Stress management: Controlling internal voices

Hawk flying against blue sky
Photo by Nigam Machchhar from Pexels

A hawk flew over the apartment complex last week, and everything went silent. Not a peep from trees that moments before had been alive with the sounds of birds. Usually, birds are swooping back and forth across the parking lot, picking up bugs and seeds to take to their nests, singing and scolding each other, defining their territory, or hopping around in the sun.

Nothing moved.

After awhile, the hawk moved away, and the chirping and chattering started up again.

Birds don’t only talk to each other or respond to danger; they talk to themselves. When my budgies are falling asleep, they make quiet, soothing noises to themselves. (It sounds like someone letting the air out of a balloon.)

What do you say when you talk to yourself? Not out loud, but silently. What tone does your internal voice take on? 

Awareness is the first step

Many people aren’t aware that they’re “saying” anything to themselves. Others say that if they talked to others the way they talk to themselves, nobody would want to be around them!

Stress management depends on the thoughts running through your mind, whether you’re aware of them or not. We might not be aware of them because they’re hardwired from repetition and move too fast for us to notice.

Try this experiment: Remember a time when you were worried about something. Maybe you were nervous about showing up at a party where you didn’t know anyone. Maybe you were waiting for one of your teenagers to come home after curfew. Maybe you were preparing an important presentation for the first time.

What was going through your mind?

Where did you feel it in your body?

Wouldn’t it be nice if that worried or critical inner voice could be quieted, like those twittering birds in the presence of a hawk?

Appropriate tension can keep us sharp, but studies show that too much stress can affect our muscles, heart health, breathing, posture, sleep, hormones, memory, defense against illness, digestion, appetite, and many other areas. Stress management can improve our energy, health, mood, and resilience.

Neurons in our brain love to save energy, so worry can become automated; kind of like putting a phone number on speed-dial. Neuroplasticity–the ability of the brain to change–means we can program new thought pathways for new responses.

Change it up to eliminate worry

Next time you find yourself worrying, try this: Notice the messages that are looping through your mind (“What if I’m late?” “What if they laugh?” “What if I can’t/ don’t ______?”) and the internal tone of “voice.” Next, re-run those exact ame worry words in a different voice–one that makes you laugh. Mickey Mouse, for example, or Kermit the Frog. Maybe Betty White or Melissa McCarthy. Maybe the voice of a politician that you can’t stand, the kind that makes you hit the OFF button on your TV as soon as you hear it.

Personally, when I replay that nagging voice telling me, “You’re never going to figure out how to get across town without GPS!” using the voice of Winnie the Pooh or Marvin the Martian, it’s a lot harder to take that thought seriously.

There are thousands of stress management techniques. This one aims to quiet or silence those ANTS (Automatic Negative ThoughtS). Make it a game to switch up the voices you use so you can laugh or ignore them!

If you have questions about this technique, feel free to schedule a free strategy session, and I’ll be happy to help you.