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Talk to Yourself to Reduce Anxiety

July 27, 2017

In lectures I discuss how it is possible to reduce anxiety by shifting perspective from the emotional / immediate self to a detached / distant view of self.  Researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan indicates that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control. 

 

In one experiment, at Moser's Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, participants viewed neutral and disturbing images and reacted to the images in both the first and third person while their brain activity was monitored by an electroencephalograph. When reacting to the disturbing photos (such as a man holding a gun to their heads), participants' emotional brain activity decreased very quickly (within 1 second) when they referred to themselves in the third person.The MSU researchers also measured participants' effort-related brain activity and found that using the third person was no more effortful than using first person self-talk.

 

This bodes well for using third-person self-talk as an on-the-spot strategy for regulating one's emotions, Moser said, as many other forms of emotion regulation require considerable thought and effort.In the other experiment, led by U-M psychology professor Ethan Kross, who directs the Emotion and Self-Control Lab, participants reflected on painful experiences from their past using first and third person language while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or FMRI.Similar to the MSU study, participants' displayed less activity in a brain region that is commonly implicated in reflecting on painful emotional experiences when using third person self-talk, suggesting better emotional regulation. Further, third person self-talk required no more effort-related brain activity than using first person.

 

To read the study review click here.

 

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