The language we use when we speak to ourselves makes a profound difference in how we feel. These tools can help ease you to a calmer state.
With all that’s going on in the world right now, fear and anxiety can easily creep into the dark hours of the night. If you wake up in the wee hours feeling fearful about your health, safety, finances, and relationships, you aren’t alone. Many of us right now are living with a lot of uncertainty, and that groundlessness is cause to feel extreme stress and discomfort.
More than a decade ago, the majority of my stress, anxiety, fear, and insomnia began to dissipate because I changed the way I talked to myself. After being introduced to Buddhism and the elements of right speech (tell the truth, don’t exaggerate, don’t gossip, use helpful language), my lifestyle experiment began. I decided to see if I could talk to myself in a kind, honest, and helpful way and see what changed because of it. (See "19 Affirmations for Listening.")
My days started with waking up late and noticing that I was upset at myself for it. I was saying hurtful statements like, “Of course you’re up late again.” I stopped, forced myself to apologize and simply said, “You’re up late.” I left out the judgement and critique—defining the action as good or bad, and acknowledged only what was true and what was fact.
I began to do this with everything throughout the day. The more I practiced this type of communication, the less the worry, anxiety, and stress I felt.
Notice when you’re using language that makes you feel constricted, unable to breathe—language that doesn’t allow you to change. These are phrases that start with “I am” or use the words "always" or "never." For example, “I’m too busy,” “I don’t have time,” “I can’t afford that,” “Something’s wrong with me,” “I’m not good with relationships.” The more you use these phrases the more stress you’ll feel.
Instead, notice them and replace them with relative language that leaves room for you to change. Rather than ascribing a single quality to yourself and making it who you are, bring an observational perspective to yourself and how you feel. “I’m busy for the next three hours,” “I don’t have time today, but will tomorrow,” “I can’t afford that right now,” “This isn’t my strongest area.” (For more, read “Stress and the Compassionate Heart.”)
To help ease anxiety, notice when you’re using language that makes you feel fear, worry, and uncertainty—language that is based on assumption and not knowing. The other day my son came home not feeling well. After I put him in bed he started coughing. Immediately I said, “I should have given him medicine so he wouldn’t be coughing as much.” That phrase created anxiety within me. When I noticed it I said to myself, “You don’t know that to be true.” When you notice you’re making assumptions ask yourself, “What do I know to be true?”
Focus on the fact and not knowing instead.
Replacing language that is causing even more stress and anxiety during this time will help you feel safer in the world. The safer you feel, the easier it will be to rest and fall asleep. Changing your language will help you maintain a sense of calm within the chaos. When you notice your language is causing you to feel fear, say to yourself, “Even though that may happen, right now I’m safe and healthy.”
Imagine what could change for you if you start seeing communication through this lens to help yourself and others suffer less. Communication is a learned practice, which means anyone, yes, even you, can change the way you interact to create more ease in your life.
For more tools on managing anxiety during these times, read our resources here.