The pandemic has brought to fore issues around mental health. There’s plenty of research that’s now available for us to deal with the resulting stress. One field of work is around the voice in our head or as Dr Ethan Kross puts it ‘chatter’.
Dr Kross is an experimental psychologist and neuroscientist who specializes in emotion regulation. He is a professor of psychology and management at the University of Michigan and director of the Emotion & Self Control Laboratory, where he studies the science of introspection, or the silent conversations people have with themselves. He has a new book coming out this month called “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It.” In this interview in The Wall Street Journal, Dr Kross talks about how much we talk to ourselves:
“We spend between a third and a half of our waking hours not focused on the present. And engaging in nonverbal reasoning, or talking to ourselves silently, is a significant portion of that.
Inner speech can take a compressed form, which allows our words to flow at a rapid pace. One study estimated that people can think to themselves at a rate that is equivalent to speaking 4,000 words per-minute out loud. A contemporary State of the Union address is about 6,000 words and can last over an hour. So you are getting the same verbal punch thinking to yourself for about a-minute-and-a-half as you would if you listened to an entire State of the Union address.”
…and how can we use this ‘cognitive reappraisal’ to our advantage. Some tools:
Zoom out and see the bigger picture: “When we experience chatter we narrowly focus on our problem. What we want to do is zoom out. Think about our experience as something that many people deal with. Think about other people who have experienced something similar and have endured it. One of my go-to techniques is to think about the 1918 flu pandemic. We got through it and endured and excelled and we will do it again. Doing this is empowering. It gives hope.”
Distanced Self Talk: “There is a lot of research that shows we are much better at advising other people than ourselves. So it can help to think of yourself as if you are someone else. One way to do this is to use “distanced self talk” and coach yourself as if you were advising a friend. Use your own name. “Ethan, here is how you do this.” Many people do this intuitively without knowing why.”
Rituals help: “Rituals can provide us with a sense of order. They can help direct our attention away from the problem. You could even create your own ritual, such as before you give a talk. For example, remind yourself of advice you’ve received by someone you value, take three deep breaths and clench and unclench your fists twice.”
Awe gives perspective: “We experience awe when we are in the presence of something vast that we have trouble explaining. Some people get it from religious experiences. Others from looking at the sky or at an incredible piece of art or by attending an amazing concert. When we experience chatter we are narrowly focused on our problems. Experiencing awe shows us how much broader the universe is. And that puts things into perspective pretty significantly.”

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