog, we’ll delve into how and why negative self-talk can impact your health and how to change it.
Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is an interdisciplinary field that explores the complex interactions between the brain, the nervous system, and the immune system. It investigates how psychological factors, such as emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, can influence immune function and overall health.
Scientists have discovered that our brain and immune system are constantly talking to each other through different signals like hormones and chemicals. For example, when we experience stress, our immune system can become suppressed, making us more vulnerable to getting sick. On the other hand, positive emotions, social support, and relaxation techniques have been linked to better immune function and improved health outcomes.
One important finding from PNI research is that negative thoughts can trigger the same response in our body as if we were in real danger. This activates stress hormones like cortisol and puts our body in a heightened state of alertness. Negative thoughts that can trigger the stress response and impact our immune system vary from person to person, as individual experiences and perceptions play a role.
If we continue to have negative thoughts regularly, it can lead to chronically elevated cortisol levels, inflammation, and problems with our immune system. This can have various effects on our health, such as increased blood sugar, weight gain, insulin resistance, and gastrointestinal issues.
Types of negative thoughts:
However, there are some common types of negative thoughts that tend to elicit stress responses in many people. Here are some common types of negative thoughts that tend to elicit stress responses:
Persistent Worrying and Rumination: When we constantly worry or ruminate about future events or potential problems, our body responds as if those negative outcomes were already happening. This chronic anticipation of worst-case scenarios keeps us in a state of heightened stress, leading to increased cortisol levels.
Dwelling on Past Failures and Regrets: Thoughts that focus on past failures, regrets, or perceived shortcomings can keep us trapped in a cycle of negative self-perception. When we constantly replay these negative experiences in our minds, it activates the stress response and can lead to feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.
Self-Criticism and Harsh Self-Judgment: Negative thoughts rooted in self-criticism, self-doubt, and harsh self-judgment can be particularly damaging. When we constantly berate ourselves, doubt our abilities, or compare ourselves unfavorably to others, it triggers stress and elevates cortisol levels. This self-inflicted negativity undermines our self-esteem and overall well-being.
Fear-Based Thoughts: Thoughts rooted in fear, such as catastrophic thinking or excessive worry about things beyond our control, can perpetuate a chronic stress response. When we constantly anticipate negative outcomes and dwell on fearful possibilities, it activates the body's stress response and compromises our immune system.
Catching a negative thought involves developing awareness of your thinking patterns and recognizing when negative thoughts arise. To catch a negative thought, you can practice mindfulness and self-reflection. Pay attention to your internal dialogue and notice any self-critical or pessimistic statements that arise. It can be helpful to pause and take a moment to observe your thoughts without judgment.
Once you become aware of a negative thought, acknowledge it and remind yourself that it is just a thought, not a reflection of reality. This awareness empowers you to challenge and change negative thinking patterns, replacing them with more positive and realistic perspectives.
What to do about negative self-talk:
Minimizing negative self-talk is an important step towards improving our well-being and cultivating a more positive mindset. Here are some strategies you can use to catch and counteract your inner critic:
Catch Your Critic: Start by becoming aware of when you're being self-critical. Notice the negative things you say to yourself that you wouldn't say to a good friend or a child. Recognize that these thoughts are not helpful or fair to yourself.
Remember That Thoughts and Feelings Aren't Always Reality: Understand that your negative thoughts and feelings about yourself may not be accurate reflections of who you truly are. Our thoughts can be influenced by biases and moods, leading to skewed perceptions. Don't take them as absolute truths.
Give Your Inner Critic a Nickname: Consider giving your inner critic a playful or goofy nickname. By externalizing this critical voice and seeing it as a separate entity, it becomes less threatening. It helps you realize that you don't have to agree with its negative assessments, and you can find the humor in some of its ridiculous thoughts.
Contain Your Negativity: Limit the damage caused by your inner critic by setting boundaries. Allow yourself to be critical about certain aspects of your life or designate a specific time window, like an hour in your day, for negativity. This prevents the negative self-talk from permeating every aspect of your life.
Change Negativity to Neutrality: Instead of abruptly stopping negative thoughts, focus on changing the intensity of your language. Replace extreme statements like "I can't stand this" with more neutral and milder expressions such as "This is challenging" or "I don't prefer...". By using gentler language, you reduce the negative power of your self-talk.
Cross-Examine Your Inner Critic: Challenge your negative self-talk by questioning its truthfulness. Most of the time, negative self-talk is an exaggeration or distortion of reality. When you catch yourself being critical, ask yourself how true those thoughts really are. By recognizing the exaggerations, you can diminish the influence of your inner critic.
Think Like a Friend: Imagine how you would speak to a close friend or how you would like them to speak to you. Reverse the negativity by treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion you would offer to a friend. This shift in perspective can help you develop a more supportive and uplifting inner dialogue.
Shift Your Perspective: Broaden your view by considering the long-term significance of the things you're upset about. Ask yourself if they will truly matter in the future. You can also imagine yourself zooming out and observing your problems from a distance, realizing that most worries aren't as significant as they may seem. This helps minimize negativity, fear, and urgency in your self-talk.
Say It Aloud: When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, try saying them aloud or sharing them with a trusted friend. Verbalizing your self-talk can often highlight the irrationality and absurdity of your negative thoughts, leading to laughter and gaining support. Even muttering negative phrases under your breath can remind you of their unreality.
Stop That Thought: Employ the technique of "thought-stopping" to interrupt negative thoughts. This can be done by snapping a rubber band on your wrist, visualizing a stop sign, or consciously shifting your focus to a different thought when a negative one arises. Breaking the cycle of repetitive or highly critical thoughts can be helpful in redirecting your thinking toward more positive and constructive patterns.
Replace the Bad With Some Good: Combat negative self-talk by replacing it with positive and accurate statements. Take a negative thought and change it into something encouraging and affirming. Repeat this process until it becomes a habit and you find yourself needing to do it less frequently. This practice helps foster a more positive way of thinking about yourself and life in general.
By implementing these strategies, you can gradually diminish the impact of negative self-talk and cultivate a more nurturing and supportive inner dialogue. Remember, changing your self-talk takes time and practice, so be patient and kind to yourself throughout the process.