Tuesday, May 8, 2012

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say.....

How you speak to yourself really does affect your mental health and if it's affecting your mental health, it's affecting your physical health.  A recent study found that speaking negatively about your body is directly related to having symptoms of depression, poor body image (duh!), and feelings of pressure to fit into an ideal image of appearance.  If you want to lose weight, saying, "geez, my butt is big!" or "I can't lose weight!" is definitely NOT helping you get any closer to your goals.  Both men and women have greater depression symptoms when they are speaking negatively about their own appearance. 

Makes sense when I say it as a research study, doesn't it?  So, why do we keep doing it, when it so clearly makes no sense?  Why do we look in the mirror and say you're so ugly, so fat, so whatever and hope that will motivate us to lose weight, exercise, or make changes?  Encouragement, affirmation, and hope cause change.  I know I am starting to sound like Al Franken as Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live.  I used to have this same attitude toward the positive psychology movement - it seems ridiculous. 

But now, I know differently.  Neuroscience is proving that we can affect the brain's wiring by how we think.  If we affect the wiring, we affect the brain's reactions - i.e. the hormones/neuro-transmitters released to send messages to the body.  These are what we feel.  If you feel happy, you have a happy cocktail of these chemicals flooding your body.  If you feel depressed, you have some other combination of chemicals.  Not only do the chemicals make you feel a certain way, they affect the way the body functions.  The immune system reacts, the blood vessels may open or narrow, digestion may slow, blood pressure may change, etc. 

What this means is every time you think a negative thought about yourself, your brain releases the cocktail of chemicals that make you feel like crud.  Every time you think a positive statement, you go in the other direction.  Just like Stuart Smalley found week after week on SNL, however, saying the statement and believing it are 2 different things.  If you look in the mirror and tell yourself you are wonderful, but a little voice behind that one says, "yeah right!" in a sarcastic tone, you obviously have a negative voice that is very strong and very well wired.  It's going to take effort and time to undo that voice, but it is absolutely possible and necessary.  Sometimes those negative voices sound like someone and for good reason - that certain someone said these things to you often.  All of that takes some work to undo.  Don't give up!

The thoughts we spend the most time on are the thoughts that have the most connections and ease in the brain's functioning.  That's why practice makes perfect!  If you have to undo years of negative self-talk, it'll take time (NOT years, I promise) and lots of practice.  Patience and commitment to self are all you need!  Start by simply stopping yourself from negative talk.  When you begin a statement, stop and tell yourself, "I am NOT doing this to myself right now!"  Then, begin to challenge the statements with positive statements.  Keep going from there, the sky is the limit!

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