How our self talk impacts our stress levels with Allyson Sunderman
In this interview, Laurie and Allyson Sunderman discuss how our self talk impacts our stress levels and what happens if we talk very critically about ourselves. They also offer some solutions and ways to improve and stop negative self-talk.
This is a transcription of an Instagram Live conversation. You can find the full video on Laurie’s IGTV tab on Instagram and on soon on YouTube.
Today I’m bringing Allyson Sunderman on and we’re going to be talking about self-talk and how it impacts our stress levels.
This is such an important topic and it’s one that often as women, we don’t often realize how our self-talk is impacting our health or even that we sometimes don’t even pay attention to our self-talk.
So we don’t even know how we’re speaking to ourselves. But it’s so important to recognize that how we speak to ourselves can influence our health and specifically the stress response in our body.
This is something that I personally have had to do work on.
It’s just all about the way we talk to ourselves, the things that we say and recognizing the impact that it has on our health and specifically our stress, right?
Absolutely. I was doing some research, kind of diving into this before we chatted. And I was startled by some of the things that the researchers came up with. 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts float in and out of our head throughout the day and 80% of those can be negative.
That just really hit me.
I mean, it could be from anything like, “Oh man, that was a stupid mistake” or “I’m such an idiot. Why did I do that?”
These subtle little thoughts, which we might be saying to ourselves millions of times in a week.
It’s just those little things and they start to build up and then we get this stress response and it kind of cascades from there.
Just saying those things out loud, I could feel that stress sensation in my body.
Your body has a reaction. It can have a physiological reaction to the words that we use.
So let’s dive into it first. I’d love to let you tell us a little bit about how you got into this work.
Sure, I’m Allyson Sunderman. I am a physical therapist in the U.S. and I’ve been a PT for over 10 years now. I started getting into online stuff about 10 years ago when I graduated with a brick and mortar, I owned a wellness center for 10 years.
I’m doing that and working with other practitioners and then started doing online, kind of after the pandemic hit and I had another baby. All those things added up and I started doing online health coaching, but I can tie in business coaching as well, since I’ve been an entrepreneur for 10 years and am very familiar with the online space and offline space. So I kind of tie the two together.
I love it! I guess throughout your life and probably your work, you’ve recognized the importance of self-talk with women and health.
Definitely. It’s something that I recognized in school where that was happening a lot, but I didn’t focus on it too much.
Then I graduated, I was married and just a woman in general. Women tend to have a lot more negative self-talk than men and we dwell on it a lot more.
It really came through, once I became a mother. When you’re a mom, you’ve got all this information flying at you, all the unsolicited advice and everything like that. Women get that in general, not necessarily only as mothers.
It really kind of hits you, “Oh my gosh, I have this body part and it’s not what I want it to be.” I’ll have this negative conversation with myself about it. And the more negative I am, the worse it gets, it’s a negative feedback cycle.
It just really, really hit me at once. I started noticing, “Wow, I am really not talking to myself the way I would talk to anyone else.”
It was definitely kind of a slap in the face, this has to change.
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That’s the thing. We can be our own worst critic.
I’d love to get into how this impacts us and what happens with our brain when we’re talking to ourselves like that.
So whenever you’re having this negative self-talk, your body begins to produce cortisol. Cortisol competes with dopamine, which is like our happiness hormone in the brain. Cortisol ends up taking over.
Whenever cortisol takes over in your brain, you’re at risk for decreased weight control. Your weight may fluctuate up and down, your stress levels rise, your fight or flight responses start to get triggered, because you have these adrenaline and epinephrine type releases that affect our heart rates, how we’re feeling in the moment, our stress levels and it affects our appetite control.
Our anxiety puts us at risk for increased depression as well, because the more we talk negatively to ourselves, we increase more cortisol. So that cortisol just takes over more and more in the brain.
The more it takes over the more it does these things. So it’s just a negative feedback cycle. Cortisol also decreases your brain’s ability to talk positively to yourself. So the more cortisol that’s in your brain, the more these negative thoughts, just keep flowing and flowing and flowing.
Like I said, it’s just a horrible cycle that’s really hard to break out of, and it affects our entire body, our digestion and our heart health, everything.
That’s where my mind went too, because I also have to teach a lot about nutrition and digestion.
When we’re eating, what are we thinking about? What are our thoughts when we’re eating? Are you having a difficult conversation with someone or yourself? Are you maybe being hard on yourself because that’s going to affect your digestion? I mean, some people probably don’t recognize the thoughts that we’re thinking while we eat.
Yeah, absolutely, and for some people it can go either way.
For some, it slows their digestion and they wind up with constipation and other issues that go along with that.
But for some people, like myself, it increases your digestion. So you actually get increased motility, you wind up running into the bathroom.
I’m more on the anxiety scale. So as it increases my anxiety, all the fun side effects come along with that.
I mean, it’s sending a message to our body, through our negative self-talk, to say that we’re not safe. So we switch over into the mode of survival. We’re in survival mode. We’re not safe. Instantly we’re in that fight or flight mode, and in that mode, we are not prioritizing things like healing, reproduction or digestion and resting.
Sleep is a really big one. It definitely affects our sleep.
I’m sure just about everyone on here can think “Oh yeah, 3:00 AM is my time when I wake up and thoughts just pop in my head. Why didn’t I get this done?”
Alternatively a conversation that you had with someone 15 years ago will pop into your head, but all these things just fly at us for some reason in the middle of the night, when our hormones tend to spike a little bit and it affects our sleep so much.
Again, when you don’t have good sleep, your digestion is affected. Your stress levels are affected. Your happiness levels in general are affected.
Right, and I must say that I grew up seeing this around me all the time. Women just talk like that to themselves, men also, people just weren’t nice to themselves in my experience.
I hope this isn’t the case for everybody, but it just sort of seemed normal. Like this is the way it is.
When you grow up like that, it can be really hard to recognize that you’re doing it. When do you recognize it? How do we shift away from that?
Absolutely. So it is a very difficult cycle to break. I grew up with that as well. I grew up in the diet pill era, where every woman around me was doing that. So that negative self-talk, it really does take over.
So you can sit, take a deep breath, just take a couple of days and just listen to yourself. Don’t try to change anything yet, just listen to yourself and listen to what you’re saying to yourself.
Have a notepad nearby and write down some of the things that you’re saying to yourself, especially the common themes. If you’re really on negative self body talk, if you’re kind of body shaming yourself, then write those things down. Or if it’s about money or what you’re eating or your work, whatever it is, just make some notes of some things that are really, really apparent in your self-talk.
Whenever you do that after a couple of days, you can kind of regroup and come back to that.
You can start to reframe what you’re saying to yourself. So instead of maybe saying “I am not enough,” a lot of mothers, a lot of women say that in pretty much every respect of their life. Then you can reframe that into “I am enough.”
Maybe there are some reasons why now those are more like affirmations.
I was talking to a friend of mine, who’s a psychologist. She was on my podcast a couple of weeks ago, and she was saying that, and this hit me so hard when we do affirmations a lot of times our brain is like, “Huh, what? No that’s BS, I’d call BS on that.”
It doesn’t matter how energetically we say it to ourselves.
So she introduced me to something called ask formation, which I had never really heard of before.
It’s more reframing that affirmation into a question, which I thought was really intriguing. So instead of saying “I am enough,” it’s saying “Why do I believe that I am enough?” Then you can start to list those reasons. When I asked myself, “Why do I believe that I am enough?” then my brain kind of automatically starts going into my kids are happy and healthy, I am doing what I love or whatever it is that comes to you.
Your brain kind of shifts into that more positive line of thinking, which is really cool. I like the affirmations, but I also like to ask formations as well, especially for that BS detector.
Sometimes affirmations don’t work for everybody, so this is a great other option to try.
Yeah, absolutely. Once I switched to affirmations, they really helped a lot.
Also learning to breathe and just take a step back and ask yourself, “Would I talk to my friend who’s in need like this?”
That will really hit home, when you start to do that to yourself, because you realise, “Oh wow. I am not talking to myself nicely at all.”
You can also take just like five minutes in the morning or evening, whatever works for you and just write down:
- 5 things that you’re grateful for
- 5 things that you’re thankful for
- 5 things that you love about yourself
You can try this any way that works for you, because it’s a very personal thing and not everything’s going to work for everyone.
Right, for me, I find it pretty helpful just to recognize how I’m speaking to myself and see if I would talk to a friend the same way or even your pet. We’re always showering them with love.
When you recognize you’re not doing that for yourself, it’s eye opening, but it can be a difficult shift.
I like your idea of just first building that awareness and recognizing what you are saying, because I think with each person it can be different.
Like you said, sometimes it’s around body shaming, sometimes it’s around that ‘you’re not doing enough.’
For some women it’s around their finances, for something that you don’t think is quite so detrimental to your life, but in the long run it is.
Those negative self-talks really add up. It can be something as small as that we shouldn’t have eaten that piece of candy, that peppermint, or anything like that. It just really adds up over time.
When you start to really take note of how many times you say that to yourself, it’s kind of startling.
That makes me think about the language.
Sometimes you’re used to labeling food as good food, bad food, clean food, dirty food.
That sends messages to our brain. When we’re eating food that we tell ourselves is bad food, that sends that message to our brain saying that we’re not safe.
So even not just how we talk to ourselves, but also how we talk about our experiences impacts us.
Yeah, definitely. A lot of times you can think about what didn’t go well, what you should have done or what you can do better. You think, “This could have turned out great or this could have gone better.” We dwell on these things thinking, “What if this would have changed?” and then we start catastrophizing things in our head. It just keeps us in a constant state of fight or flight mode.
I was reading that the more drama and trauma that we grew up with, the more we kind of want to keep surrounding ourselves with it. It’s something that kind of becomes ingrained in our being, and it’s a hard cycle to break.
Look back on your life and ask yourself, “When was the first time I remember not feeling like I was enough?”
What was going on? Was it something that happened when you were five? Was it something when you were 16? It could be anything and it might be something that you hadn’t really thought about before.
Replay that scenario and take yourself out of your body and kind of watch what’s happening, and then look at what’s really happening. Most likely what happened and what you’re inferring that, ”I’m not enough,” was actually just your perception.
It wasn’t really what was happening in this situation. You can really start to think that that other person was actually just trying to help you, or maybe they had something going on that you didn’t know about at the time.
Kind of take yourself out of the situation and really re-analyze it. It’s amazing what you kind of come up with.
When we are in the moment, that’s when we tend to go without recognizing it.
Is there anything else that you’d like to leave somebody with? Someone who is thinking, “That’s me. I do this.”
I don’t really know anyone who wouldn’t say that, whether you’ve overcome it or you’re going through it.
Just stepping back and really listening to yourself, asking yourself, “Would I talk to someone else like this, would I talk to my friend, my daughter or my mother like this?”
Then really trying to reframe those phrases that we’re using so often with ourselves, and giving ourselves some grace.
“Okay, I forgot the keys inside. I have to walk back inside and get them, which takes 10 seconds. I’m not an idiot because I did that. I’m a busy mom.” Even if you forget a meeting or something, look at what else you have going on in your life and take a breath and just give yourself some grace and give yourself permission to make some mistakes sometimes, because we all make mistakes and accepting the imperfections in life can be a beautiful thing. Nothing’s perfect and that’s okay. Just being able to accept that is a hard pill to swallow, but it’s very worth it in the end.
Yeah. Especially when it helps us find more help or gets us to our goals. Thank you Allyson for all this great information!
Connect with Allyson Sunderman on Instagram @the.mom.doc or on Facebook @themomdoc. Listen to her podcast The all out Motherhood Podcast.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and board certified health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
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