Talking To Yourself Can Actually Be A Really Useful Way To Cope
Many of us have a constant flow of internal dialogue keeping us company. We’re replaying conversations, thinking about things we wish we had said, engaging in both negative and positive self-talk, trying to remember items on a to-do list, or pondering our next snack or Netflix choice. But some of us articulate that internal dialogue on the outside of our bodies: we talk to ourselves.
I’m referring to more than a muttered comment under our breath or an escaped cuss word. We ask ourselves questions, have conversations with ourselves, and work through both trivial and heavy thoughts to get to a solution or better understanding of a situation.
Talking to ourselves can also help us understand our thought patterns and desires because we’re able to use it as a tool to check in and be more aware of our needs. Talking to yourself can be a very useful coping tool.
I have been accused of humming to myself while focused and have had people ask me if I was talking to them while I was standing in a grocery aisle and wondering aloud where the Fruit Loops are. Both of those external audio expressions are mindless. I’m on autopilot and sounds just come out of my mouth, not necessarily looking for anyone to engage — though I have had others jump in to help me find grocery items, which is always helpful.
I have used talking out loud as a way to find lost items and feel justified in doing so, because a study found that saying the name of the thing you are looking for actually helps you find said thing. It helps you visualize what you lost and reminds your brain of what you’re looking for. Though sometimes I just think I’m channeling Harry Potter and saying the “accio” summoning charm, spell. If I keep yelling “wallet!” surely it will appear.
I have also used talking to myself in a very deliberate way to soothe myself and find answers. While I have many years of therapy under my belt and have developed both guided and intuitive methods to reduce feelings of overwhelm or despair, my therapists never gave it a specific name. But talking to yourself can be an important part of somatic therapy, which uses both talk or cognitive therapy with physical therapies to focus on the mind-body connection.
Sharlene Bird, Psy.D., psychologist and somatic experiencing practitioner, told SELF magazine, “Somatic therapy is all about focusing on an awareness of your body, particularly your nervous system. By being attuned to your body, it allows you to be fully present and notice how your body responds.” Self-talk can be a way to become more grounded in reality, especially if you have PTSD and/or a history of trauma and abuse.
I’m a sexual abuse survivor and experience body dysphoria, so being in my body or connecting uncomfortable knowledge or memories with tightness in my hips or crawling skin can be scary and debilitating. Exercise was one of the first tools I used to start making mind-body connections. I soon realized that a good workout or even a walk would relax my muscles and then relax my brain a bit. Yoga and weight lifting force me to focus on breathing and detailed movements that keep my body safe. I was eventually able to distinguish feeling uncomfortable from feelings of being unsafe, but I had to also tell myself I was safe. Old sensations and fears do not always equate to present-day realities.
For me and others, self-talk is a way to pinpoint what is causing me anxiety and then use it to problem-solve how to reduce my anxiety. I talk to myself as a way to process big emotions or to figure out why my body is experiencing pain, agitation, or exhaustion. I talk to myself as a way to connect the activity in my brain to the sensations in my body. This has become more intuitive over time, but for so many years I shut myself off from my body.
The most basic question I ask myself every day and multiple times a day is What do I need? When I can’t focus on work, decide what I want to eat, shake a headache, or feel overwhelmed, I try to talk to myself like my therapist or a friend would so I can find relief. I will ask my question out loud, then talk out multiple possible solutions. Maybe I’m tired, scared, bored, not actually hungry, or had too much caffeine. Maybe I’m exhausted from the mental fatigue of still living in a pandemic and worrying about my kids’ health, while worrying about my own, while balancing the uncertainty that comes with the knowledge that the only consistent thing for the foreseeable future is inconsistency.
When I say all of that out loud it’s easier to be kind to myself because I can hear that it’s a lot. Talking to myself takes some of the weight off of the words. Talking is like a release valve on my brain. The words bubble up into thoughts that push their way to the edges until they come dangerously close to popping. Talking deflates into validation. No wonder I’m scared and have a headache. Of course I need to take a break, stretch my hips, and relax my shoulders. I need to find a way to break the stress cycle between my brain and body so that both can chill the fuck out. Maybe I need Tylenol and a nap.
An important part of talking to yourself in order to use it as a coping mechanism is to be sure the talk is positive. Not like in a toxic-positivity sort of way, but in a way that can call something hard or shitty without blaming yourself or labeling yourself with negative words. Use second person statements like you got this, you are strong, you have done this before, you will get through this, or you are safe to provide positive and honest affirmations. These statements can also drown out the noise in our heads that tells us we’ll always feel bad, anxious, or scared.
Self-talk helps me figure out next steps because I listen to what I’m saying and respect the answers I give myself. I go for a walk, listen to my audio book, limit my work, or write down what I’m thinking and saying so that I can get out of my head and often out of my way. I’m not a therapist or an expert on any type of therapeutic method; these are skills I have learned and used over the years with the help of mental health professionals.
I highly recommend you find a mental health professional to help you find healthy coping mechanisms too. It may take trial and error and more time than you expect or want to spend but it’s worth it. If you haven’t tried having conversations with yourself, give it a shot. You may be the most important and interesting person you talk to all day.
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