Here’s why the word ‘stress’ and many other words do not need to be in our daily lexicon.
Yes, life can be intense. Family, work, health, friends, love - we have a lot to keep in check and many reasons to strive for balance. But let me ask you this . . . how many times do you find yourself saying or thinking “I’m stressed” in one week? If it’s more than once, I encourage you rethink and adjust your vocab.
This word (stress) has become powerful, prevalent and so very toxic in our culture. Each time it is thought or uttered, our body has a physical ‘fight or flight’ reaction to it - AND we feed its power over our lives. The less we think negative thoughts, the less energy we give them, thus the less power they have to grow - naturally, the same goes for all of the goodness in our lives. Give more, get more.
To support my point here, German researchers found that certain pain-associated words such as 'tormenting' or 'grueling' stimulate the pain area of the brain – even when no real pain is present. Similarly, the word ‘stress’ can trigger a wide range of physical responses in us - headache, fatigue, anxiety - all of which can feel like a normal part of life, but they don’t need to!
When it comes to words, there is actually such a thing as ‘Transformational Vocabulary’ – the practice of consciously using our words to improve the quality of our life. Have you ever stopped to think about the words you habitually use to describe the emotions you feel? Try it. Make a list of 10 key emotions you felt in the last week - now the holidays may skew this exercise quite a bit - but for the most part, we tend to use the same set of words to describe our daily range of emotions . . . and negative words often lead the pack.
The issue here is that more often than not we don't consciously choose these words to describe our emotions. Especially during distressing experiences, we have habitual words that we unconsciously use . . . then the challenge becomes the words we attach to these experiences become our experience. Words have a powerful physiological effect. The second you use a word like “devastated”, you’re producing a very different biochemical effect on your body than if you were to say, “I’m disappointed.”
So here’s what I suggest - especially regarding the word ‘stress’ . . . the next time you feel like describing your mood or your day with the word ‘stress’, try using a new descriptor. I personally like to use the word ‘intense’. It can have both positive and negative uses, making it a neutral word that our body has no reason to rebel against. Other suggestions: heavy, full, overloaded, accentuated, strained.
Because the truth is, we have A LOT of words to choose from. Here are some fun facts on words :
- The English language contains roughly 500,000 words.
- The average person’s daily vocab consists of 2,000 (0.5% of the language).
- The average person habitually uses 200-300 words ... for contrast, Shakespeare used 24,000, 5,000 of which he only used one time.
- Of the 500,000 words in our language, close to 3,000 describe emotions and 2/3 of those describe negative emotions.
So what’s the point? Why should we care so much about words and which ones we choose to use? Words. Have. Power. There is always more than one way to say something. And the way we say something and the words we choose can make or break our experience.
Now I know some words are hard to avoid. And I also know that avoiding one little word like ‘stress’ won’t solve all of our problems. But it sure would help.
Here are some reBUTtals I’ve heard (and some responses) to ‘you don’t need to use the word stress’ :
BUT: But I like that word.
RESPONSE: Do you really OR are you just in the habit of saying it because you hear it used around you so often?
BUT: It makes me feel busy.
RESPONSE: Please try to adjust that perspective to see accomplishment through a positive lense OR enjoy your ulcer.
BUT: I feel accomplished when I’m stressed.
RESPONSE: I repeat, choose a new way of generating your feelings of success OR live with the many physical ramifications of telling our body you’re constantly in fight or flight mode.
BUT: Everyone else uses it.
RESPONSE Be a leader, friends - let’s help one another live healthier, calmer, happier lives.
So, in this new year, let’s try to give not only our life, but our personal lexicon a makeover – avoid the word, and the sentiment, of stress. Embrace the freedom we can find in this one small act.
“Language shapes our behavior and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. The right words spoken in the right way can bring us love, money and respect, while the wrong words—or even the right words spoken in the wrong way—can lead a country to war. We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition.” — Dr. Andrew Newberg, Words Can Change Your Brain
Love + Joy,