De-Stress Your Self-Talk

scream“Oh my God, now I have to put up with this too. I can’t believe the nerve. What does he expect?! He never thinks of anyone else. It’s damned if you do or damned if you don’t.”

Feeling better after reading this? Of course not. But each day many of us inflict barrages like this on our poor adrenal system voluntarily.

We can do ourselves and our nervous system a huge favor by recognizing the top three categories of stress talk and replacing or releasing them to the fiery pit from which they came.


In this sample, extremes are pushing you off a cliff fast. Phrases like “OMG”, can’t believe” and all-inclusive generalizations or abstractions box us in. There’s a reason for the phrase “two horns of a dilemma”- it’s a false choice.

We have probably been exposed to those tests where we have to make forced choices, supplying answers that don’t really fit us. Third, fourth or even fifth options are more like the greys of reality. We might not like the consequences but that doesn’t mean we don’t have more than either/or choices. The idea that we have no control is a chief stressor so emphasizing what control we have  (our choices) de-escalates our body’s response.

Time – there’s a reason “island time” is relaxing. Visiting an island slows us down because we find out we don’t have to do everything or anything as fast as we thought. The world did not in fact end because we didn’t answer the phone call. Pressures from ideas of “now”  “right now” “always” and “never” emphasize a no-win frame of mind and are not based in what actually happens but what it feels like based on what we tell ourselves.

The pace of tasks as well as the number increases a stress response. So it’s up to us to develop a “one at a time” or “one person at a time” boundary. We can consciously create time space tactics to do this, and give ourselves a break when we can’t be a chimera with three heads. Jotting notes can be a huge stress reliever if fear of not remembering is big. Remove time pressure words from our self-talk. “I want to (intend to) call her by 3 pm” not “I have to”, which brings us to the third category, believing we don’t have a choice.

Lack of Choice   lastslide_crocodile

“Have to” “the nerve” “put up with” “what does (s)he expect” “too” emphasize powerlessness when the real culprit is wanting to avoid taking responsibility or believing that we don’t have the ability to deal with consequences.

When we are tired or don’t want to hassle by being assertive, we fall back on these mind mazes.  Changing “have to” or worse, “need to” to “want to” is a first step, as in “I have to go to the store” to “I want to go to the store now because it will free me up later.”  See how the second note to self feels less put upon and therefore less stressful.

Revise with words that honor your power to choose. “(S)He is expecting me to…”  feels less stressful than “what does (s)he expect”. Replace “put up with” by choosing words that emphasize your abilities or skills rather than victimhood. “I want to finish this document” “(S)He knows I am able to meet deadlines” etc.

Likewise “can’t believe” puts you in a one-down position that does not express frustration as much as increases it. Try this: “(S)He is wanting -asking-(instead of expecting) me to make the calls by 5 pm for the third time.”

Assertive communication takes responsibility for your side of the street and decreases the stress that comes from holding in unexpressed thoughts and feelings. Putting a number to repeating demands (third time) tends to objectify it and that can get it off your mental plate.

We have more choices than to be silent or to blow up. Assertive communication allows us to express our needs without creating an argument. Sometimes we don’t want to risk blowback. If this is the case, recognize it as your choice but don’t play hot potato by taking on another’s stress.

Instead communicate your side:calm

“I did not expect you to ask me to do this for the third time. Can I get some help with this or do you want me to delay what you asked me to do this morning?”

Maintaining our power to choose reduces stress. Avoiding taking responsibility for trying to control others is part of that power to choose. Both are done by consciously revising our self-talk of shoulds: the unreasonable demands, people-pleasing or perfectionism that beats us up.

Stressful self-talk uses extremes, time, and lack of choice expressions to paint you into an unnecessary mental corner. Use assertive communication after you have recognized and eliminated the words that back you up into that corner. Changing your perceptions helps. Taking care of yourself with relaxation breaks and other healthy support is also under your control.

But by all means tell the committee in your head to go elsewhere. You are no longer allowing them to live there rent free!

Published by Fessup

A 30-year veteran educator and counselor, published author, lifelong student of religion and women's issues, educator with, mother, and lover of Far Side humor.