The Secret Power of the Word
by Bee Walker
There is no doubt in my mind that you understand the power of the written word. As a writer, your words are to you like paint is to a painter. If you write fiction, you bring characters to life and create their entire existence. As a nonfiction writer, you inform and describe so your readers can learn and experience through you. You know to choose strong words to paint a colorful mental picture and to get your readers emotionally involved.
Yet, have you considered the power of the spoken word in your day-to-day life? Do you realize that you create your own state of mind, and may even increase your stress level, with the words you choose to describe yourself and your life?
I remember arriving at work, I would describe my morning commute in passionate, colorful words to my coworkers. They probably thought it was entertaining. The more I told the story, the more I got worked up about it. Equally, I was able to dramatize any upcoming deadline and stressful responsibility. It even made me feel more important. That was before I studied mindfulness and meditation – before I found out about the secret power of my thoughts and my words.
In the same way colorful and strong descriptions in a well written novel evoke powerful emotions in your reader, your own commentaries about your personal life and stressful situations increase the stress you feel. The more you talk about how busy you are, that you don’t have time to manage it all, or that you are overwhelmed, the more you create the feelings that make you feel stressed and the body reactions that accompany the stress response. Talking about a stressful event can be the same as living it, and your body responds with increased heart rate and higher blood pressure, as well as increased stress hormone production.
Now I am not suggesting that you keep all your feelings about stress bundled up inside. In fact, social engagement is the quickest, most efficient way to rein in stress and avoid overreacting to stressful events. There is nothing more calming to your nervous system than communicating with another human being who makes you feel safe and understood. What I am suggesting is that you pay attention to the words you use. Are they describing the actual events in your life, or are you making use of your skill as a writer and are sprinkling in flavorful descriptions to make things more dramatic?
Also, do you describe your life’s stressful events as positive or negative? In 2013, Kelly McGonigal, a well-known health psychologist, made an impactful speech in a TED talk¹. She introduced new research, showing that people who view and talk about stress as good for them actually change the way their body reacts to stressful situations.
I teach Mindfulness Stress Management seminars and find that many people over-empathize and tend to choose words that overdramatize the stress in their lives. Those with powerful imaginations, like writers, choose words with vivid detail which evoke additional stress simply by the way they describe an event. They masterfully recreate stressful situations in the way they talk about personal responsibilities. When taught to bring awareness to the words they choose, and eventually to change the way they think and speak about their stressors, they are able to better manage their stressful situations.
As a fellow writer, consider using your editing skills on your own words and thoughts about stress. Try choosing words that are calming and meaningful to bring you into a state of balance and well-being, rather than words that are dramatic and colorful and evoke feelings of hurtful stress responses.
You can start by noticing how you describe the stressful events in your life; to yourself in your self-talk, and to others. Then ask yourself if the words you use are helpful or harmful. Meaning, are they evoking more stress, or are they making you optimistic about using the stressful event as an opportunity? Spend at least a few days simply noticing. After you had some time to observe your choice of words, start using your skills as a writer to rewrite any words that are not helpful for you.
Words are powerful tools: they create a good storyline, but they can also create a well-balanced life. You can use the secret power of the word to manage stress in your personal and professional life.
¹ Ted Global 2013 Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend
Bee Walker is a certified Mindfulness and Meditation Instructor, who teaches seminars and classes on mindfulness stress management. Together with her husband, Bee writes for “Keep your Paws on the Road,”a dog-friendly travel blog that shares dog training and other dog related information. For an appointment or to ask Bee to speak for your group, contact her at BeeWalkerMeditations@gmail.com or visit her website to learn more.
Very good advice.
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I’m afraid I am guilty of this–I think it’s because I am a performer and I’m always “on stage” when interacting with others (which, if I think about it, is my way of overcoming my natural shyness.) However, quite often I will describe a stressful event with humor, which is my way of “entertaining” others, and it makes the situation less stressful–and I feel better.
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