How Language And Stress Are Connected

Almost invariably, simply shifting your perspective can alter your stress levels. Getty Images

Have you ever felt stressed or in a bad mood, and wished you could just...feel better pretty easily? Have you wished that you could have some simple tricks up you sleeve to help your mood?

Psychologists now know that the old adage, 'Fake it until you make it,' has some validity and can be used to feel better. Carrying yourself with confidence can put you in a more confident mood; smiling--even a fake smile--actually can make you feel happier; behaving 'as if', can often bring about the desired result. Now, according to a new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, simply reading certain words may help you feel as those words describe, having effects similar to the fake smile, for example.

Psychologists Francesco Foroni from VU University Amsterdam and Gün R. Semin from the University of Utrecht conducted two experiments to see if emotion language has an influence on facial muscle activity. The first study showed that reading action verbs (such as 'to smile,' or 'to cry') activated the corresponding muscles. For example, reading "to laugh" resulted in activation of the main muscle used for smiling, but caused no response in the muscles responsible for frowning. Interestingly, when presented with the emotion adjectives like "funny" or "frustrating" the volunteers demonstrated much lower muscle activation compared to their reactions to emotion verbs.

Can this innate bodily reaction affect our judgments? The second experiment found that that even when emotion verbs are presented subliminally, they are able to influence judgment — volunteers found cartoons to be funnier when they were preceded subliminally by smiling verbs than if they were preceded (again, subliminally) by frowning-related verbs. However, this effect only occurred in the volunteers who were able to smile — volunteers who had muscle movement blocked did not show this relationship between emotion verbs and how funny they judged the cartoons as being.

The results of these experiments reveal that simply reading emotion verbs activates specific facial muscles and can influence judgments we make. The researchers note these findings suggest that "language is not merely symbolic, but also somatic," meaning that the words we consume can actually have an immediate impacts on our bodies, not just our minds, as most people suspect.

To put this new information to work for you (and your stress levels), I recommend the following:

Try Positive Affirmations

Yes, many people think of affirmations as a bit of a joke, and it's true that they can backfire if your affirmations contain statements that you know are not even remotely true (such as 'I am independently wealthy,' when you, well, aren't), they can also be very effective in changing attitudes and moods. Stick with positive statements like, 'Today I will laugh a little extra,' 'Today I will remember to smile,' or, 'Today I will forgive more easily.' (See these tips for more on positive affirmations.)

Read Fun Books or Humorous Stories

Even if you're busy, even if you get bombarded with annoying emails and you don't want to reward that behavior, reading a few of the myriad funny or uplifting emails that land in your inbox can be a nice way to give yourself a boost. Or, if you don't want to have to sift through some time-wasters to find the gold, read some pages of a funny book in the morning or throughout the day. It'll give you a lift.

Read Inspirational Quotes

Reading a few inspirational quotes--some of my favorites are 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger', and 'Be the change you wish to see in the world,'--can lift your mood and help you focus on strength and positivity during your day.

Take The Boring Route--It's Still Effective

If these somewhat-creative ideas aren't your cut of tea, you can always just create a list of positive verbs: smile, laugh, share, uplift, etc., and read through them a few times a day, or when the going gets tough. Apparently, it still works.

Related Resources

Faroni, Francesco; Semin, Gun. R. Language That Puts You in Touch With Your Bodily FeelingsPsychological Science, August 2009.

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