A technique for eliminating anxiety: Speaking in the third person

A technique for eliminating anxiety: Speaking in the third person

You are sitting and relaxed, but suddenly you feel strange. You find it hard to breathe and feel a tightness in your chest. Anxiety increases and you are unable to concentrate, even if you try. It is a sensation that almost everyone has experienced, because to a greater or lesser extent, we have all been victims of anxiety. But the problem arises when anxiety becomes a constant condition, when it affects our performance and significantly limits the quality of life. How can anxiety be treated?

Unsurprisingly, the consumption of anxiolytics has increased alarmingly around the world. In fact, it is estimated that at least one in three Spaniards has used these drugs in the past year.

However, anxiety medications should be the last resort available. It would be better to try other techniques first, which have no side effects and are aimed at fighting the root problem rather than hiding it. A technique for treating anxiety is proposed to us by a study conducted at the University of Michigan.

Treat anxiety by talking to yourself in the third person

By talking to ourselves, but in the third person, using pronouns like "she" or "him" or our own name, we can relieve anxiety and improve our performance during stressful situations, such as when we talk in public or we want to make a good impression at a job interview.

When we refer to ourselves in the third person, instead of using the classic "I", we establish a distance, a space between the "I" that observes and reflects and the "I" that is prey to anxiety. This simple change in inner dialogue allows us to see the situation in perspective so that we can approach it as a challenge rather than an obstacle.

In the study in question, the volunteers were asked to imagine a situation in which they did not feel comfortable, which generated a lot of anxiety. The level of anxiety was evaluated and they were asked to write down the thoughts that came to mind.

They were later suggested several statements, to manage anxiety, which they should repeat in their minds. Such as: "I will think of something else", "facing this situation will make me feel good", or "I will do it well". The trick was that some participants had to repeat these statements in the first person while others in the third person.

So the psychologists could find that those who engaged in a third-person inner dialogue had reduced their levels of anxiety.

The strength of the inner dialogue

The small changes in the language we use to refer to ourselves can have a decisive influence on our ability to regulate thoughts, emotions and behavior in stressful situations.

It's not just about little motivational phrases like "I can do it", but about harnessing the power of inner dialogue to the full. In fact, a meta-analysis that collected data from over a dozen studies concluded that self-instructions are highly effective for relieving anxiety and addressing worries.

Self-instructions are nothing more than the comments we make in our minds when faced with a difficult or new task. If we can manage our inner dialogue well during stressful situations that generate anxiety, we can:

  1. Focus our attention, focusing on the important elements of the business
  2. Adjust the effort we make to make decisions about what to do, how and
  3. Manage emotional reactions in case of setbacks

So, next time you are overwhelmed by anxiety or nervousness, put your inner dialogue to work. And don't forget to refer to yourself in the third person. It is a way to take advantage of your internal coach.

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