There was a time in our ancestry that our fight/flight mechanism was on the lookout for such things as a saber tooth tiger. In our modern world saber tooth tigers are extinct, and our fight/flight function is more commonly anxiety and depression. That is not to say that there is no longer a need for fight and flight, but rather that, for most of us, real life-threatening stimuli are extremely rare. As such, rather than fight or flight, today’s stressors tend to lead to anxiety (preparedness to fight) or depression (withdrawal is akin to flight).
With the reality of Covid we witnessed a surge in anxiety and depression. No surprise there. However, during the past two years we also have witnessed an increase in violent crime in America. KQED reports, “With major national and statewide increases in murders since the start of the pandemic, crime is shaping up to be a big political football in 2022.”
Forget the politics for a moment, and instead, think of the pent-up angst that so many felt during the pandemic. Remember, anxiety is preparedness and often it can transpose itself to anger. Add this to the hyperpolarized issues of today, and you have the ingredients for yet more civil disorder.
People no longer talk to one another. Instead, they talk at each other. Listening may one day be an extinct art if we don’t soon begin to prioritize it. Rather than hearing each other out, all too often folks are canceling each other with ad hominin attacks. Name-calling and the use of pejoratives are becoming commonplace everywhere including among and between our elected officials.
“I want my world to be one of peace,” is a statement often heard today. However, I have seen the same person who posted such a statement on their social networking page turn around the next day and inform everyone that if you don’t agree with them, then get out—“unfriend me now!”
We all can be dissonant at times. That said, think about the power of words—just words. The most violent of actions can sometimes be just words and words themselves have started more violence than anything in history. I often think of words like this, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will slice and dice me.” Indeed, I wrote a blog titled that a few years ago and this is why. In a paper published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Martin Teicher and colleagues at Harvard Medical School share the results of a new study that revealed:
“. . . those individuals who reported experiencing verbal abuse from their peers during middle school years had underdeveloped connections between the left and right sides of their brain through the massive bundle of connecting fibers called the corpus callosum. Psychological tests given to all subjects in the study showed that this same group of individuals had higher levels of anxiety, depression, anger, hostility, dissociation, and drug abuse than others in the study.”1
There is only so much you can do about hearing others’ words, but what about the ever-present dialog going on in your head. How much of your self-talk is positive, loving, or gratitude-oriented, and how much is blame or victim role oriented? Do you wake up in the morning grateful for another day? Or is “Thank God it’s Friday” a wishful part of your self-talk? Do you look forward to your day or is it a ritual you must endure?
The Power of Gratitude
Gratitude has been shown to change “the molecular structure of the brain, keeping gray matter functioning, and making us healthier and happier.”2
Simply by changing the way we talk to ourselves, by beginning each morning with a “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” doesn’t just change your expectation but actually alters the structure of your brain.
Do you know what the most dangerous word in our world seems to be? Try this one:
“If I were to put you into an fMRI scanner—a huge donut-shaped magnet that can take a video of the neural changes happening in your brain—and flash the word “NO” for less than one second, you’d see a sudden release of dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters. These chemicals immediately interrupt the normal functioning of your brain, impairing logic, reason, language processing, and communication.
In fact, just seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse, and the more you ruminate on them, the more you can actually damage key structures that regulate your memory, feelings, and emotions. You’ll disrupt your sleep, your appetite, and your ability to experience long-term happiness and satisfaction.
If you vocalize your negativity, or even slightly frown when you say “no,” more stress chemicals will be released, not only in your brain but in the listener’s brain as well. The listener will experience increased anxiety and irritability, thus undermining cooperation and trust. In fact, just hanging around negative people will make you more prejudiced toward others!”3
The bottom line is obvious. Be kind to yourself. Choose to be grateful. Choose to treat yourself kindly with positive words. Choose to treat others with positive words. Think of your language, both in your head and out of your mouth, as potentially helpful antibodies, or the contaminating virus.
For me, using InnerTalk every day is a great way to ensure that I remain positive and find that place of inner peace. So, every morning I look through our InnerTalk library and decide which programs will assist me in being happier and more able to achieve my goals for that day. I can’t tell you how much this helps me bring joy to every day. Plus, I suppose I’d like to think of myself as being some small part of the solution instead of the problem. I hope you have that same desire.
Wishing you peace, balance, and harmony, and thanks for the read,
Eldon Taylor, PhD
Provocative Enlightenment Radio
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusion
- Fields, R. D. 2010. “Sticks and Stones: Hurtful Words Damage the Brain.” Psychology Today. October 30, 2010.
- Walia, A. — “Gratitude Can Literally Change Your Heart & The Molecular Structure Of Your Brain.” Collective Evolution.
- Newberg, A., & Waldman, M. 2012. “Why This Word Is So Dangerous to Say or Hear.” Psychology Today. August 1, 2012