Positive self talk is a simple and powerful stress-reduction tool
Caring for an older adult can feel like a non-stop stress test.
Reducing that stress protects you from burnout, serious health conditions, and early death. It also improves quality of life, something you definitely deserve.
That’s why it’s important to find simple, quick ways to be kind to yourself and reduce stress.
One powerful stress-reducing tool you can start using right now is positive self talk.
We explain what self talk is, the difference between positive and negative self talk, and 4 ways to use positive self talk to reduce stress.
What is self talk?
You might not know it, but you already practice self talk all the time.
It’s basically the voice that’s always in your head. Self talk usually happens without you even noticing.
Positive vs. negative self talk
Positive self talk makes you feel good about yourself and the things in your life. It’s the optimistic voice in your head that looks on the bright side.
Positive self talk examples:
Dad loves that puzzle I found for him. It’s great that I did the research to find it.
The table is sparkling! I did a nice job cleaning up mom’s mess from breakfast.
I’m not happy about the doctor’s phone call, but the news could have been a lot worse.
Negative self talk makes you feel bad about yourself and things in your life. It brings you down and usually makes people pretty miserable.
Negative self talk examples:
I’m the worst caregiver ever, I can’t even convince mom to shower.
I should have known that dad has a UTI, how could I have been so blind?!
As long as I’m a caregiver, my life is going to be terrible and I’m going to feel like crap.
4 ways to use positive self talk to reduce caregiver stress
Hearing positive, supportive statements in your head is a lot more pleasant and calming than a steady stream of negativity.
To lower stress, work on reducing the amount and intensity of negative self talk while increasing positive self talk.
Here are 4 techniques to try:
1. Interrupt negative thoughts with “stop”
When you notice yourself saying something negative in your mind, stop that thought immediately by saying “stop” to yourself.
If you can, say it out loud. Saying it aloud makes you more aware of how many times you’re stopping negative thoughts and when they’re happening.
2. Use milder wording
Using a strong word can make an experience seem more intense.
If someone asked you to describe your “pain,” you might feel it intensely. But if you were asked to describe your “discomfort,” it might not seem so strong.
When you talk to yourself, turn strong negative words into more neutral ones. That helps make your experience more neutral rather than so negative.
Instead of using words like “hate” and “angry,” use words like “don’t like” or “annoyed.”
For example, instead of saying “I hate being stuck at home taking care of my mom!” try something like “I don’t like being stuck at home taking care of my mom.”
That’s a milder statement and helps make the feeling less intense.
3. Change self-limiting statements to questions
Saying things like “I can’t handle this!” or “This is impossible!” increases your stress and stops you from looking for solutions.
These are called self-limiting statements because they limit the possibilities of the situation.
The next time you think something like that, turn it into a question. “How can I handle this?” or “How is this possible?” sounds much more hopeful and helps you come up with creative solutions.
4. Address yourself by name
Research has found that talking to yourself using the word “I” will stress you out.
But, using your own name actually helps you give yourself support and advice. Weird, huh?
It’s like stepping outside yourself and talking to yourself as if you were talking to a friend. It’s often easier to be kind to someone else than it is to be kind to yourself.
For example, if you hear yourself think “There’s no way I can help dad with rehab like the physical therapist does.” change that to “Jane, you can ask the physical therapist to teach you how to help dad exercise.”
That type of positive encouragement is what you might say to a friend in a similar situation.