Self-Talk Substitutions For Stress Relief

 Changing the way you think about the stressors you face, the very language you use when you talk to yourself about your life (your self-talk) can have profound effects on your stress levels.  In some cases, changing your self-talk can be as simple as substituting a few words for some similar but more empowering ones.  Here are some simple self-talk substitutions that can help you shift your perspective and minimize stress in your life, in many cases, moving from a place of feeling overwhelmed to a more empowering frame of mind.

1
Threats Become "Challenges"

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 What makes one situation "exhilarating" and another one "overwhelming"?  That depends largely on us.  One of the most defining features of a stressful situation is that it seems to require more from us than we can give. More patience, more money, more strength--these are things we may be able to acquire, but not without effort.  When we feel that the requirements of a situation exceed our personal resources, our ability to cope, the situation itself becomes infinitely more stressful.  Merely changing the way you perceive a situation--as a "challenge" rather than a "threat"--can be as simple as shifting the language you use in your head, and when you talk to others.  And this subtle shift can help you to feel empowered rather than immobilized by stress. Try it!

Read About The Research Behind The Threat Vs. Challenge Shift

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2
"But" Becomes "And"

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People often use the word "but" to negate or disqualify what was just said.  This is said in discussions ("I hear what you're saying, but...") as well as in self-talk ("I'd like to be able to do this, but..."), and it can be discouraging to others as well as to ourselves.  Changing the "but" to an "and" is, in many cases, a way to validate what the other person says, but add to it in a way where they might be more inclined to listen.  It can be a shift in self-talk that reminds us to keep possibilities open in our own minds.  It doesn't apply in every situation, but you might be surprised how often this substitution keeps things more positive and open, and diffuses stress.

Read More About Shifting "But" to "And," And Why This Works

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3
"Should" Becomes "Could"

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Sometimes we can create stress for ourselves with our expectations.  We expect too much from ourselves and feel inadequate.  Or we compare what is happening in our lives with what we wish were happening in our lives, what we feel we deserve, what we think should happen.  Then what is happening feels even more wrong, ranging from disappointing to overwhelming.  Waiting in traffic, dealing with conflict, shooting for too-high standards (and failing), and handling minor disappointments can all feel more stressful when this isn't what "should" have happened.

A more reasonable strategy is acceptance.  Accept what is rather than what should be, and move from there.  Congratulate yourself on what you are doing well rather than what you should be doing better, and do the same for others.  Accept that some things aren't going to go well (even if right now you think they should), and try to see this as part of the challenge and adventure of life.  If you shift your language from "should" to "could," this all becomes much easier.

Read more about cutting down on the "should"s in life.

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4
"Oh, No" Becomes "Yes, And..."

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Anyone familiar with improv knows that one of the fundamental "rules" of this fluid art form is to always say "yes" to what is presented, and to add onto it: the motto is "yes, and..."  This comes in handy when dealing with those challenges in life that we'd prefer we weren't presented with. The "Serenity Prayer" that has brought peace to so many people, particularly those who are dealing with the major challenges of addiction recovery, focuses on being able to accept what cannot be changed (along with changing what can be changed, and knowing the difference).  This is because fighting against what cannot be changed is a demoralizing waste of effort, and can compound stress.  Saying "yes, and..." instead of "oh, no," does two things: it brings a subtle attitude of acceptance, and it shifts the focus onto what's next.  It moves us out of feeling "stuck," and into acceptance, and it moves us into a focus on changing what is possibly changed.  This may not be something that you say aloud automatically when faced with an unexpected challenge, but if you find yourself thinking, "oh, no," replacing the thought with a purposeful, "yes, and..." can move you to a better place.

Read More About Acceptance For Stress Relief

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5
Change "Can't" To...

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 “Won’t,” “would rather not,” or “might.”  Examples?  When thinking of something you don’t have time for in your life, or something you’d rather eliminate, replace “I can’t do this,” with, “I won’t do this.”  I won’t add one more thing to my too-full schedule.  I won’t put up with this difficult person right now.  As in, "I choose not to."  (In most situations, we feel less stressed when we realize we have a choice.)

You can even change "can't" to "can," when it's in the context of "I can't stand this."  Most of the time, when you're feeling you can't endure something, you actually can; you would just greatly prefer not to.  You may need to make adjustments: you may need to set boundaries to make it easier to deal with a difficult person, take breaks and restructure your day and attitude to endure a stressful job, or focus more on the present moment (practice mindfulness) to deal with an overwhelming situation you face that can't be changed.  If you find yourself thinking you "can't stand" something, consider a change in perspective, and decide if you actually can.  Then you'll start recognizing more and more ways to do so. 

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