We all remember that saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
When I was a freshman in high school, I took a break to use the restroom during class. As I was walking back, I looked up and saw this guy named Nate walking towards me. Nate was not a nice person in school. I mean, I was definitely not a cool kid! I tried to blend in, but was often teased for being uncool and overweight.
As he was getting closer, my anxiety rose and I found myself holding my breath. I lowered my eyes to the floor and prayed for invisibility to be my temporary super power. My wish wasn’t granted. I made the mistake to briefly look up just in time for him to say two simple words, “You’re ugly.”
I remember thinking, “I know I’m not pretty. But am I ugly?” He created self-doubt and my mind started playing tricks on me. Nate’s comment stuck with me all day. I was sad. I felt defeated. My stomach was in knots and I couldn’t shake a headache. For the rest of my high school career and into college life, I thought about this moment many times in my life, much less as I have gotten older and wiser (thank goodness). Each time I thought about this scenario, I felt the same way I did when I was 15 and walking through the hallway; insecure, full of self-doubt and critical of who I was. Isn’t that sad?
So what does this have to do with your fitness, wellness and goals?
Have you ever heard the term, neuroplasticity? This is the brains ability to reprogram itself and create new connections based on your behaviors and “new information” given.
Traditional thinking in the science of neurology, always told us that the brain is a fixed structure and that it cannot be changed. Well turns out, they were wrong! We have the ability to reprogram our brain. While this is great news in many cases, it was bad news for me in 1996 as an overweight, insecure, emotional basket case of a high school freshman. This triggered unhealthy emotions! These emotions led to poor coping skills like overeating that ultimately led to a heavy weight gain through my high school career.
Let me explain…
- Words trigger thoughts in your head
- These thoughts trigger emotions
- Emotions prime the body for a reaction
- The reactions stimulate hormones in order to “feel better”
- A regular flooding of these hormones create a toxic physical environment in the body.
- A toxic environment impairs the body’s systems to be efficient in EVERYTHING (includes metabolizing fat and appetite suppression)
What do the “sad” hormones do?
Cortisol: When you chronically have increased levels of cortisol, losing weight will feel nearly impossible! Cortisol can increase insulin levels, causing your blood sugar to drop. When your blood sugar drops, you instantly crave foods packed with sugar and fat. You are already feeling depressed and wan to feel better, so you eat! Hence, weight gain!
Dopamine: This is a hormone that is released when you practice negative self-talk. Its job is to try to get you OUT of the destructive pattern of negative-self talk. It’s trying to make you FEEL GOOD! This problem with this hormone is that it can easily lead to addiction and habit formation. Basically, you can become addicted to criticizing yourself!
Now we know the science behind how words can change and harm your physical body. YES! The words you hear create thoughts in your head can harm you!
I know what you are thinking…
This is the part when Kelsey gives me an uplifting speech about how to give myself pep talks every day and say out loud 10 times over, “I’m freaking awesome.”
Well, no. Research has shown the practice of simply talking positively to ourselves, is fairly ineffective. We have to reprogram our brains to change or views, behaviors and coping skills. How do we do that?
Self-compassion means that instead of judging and criticizing yourself for feelings of inadequacies, you show kindness and understanding when confronted with personal feelings of failure.
I want you do take the time to think about someone that you love very much. Have you seen this person in pain before? What did that feel like to see them in pain? Whether it was emotional pain or physical pain, I bet you wanted to take the pain from them, give them a big comforting hug and tell them, “It’s ok! I’m right here and we can get through this together.”
Good! Now you know what compassion for another person looks and feels like. Now can you practice this on yourself? When you are feeling down, stressed, depressed or in pain; can you show yourself the same love as you did this person you care for?
This is what it would have sounded like had I practiced self-compassion back in high school….
“Wow! That was mean! He was so rude but that’s all right. Kelsey, you are beautiful on the inside and out. And while you know you are awesome, not everyone will think so and that’s ok! Maybe he is having a bad day or feels bad about something he is going through. Shake it off and get back to class so you can crush the rest of the day!”
If you are a parent, this kind of conversation may be familiar to you. This is how we talk and reassure our children when they are feeling inadequate or unsure of themselves. Think about it…. Next time, talk to yourself the same way.
In a couple weeks you will see a Part 2 to this article, “Stop Talking Shit. How to have self-compassion and meet your goals.” In this article, I will go in depth on exactly how to master this important skill of self-love. In the meantime, stop talking shit and become aware of your words and thoughts. Don’t let them take control of your emotions. Practice shutting it down and redirecting your brain.
Until next time, Bellas!