Depression, anxiety, and how our words influence our mental health

I pulled these tweets off of my Twitter feed this morning. It only took a few minutes. Pay close attention to the words in bold.

Never drinking again.”

“Two hate-groups fight each other in public. Only one side gets blamed. Why? Because the Media is part of one of the hate-groups.”

“Hobbies include: -Letting people ruin my life – eating avocados”

“Radical Islamic Terrorism must be stopped by whatever means necessary! The courts must give us back our protective rights. Have to be tough!”

The words and phrases in bold are called “absolute words.” In 1955, the psychologist Albert Ellis noticed that his patients suffering from depression and anxiety used absolute words much more frequently than non-depressed and non-anxious people. Training his patients to use fewer absolute words became the foundation of rational emotive behavioral therapy.

According to Ellis, “absolutes are irrational and inaccurate modifier words that do not describe reality and when used in our speech and thought give us permission to be more upset than needed.”

If you’d like, turn on CNN right now and keep a tally of how often you hear any of these absolute words: should, have to, always, every, everyone, never, gotta, only, need, must, everybody, every time, can’t shouldn’t, nobody, nothing, hate it, awful, terrible, kills, kills me, worse, can’t stand it, perfect, not fair.

At the same time, keep a tally of how often you hear moderate words, the words Ellis would train his patients to use instead: prefer, would like, possible, maybe, had better.

These moderate words, according to Ellis, “best describe life experiences … because extreme experiences are rare. Rational, moderate descriptor words give us options, choice, and rational speech and thought.”

You can already guess which column of tallies is going to dominate CNN.

Here’s the interesting part — your brain doesn’t differentiate between speaking these words, reading them, or hearing them spoken.

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