Self-talk matters for healing.
Dr. Terry Wahls’ has said that self-talk saved her life.
You might think that she's exaggerating (just a bit), but she assures us that she isn’t.
She explains that self-talk was at the heart of her healing from secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis (MS): “The words I spoke out loud to myself were the beginning of reclaiming my health and my vitality.”
I started tuning in to my self-talk a few years ago, when I got really interested in ‘reprograming’ my brain.
I shared in a recent newsletter that I’ve been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Twice.
Changing my self-talk has been one of the strategies that has enabled me to heal from PTSD. That’s why I was so intrigued when I read that Terry Wahls also credited self-talk as being instrumental to her healing from MS.
Terry describes self-talk as the “voice in your head that is continuously commenting... most people don’t realize it, but that inner monologue sets the tone for your life. Nearly always, the beginning of recovery starts from within. It certainly did for me. My inner monologue was the beginning of my recovery.”
My Recovery: Catastrophic thinking
One of the symptoms of PTSD is catastrophic thinking.
For me that means that when the phone rings, I assume that it's news of a calamity.
A motorbike roars up the street and it’s probably an earthquake. Or a tsunami. Or, you know what? An earthquake-tsunami combo. For sure.
Catastrophic thinking is a form of self-talk. The kind that prevents healing.
When I notice catastrophic thinking, I have the opportunity to change it.
I can put myself in charge of my self-talk and say: “Hm. Not sure what that rumbling noise is. Probably a motorbike. I’m curious. I might go outside and look. I need to stretch my legs anyway. While I’m out there I’m going to take a few deep breaths and look at the sky. See what the birds are up to.”
I don’t dismiss my fears in my self-talk. I acknowledge them and give myself (contained) permission to explore them in a supported way.
My Recovery: Fear & Vulnerability
Another challenge associated with PTSD that many people, including myself, face is a disproportionate fear of making mistakes.
Unlike other people, I’m not particularly worried that people will judge me. It’s more that I automatically assume that any mistakes I make threaten my safety, and the safety of my children, in a fundamental way.
A mistake often feels like a life or death situation to me.
So, a mistake is a perfect place for me to re-script my self-talk.
Instead of letting the ‘mortal danger tape’ play in my head, I can say: “It’s okay to make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. It is normal and rarely life-threatening. If I’m not making mistakes, I’m not expanding into my potential. Everyone feels vulnerable sometimes. I am going to look at this situation calmly and assess if there really is any danger. Chances are there isn't, but if there is, I can make a plan to address it.”
My Prescription: self-love 30x a day
I went through a self-talk phase where I said “I love you, Petra” to myself a zillion times a day.
That was good.
I gave myself bonus points if I did it while looking in the mirror.
The Power of Self-talk
Terry and I aren’t the only ones who use self-talk for healing. Terry inquired into the research and concluded that “in study after study, positive self-talk is associated with improved quality of life and lower pain scores”.
I intentionally use the phrase ‘tuning in’ when I think about self-talk.
At first, paying attention to self-talk is a bit like tuning in to a radio station. Your own personal station. It’s always on and, as with any other background noise, most of us have stopped consciously listening.
The first step is to tune-in. Then, intentionally adjust the program that you are broadcasting to yourself.
If you like, you can turn this 'tuning in & adjusting' process into a healing experiment:
Make it an experiment
- Research Question: How can I change my self-talk to improve my health and well-being?
- Idea statement: If I focus on my self-talk and consciously upgrade the messages I send to myself for one week, then I will experience measureable improvements in my well-being.
- Suggested time-frame: 7 days.
- Tracking: Use the Biohack U 7-day activity tracker template to track activities (or create your own). The outcomes measures you select will depend on your situation. Some possibilities include: the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale; the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale or the Perceived Stress Scale. Find links to these tools here.
Sometimes we assume that we need to make large-scale, dramatic gestures to heal, but the most significant changes we can make might be small and internal. Including the way that we talk to ourselves.
The Autoimmune Healing Intensive
The Autoimmune Healing Intensive offers over 25 experiments for healing. As well as a supportive community and step-by-step instruction in our comprehensive self-experimentation method.
This self-directed online program is designed to guide you through a practical approach to wellness. Delivered on an exclusive website with detailed, downloadable worksheets and guides.
Enrollment open in January 2018. Find more information here.