✎ Written by: Dubravka Rebic ✓ Fact-checked by: Kaija Sander, Ph.D.
When you so much as hear a word, your neurons are already at work, communicating with each other in order to decode its meaning. If you receive a compliment, your body starts producing oxytocin, the hormone responsible for bonding and trust.
On the other hand, when you hear something negative or disturbing, the activity in your amygdala (the part of the brain that reacts to perceived danger and pain) increases, and your body starts releasing stress-producing hormones that can cause anxiety or make it hard to think clearly.
Other people's words directly affect your brain activity and bodily functions, and your words have that same effect on others and yourself. But can words change your brain in the long run?
In small doses, no. For example, when someone insults you or when you engage in negative self-talk, your heart might race, and your blood pressure might change, but you'll quickly recover.
However, if you're exposed to verbal aggression continually for extended periods of time, the chronic stress from negative words can negatively affect your brain and worsen your mental health.
In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, authors Andrew B. Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman explain how exactly words impact us and offer actionable advice on how to reframe your words in order to improve wellbeing.
The three lessons we learned from the book are:
1) We respond to words at a visceral, autonomic level
2) We can use language to our advantage
3) We can build skills to endure negative words from others
1. We respond to words at a visceral, autonomic level
Even though our brains have evolved over six million years, their most primitive parts still operate at a deeply unconscious level and influence our conscious behavior.
Here's why that happens:
Over time, our frontal lobes (a brain region responsible for high level tasks, such as planning and decision making) grew larger to support critical thought, reasoning, language, and social behavior.