Changing the Way We Talk About COVID-19 Can Improve Our Mental Well-being

This simple language tweak has the power to reduce your anxiety and boost your resilience.

Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock
Dmytro Zinkevych / Shutterstock

When it comes to the current health crisis, more than 65% of participants in a Thrive Global survey around coronavirus pain points reported feeling helpless. And nearly 80% said they feel like things are out of their control. While so much is out of our hands, there is a lot that’s in our control. For example, one way we can lower stress is to change the way we talk about the pandemic and convey what we are going through. Science shows that catastrophizing language (i.e. “This is a disaster!”) can have a negative impact on our mental health, while using positive words can have significant benefits.

“Our mind starts to accept and believe what we are saying to ourselves, so positive messages can be powerful, especially right now,” L.A.-based psychotherapist Pauline Sanderson tells Thrive. In fact, optimistic language can prime our brain to see the world in a more positive light. 

In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman write that “a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean we need to use words that deny our true feelings or mask our challenges and hardships. Honoring your experience is vitally important. “But whenever possible, it’s important to be mindful of the language we’re using — for our own mental well-being and for those around us,” says Sanderson.

Positive talk does not change the situation, but it can put things into a healthier perspective and increase your resilience. That is particularly valuable in times of stress, because science shows that when we are able to be positive, our heart rate lowers and we recover from anxiety at a faster rate. 

So how do you go about changing how you talk about stressful experiences? Try this Thrive Microstep:

If you hear yourself using negative language, try a more positive phrase.
Even one negative word triggers fear.
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