Ever heard of the advice to punch pillows or scream at the top of your lungs behind closed doors when you feel angry? Just let it out, and you’re sure to feel better? I don’t know about you, but punching pillows just gets me more riled up.
Words can rile us up as well, adding unnecessary stress to our lives. Compare the doctor who, before performing a procedure, tells you to expect some discomfort to the one who tells you it will be painful. Instead of enabling you to deal with the pain, the latter phrasing will likely increase it. Or what about the person who tells you that your future boss is the boss from you-know-where instead of explaining that she has high standards and can be challenging to work with? Listening to the former kind of talk will likely increase your on-the-job stress.
Similarly, our own words can stoke the fires of stress, even if we say them only to ourselves. Thinking we need to vent, we exclaim, “That’s unfair!” or “I hate this!” or “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard!” or “What a fool!” or “This always happens to me!” Instead of improving our mood, such statements only make us feel worse because they level a once-and-for-all judgment against people and circumstances. Strong words paint a bleak picture that will be hard to alter. Once we have leveled the charge, it is difficult to back away from our judgments in order to work toward solutions.
Stress is all about perception. If you feel backed into a corner, you likely will be backed into a corner. Knowing this, what should we do? One thing we can do is start tuning in, noticing how we feel whenever we or those around us employ such language. The second thing we can do is to tell ourselves, “Stop” or “Calm down” whenever we are on the verge of making such statements. Finally, we can ask God to help us to moderate our language. Doing so doesn’t mean we are ignoring or suppressing the feelings we have. It just means we are doing our best not to inflame them.