When we’re stressed, turning inward is a common response—but it often backfires. Instead of making us feel better, it leads us to experience chatter. Chatter is the cycle of negative thoughts and feelings that turn our capacity for introspection into a vulnerability rather than a strength—we worry, ruminate and catastrophize rather than come up with clear solutions for how to improve our circumstances. And chatter is even more common now, given the turbulence of a once-in-a-century pandemic.
So how can you manage your chatter? One useful tool is something called distanced self-talk—coaching yourself through a problem using your name, like you’re advising someone else. Research shows that it is easier to coach other people through their problems than it is to help yourself. Distanced self-talk capitalizes on this idea. Talking to yourself like you’re someone else—using your own name to work through your problems— may help you manage stress and regulate emotions.
Don’t talk to yourself using “I,” “me,” or “my” when you’re struggling to control your emotions—it makes you more likely to wallow rather than work through your feelings. Take a step back. When you give yourself the same advice you would a friend or colleague, you’re able to think about problems as a manageable challenge rather than an overwhelming threat—and that propels you forward.