Thursday, 20 September 2012

How Self-Talk Raises and Lowers Our Stress Levels

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It’s not the external stressors, per se, that block us from happiness, health and being all we can be in life. Actually, the external stressors in our lives often perform a vital role in our physical, mental and emotional growth. But if happiness isn’t a matter of eliminating external stress, then what is it?

It’s a matter of understanding our perceptions, or how we explain our life and experiences to our self.

At any given moment, your stress levels are raised or lowered by what you perceive to be stress, and how you interpret life events in and around you. Not all persons get stressed in traffic or waiting in lines, for example, and some may even welcome these events as opportunities to relax.

So it’s not about removing stress. It’s about learning how to regulate the thoughts that intensify or calm those emotions that most challenge you, in particular, anger or fear.
How stressed or calm you remain has everything to do with how you habitually think in certain situations.

Your self-talk is key in the operation of your body.

Your thoughts control the quality of communication between your mind and body.
Consciously or not, your mind and body are always in communication.

The language of the mind, however, is distinctly different from that of the body. Your mind uses words and images, in the form of self-talk, to communicate to your body, whereas the language of your body is always through felt sensations and emotions, or electrochemical impulses, that activate physiological processes and behaviors.

This self-talk forms a stream of consciousness that is critical to the operation of your body. The cells of your body eavesdrop on this inner self-talk 24-7. In a nutshell, your mind-self and body-self are engaged in an ongoing conversation in which your mind verbally interprets the events you experience in your body; and your body, in turn, produces emotional states accordingly. In other words, at any given time, your body acts as your very own, built-in sounding board.

This information is no small matter, especially in key defining moments. The part of the mind that runs the body, the subconscious, relies on this self-talk. It forms the perception filters it depends on to interpret many or most of the experiences going on in and around you, the ones that require more than sensory data. Your subconscious does not even bother with your thoughts if you accidently touch a hot burner, for example; in an instant, it activates your body’s survival response and pulls your hand away.

Of course, if you are determined to train your body in mind over matter disciplines, such as walking on hot coals without getting burned or training lions and tigers without getting eaten, you have the capacity to even turn off and control your body’s natural reflex mechanisms. If someone demanded you enter a lion cage, for example, this would likely automatically activate your body’s survival response; but what if you were a trained professional lion tamer? In the latter case, you may consider it a treat to enjoy a cup of coffee in a cage with big cats!

In most social situations, however, this inner dialogue is a critical window the body tunes into, observes and stays connected to 24/7. It is a critical window for your subconscious, to understand what is happening around you, what you most need (or think you need!), and so on, which allows it to best fulfill its top directives of ensuring you thrive – or at best survive.

In situations where sensory data does not suffice, the mind of your body, or body-self, needs to know how to interpret your experience of events. It then shapes your perception filters accordingly, so it may best perform its job of ensuring your survival and, ultimately, prompt you to thrive, to increase the meaning and sense of purpose in life.

The quality of communication between mind and body.

At some level, it’s safe to say that your life is a product of what you think you are. It is thoughts that decide how you deal with what stresses you because the perceptions you hold to be true establish whether you remain relatively calm in a certain situation – or, unnecessarily activate your body’s survival response.

How you “deal” with your stressors alters and shapes the quality of communication between you and your body.

If you hold beliefs, for example, that habitually tell your body that you must avoid situations that risk upsetting or angering another at any cost, or that your worth and value depend on proving you can control what another thinks or feels, the quality of your communications will be based on misguided information, lies and illusions, and the like. As a result, you could be unnecessarily scaring your body into believing your survival is at stake, when it is not!

This inner dialogue forms the perception filters that the mind of our body, the subconscious, relies on to understand your experience of your world so that it can best act on your behalf.
How you talk to yourself about what you perceive as stress determines the extent to which your autonomic nervous system remains relatively calm and centered – or unnecessarily activates your body’s survival system.

The good news is that you can change any habitual thought-response strategies. They can be unlearned; they are learned neural patterns, reinforced and strengthened to the extent you use them.

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