Unfortunately, the reality is for many people that negative self-talk is part of everyday life. Most times it just flies by and doesn't help or hurt. But if you can't brush past it, or if it starts to take up a lot of space in your day, it can become a serious problem for your health. Like a lot of stress and mental health issues, becoming fixed on negative self-talk triggers a mind-body connection that is very, very real.
But what is negative self-talk? It can be anything from taking rejection personally, to having a bad thought about a stranger on the street. "Negative self-talk is that internal, critical voice you hear," Sara Stanizai, a licensed psychotherapist and the owner of Prospect Therapy, tells Bustle. "You might hear it more often when you are being critical of someone else. Perhaps you relate to them in some way, and when you criticize them, you are really criticizing yourself.” Basically, any thought you have that is disproportionately critical to yourself (or others who share traits with you), is negative self-talk.
In small doses, like most things, it's OK to have these thoughts. "Periodic negative self-talk is normal and not harmful," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show tells Bustle. "However, when we have a negative filter up, when we take all information or most information and turn it into something negative it has emotional and physical consequences ... Basically our internal dialog creates a physiological response, which can do physical harm." And while the mind-body connection is only now being adequately researched, there's definitely signs that these mental habits can be very physically draining.
Here are seven surprising effects negative self-talk can have on your body, according to experts.
You Have Zero Energy
Being this hard on yourself can, physically, make you weaker.
"[With too much negative self-talk] you feel fatigued and slow even though you are not ill," Dr. Klapow says. "Your negative self-talk can slow your metabolism, making you feel tired and slow." So if regular activities, at home or at work, are making you surprisingly tired, it might be from all those times you told yourself you weren't good enough.
Plus, the thoughts themselves can be tiring. “Self-talk of the negative kind may affect your mood and motivation, and these cause you to lose your drive,” Backe says. So, not only are the thoughts difficult in the first place, but they might become self-fulfilling. Another reason it's worth it to be gentle on yourself.
You're Having Trouble Focusing
Being hard on yourself doesn't just have the ability to wear you down physically; it can be incredibly exhausting for your brain, too. So much so that your concentration and productivity are likely to suffer.
"When we feel down, bad, irritable, sad — we tend to have a harder time concentrating, [because] we tend to get fatigued, [and] we work harder at processing information which makes it more exhausting," Dr. Klapow says. So if you're finding that your time at the desk is a little bit more Twitter-centric than usual, or that you need an extra cup of coffee to stay focused in meetings, those bad thoughts might just be the culprit.
Luckily, working on taking the power away from these thoughts can also clear up your other symptoms. "You have the power to increase or diminish the levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — in your body. And the power of speech is real," Backe says. Luckily techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy are really effective in working with these thoughts.
You Aren't Sleeping Well
It's exhausting to be self-critical. And honestly, that might be why you're having trouble sleeping.
"[Check in with yourself] either you have insomnia, or you can't get out of bed. Your mood and physical health are closely related, and changes in your regular sleep pattern are often the first, most noticeable sign that there is something going on," Stanizai says. Needing way more sleep, or starting to get less sleep, can be physically harmful. So ask a doctor if you're noticing major changes.
You Seem To Be Getting Sick More Easily
It's unfair, but true. Stress and negative thought patterns can be really harmful to your immune system. "[It's a sign your negative self-talk is affecting you if] you catch colds or other infectious illnesses more frequently," Stanizai says. "There is a correlation between actual infectious diseases and hearing negative statements." So if you find yourself at urgent care more than usual, maybe bring up your stress to the doctor, too.
"The more we have a negative self-talk theme the more our body wears down from stress. Our immune system can become compromised putting us at risk of illness as well," Dr. Klapow says. So if you're wondering whether you actually are making yourself sick, it's very possible, and worth mentioning to a professional or looking into further.
You Notice Your Appetite Changing
There's no one way negative self-talk affects bodies, but if you are noticing changes to your eating habits or hunger levels, there's a chance that these thoughts might be at play.
"Your appetite changes for no particular reason — you either feel like doing nothing but eating or you feel no interest in eating ... Your negative self-talk can slow that metabolism causing changes in appetite," Dr. Klapow says. Of course, there's a huge number of mental and physical health conditions that can cause these symptoms, so it's always important to ask an expert.
You Have Aches And Pains That Don't Make Sense
Another idiom might actually be a real concern here. Being too hard on yourself too often can literally become a "pain in the neck."
Like the other symptoms, pain as a result of the stress of negative thoughts can show up in your life in ways that feel totally inexplicable. "[It's a sign if] you have headaches, backaches, neck pain, or otherwise tight muscles with no particular physical reason," Dr. Klapow says. "The more we have an internal negative dialog the more stress we create in our systems — this causes our muscles to contract leading to muscle pain and headaches." Your neck and back are going through enough just being a human existing in a world of technology and sedentary jobs, you deserve better than extra pain added to the mix.
Unfortunately, none of these symptoms on their own are an immediate indicator that your thoughts are causing harm in your body. Still, they are all worth time and attention. And with the help of informed medical and mental health professionals, you can help get to the bottom of what's going on. And even if your negative self-talk hasn't caused any of these problems yet, you deserve the time and space to find ways to be kinder to yourself.