There are times when your inner critic gets the better of you; those times when your mind doesn’t hesitate to remind you that you never do anything right, you’re not the right size, or you’re just not good enough. We’re all hard on ourselves sometimes, but chronic engagement in negative self-talk may be a sign of deeper psychological issues that can ultimately complicate your physical health.
Forms of Negative Self-Talk
Understanding the physical health impacts of being too hard on yourself, helps to understand the common forms of negative self-talk. Personalizing is the automatic laying of blame on yourself when something challenging happens. Polarizing involves seeing things as only good or bad while catastrophizing is the act of assuming negative outcomes in future events due to a single bad experience. Finally, there’s filtering, where you push aside accolades and focus on the continuous grind so you can accomplish more.
Aging More Quickly
Persistently being hard on yourself manifests in many ways, sometimes becoming severe enough to affect your DNA. Telomeres are casings that protect the ends of your DNA with help from the enzyme telomerase. When the stress hormone cortisol floods your body, telomerase supplies diminish. This causes telomere to deplete to the point where it cannot be replenished, causing a pro-inflammatory process that makes you age faster.
Having skin issues is stressful enough. When those issues become the focus of self-negativity, this exacerbates the problem. Dermatologists understand that emotional issues play a significant role in making skin problems so bad that standard treatments become less effective. Psychodermatology is an informal branch of psychology that aims to better understand the connection between neuropeptides — chemical messengers to the brain — and the skin’s stress response.
Poor Food Choices
There is a strong mood-food connection when it comes to dealing with negative emotions. Research indicates that when it comes to stress eating, people tend to choose fatty foods that are lower in nutrition because they better mitigate discomfort. Engaging in negative self-talk may lead to overeating as compensation, which can increase abdominal fat. Scientists believe that neurophysiological sensitivity to this type of comfort food may be a factor. In many cases, weight gain increases negative self-image, causing a vicious cycle.
Science illustrates a link between negative emotions in the brain and decreased immune response, especially when people dwell on a distressing thought or period in their lives. One study asked individuals to remember a painful negative event. Researchers measured their brain activity and administered a flu shot. Follow-ups showed a clear link between the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with depression, and a weaker immune response. While scientists cannot fully explain how negative thoughts lower lymphocytes, they suspect that it has something to do with a complex interaction of hormones.
Functional gastrointestinal disorders, FGIDs, are conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, that cause persistent bouts of diarrhea and constipation. Studies are looking at the psychosomatic link between depression and anxiety and exacerbation of FGID. Some GI doctors find success in prescribing antidepressants to treat FGID, suggesting that they have understood the link between psychiatry and gastroenterology for decades.
Approximately 12 percent of women experience infertility, which can cause negative thoughts related to womanhood and self-esteem. Research shows that women with higher levels of the salivary stress hormone alpha-amylase, a form of cortisol, have a nearly 30 percent reduction in fertility. Elevated stress hormone levels increase the risk of miscarriage during pregnancy, and this study applies the correlation to preconception, as well.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed or sad at times, but dwelling on the negative thoughts or situations behind those emotions can affect your cardiovascular health in the long run. In response to those feelings of anger and sadness, the body releases adrenaline and cortisol, prolonged exposure to which results in hypertension (high blood pressure) and high cholesterol. An overabundance of cholesterol clogs arteries over time, while high blood pressure leads to inflammation and hardening of the arteries, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness during pregnancy can range from mild to severe. If left untreated, these feelings may lead to depression. During pregnancy, the stress caused by feelings of guilt or persistent uncertainty affects fetal development, including the baby’s brain, as early as 17 weeks into pregnancy. Fetuses exposed to stress hormones during weeks 15 and 19 are more likely to be born prematurely and have decreased neuromuscular and physical maturity. In rare instances, babies exposed to excessive stress hormones are born with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.
Broken Heart Syndrome
Broken heart syndrome or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy is a heart condition that affects mostly women. It manifests like a heart attack, with shortness of breath and weakening in the left ventricle, and is caused by stressors such as intense fear or receiving bad news. The acute psychiatric stimuli may trigger recurring negative thoughts and feelings, leading to an episode. While most individuals recover in a month or less, 20 percent of cases are fatal.