you & me

The Emotional Impact of Words on Our Mental Health.

 

In a world where we use words to communicate our thoughts and ideas, it’s no wonder that words are used in various ways to sway people.

We experience the emotional impact of words when an evangelical preacher takes to the stage and induces such emotion on people that they fall down and become entranced in their worship. We also witness it when political candidates stand in front of people and use their arsenal of words to rally support for their campaign.

Words not only evoke positive and inspiring feelings in people, they can also bring forth sadness and negative emotions, making people not only feel insecure and fearful but also abused.

Innocent words

So how is it that words, that have such power, can have a negative impact on the emotional well-being of a human?

Let’s look at the word jump. By itself, this word does not hold much power, it simply portrays an action of pushing yourself off from the ground into the air. You see athletes that do a high jump with the help of a pole. People jump for joy when they get a bit of good news, and you jump over small obstacles that may hinder a walk or run.

However, lately the word jump has been used by some journalists in the coverage on the coronavirus. They will pen an incongruous sentence like “Cases jumped to xxxx in the preceding 24-hour period to new highs.” And suddenly jump, that usually denotes an innocent act, becomes insidious and fear-induced. It attacks the mind with dark foreboding and paralyzing anxiety if read in that context.

The same can be said for the word spike. One wonders why these people who are tasked with the job of bringing us news use these words in such a way. Why don’t they simply use risen, that seems less laden with all kinds of negativity-inducing emotions? The answer is, it sells.

When you sell people fear, you sell them the notion that they have no control over their lives, that there is only darkness, despair and no hope. And when we lose our hope and see only negativity, it becomes much easier to give up and not fight for any kind of good.

The News

The same can be said of the news. Every report you turn to seems to have some connection with the current pandemic gripping the globe, and it seems there is no end in sight. Every journalist is grabbing any kind of tidbit related to it and turning it into yet another fear-ridden, panic-inducing headline.

A headline that caught my attention recently read “Cases of COVID-19 have doubled in the last two weeks in Africa.” The article then runs on empty while it’s designed in a way to make people more afraid, more panic-laden, more scared.

It’s hard enough to face the fact that our world will most probably not be the same once the pandemic has blown over. What’s even harder to stomach is report after report telling us how dire things are or about to get. I’m by no means saying we shouldn’t be wary of the potency of the virus or the danger it holds, I’m proposing moderation and perhaps a more balanced focus on what we get fed from the newsrooms.

Tell us stories about hope. Show us the good of people and talk again about the beauty of the Earth, and stop the endless stream of report after report and talk after talk about something that has already brought so much death and destruction in its wake.

For those who are sensitive to the impact of words, it certainly isn’t conducive to their mental well-being to be exposed to so much negativity and stay positive in a world where suddenly there’s a lot of unknowns.

Communicating

It’s not only in the news reports that we see how words are used to influence people and cause harm to their mental state of being. Many people have experienced the power of words in a lot more personal way, through verbal abuse and bullying. There are countless victims who have felt the power of words through the unkind tongues of others.

It’s a well-known fact that verbal abuse is as harmful as physical abuse, sometimes even more so. Most of the time, physical scars can heal, but the emotional impact of degrading and dehumanizing words can last for years and even cripple an individual so severely that it can lead to physical and other mental health-related problems.

The same can be said for bullying. We’ve seen and read about countless cases where someone who has been bullied extensively by his or her peers resorts to measures like suicide or acting out against said perpetrators in a completely negative and destructive way.

And then we weep for a while, but don’t address the problem or issue at hand — the negative impact of words that are laden with hatred, loathing and meaning that break down the mental defenses of someone who may not be equipped to handle such things, slung at them from the mouths of those who may not always know better.

Not everyone is immune to the power of words, and not everyone can shrug off harmful things said to them, even if the person saying them thinks it means well. A phrase like “Why haven’t you done this?” is critical, and if you thought about it carefully, it would be better to say “I’ve noticed you didn’t do this, is there a reason for it?”

Words and tone of voice carry with it emotion, and we can never underestimate the power behind words. We need to be more careful with how we express ourselves and the way we do it, because there is an emotional impact behind our communication and we could unwittingly cause harm even if our intentions are good.

Conclusion 

The next time you use words, stop for a moment and think if they are constructive or destructive, and if you find that what you’re about to say is destructive, rephrase your words into constructive feelings and emotions. The mental health of people can be vastly improved by the way we use our words.

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Hanlie Robbertse is a prolific writer, teacher and thinker. She’s a keen reader, and a firm believer that the best cure for mental health problems and emotional problems is to create a safe, non-judgmental space for people where their voices and stories can be heard and dealt with in a positive way. She is also embarking on creating her own business where she delivers proofreading, copy-editing, content-writing, online teaching and tutoring to clients who need those services. She is passionate about being her best self, and brings this passion into her work too. She tries to lead by example, and believes firmly that our actions, not just our words, define who we really are. You can find her writing on Facebook or Instagram, or contact her for her business services via her website or Facebook.

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