5 Tips for Healthy Communication
‘Tis the season for … food. And lots of it. I don’t even celebrate most of the fall and winter holidays, and yet I find it hard to resist the everything-pumpkin and everything-peppermint mountains at the grocery stores. I am surrounded by all my favorite treats!
Of course, what you consume dramatically impacts your health, your appearance, and how you feel. But food is not the only thing you consume. Do you know what else affects those things? Words. The words that you consume, digest, and assimilate shape your life. They affect your mental health, how you present yourself to others, and your emotions.
In the spirit of preparing for year-end deadlines, crammed schedules, insufficient staffing, and an uptick in office and family gatherings, here are some common health and wellness axioms that apply to your communication, too. (The idea is that if I can stick to the communication diet, I will be able to eat all the pumpkin gingersnaps I want, guilt free. Here’s hoping.)
1. Don’t Take Candy From Strangers.
While it’s true that for certain holidays this advice gets thrown out the window (like the one where you knock on strangers’ doors and take candy from them), in general we are careful who we accept food from—even sweet, delicious treats. Once I bought a brownie at a coffee shop and immediately realized it contained something I couldn’t eat. (I’m smart, but only intermittently.) I turned to another customer and asked if she wanted the brownie. She recoiled and shook her head. Obviously, the only reason someone would give you a random brownie is if there’s something wrong with it, right? I sighed and was about to drop it in the trash when she called out, “Wait! You’re just going to throw it away?” I explained that I couldn’t eat it and she suspiciously looked me over as if trying to weigh how likely I was to be a poison-brownie serial killer type, and then cautiously accepted it. She took one bite and then died. (Kidding!)
When someone feeds you words, don’t just blindly accept them. Make sure you trust the source. I’m not even talking here about the news, though it certainly applies. If someone gives you feedback, advice, or suggestions, it’s your job to assess whether the “food” will do you good or not. If the person doesn’t have your best interests in mind, or you can tell that the words they’re giving you won’t contribute to your growth and well-being, reject them! Politely, of course. But it’s your job to take care of you.
As bizarre as it may sound, this applies to the words you say to yourself as well. Are they actually good for you? Or are you feeding yourself a steady diet of poison-brownies? Or just plain poison?
Do not accept and definitely do not internalize harmful words. Accept nourishing words from trustworthy people who want to build you up.
2. Eat Your Veggies.
This is everyone’s FAVORITE health tip. I love vegetables and I still don’t eat enough. They’re so much work! You have to actually chew a raw carrot—a lot!—before you can swallow it, whereas that pumpkin gingersnap melts in my mouth.
Eating hard things (unless you have Crohn’s disease maybe) is good for you. It works your face muscles, clears out your digestive system, and provides you with the vitamins and minerals you need for growth, strength, and a healthy immune system.
Words can be hard to take, too, can’t they? We like the sweet, smooth, melt-in-your-mouth words best. But they aren’t as good for you. While you do need to be careful where it comes from (see above), be willing to work for your “food.” Resolving conflict, listening to critical feedback, and hearing how you hurt someone is hard work. But when you put in the work you build strong communication “muscles” and gain the vital emotional nutrients you need for growth and resilience. Taking in difficult words and conversations can clear out bad feelings and bad habits, making space for positive ones.
If it’s going to be good for you, take it—even when it’s hard.
3. Listen to Your Body.
It takes awareness and a little practice to understand your cravings. For example, you might think you’re hungry for a bag of potato chips when actually what your body needs is a big glass of water. But if you can learn to gauge your true needs and fulfill them, you’ll feel better and be more productive.
Do you know what kind of communication you need? It’s not always the same. Some days you might need encouragement; other days you need clear expectations and directions. Some days you might need to try some intermittent fasting and take a break from the constant stream of words getting shoved in your face. Other days you might need a shot of energy from a song or friend who motivates you. Pay attention and figure out what you want.
Are there types of communication you are allergic to, that cause a negative reaction or make you sick? Then it’s probably best to avoid them! Sometimes that’s hard—you don’t get to choose what comes out of someone else’s mouth. (If only!) But when you can, avoid toxic situations and people.
Take care of yourself.
4. Have Dessert!
Your body needs small amounts of fat and sugar. Both give you energy; fat also helps you absorb nutrients and feel satisfied. And they make food yummy!
When it comes to real food, most of us probably get more of these things than we need without even trying (*cough* pumpkin gingersnaps), but when it comes to words, many people adhere to a strict no-fat-no-sugar diet. “What, you want to compliment me!? No thanks, I’m on a diet! I couldn’t possibly accept that sweet, satisfying treat. I will deflect it, dismiss it, diminish it, argue against it, or maybe just pretend I didn’t even hear you.”
Why do we do this to ourselves? When people are negative and hurtful you accept the poison, roll it around in your mouth, chew on it for days (or years), swallow it, and digest it until it actually becomes a part of you. But when people want to praise you or be kind to you, at best maybe you allow yourself a small taste and then spit it out! No! Treasure those words. Take them in. Let the sweet words be the ones that become a part of who you are. And don’t forget the words that you speak to yourself, too. Do they give you energy and help you feel satisfied?
It’s okay to accept a little sugar once in awhile.
5. Rest and Digest.
When you have a big meal, blood rushes to your tummy to jumpstart digestion. At least, it does if you aren’t stressed out. Your rest-and-digest system can’t work at the same time as your fight-or-flight system. If you want the food you eat to actually do you any good, take a little time for relaxation.
Funny—the same is true when it comes to words. After attending a really good workshop (like mine, heh), reading a thought-provoking book, listening to a stimulating podcast, hearing about a complex issue, navigating a difficult conversation, letting a friend or coworker cry on your shoulder, or any other activity that fills you right up to the top with words, you need time and space to process.
If your schedule is packed, it’s easy to go from one big “meal” to another, back to back to back, without ever absorbing or processing any of it. Then you’re just carrying around all this extra weight that’s not doing you any good. When you’re feeling full, make time to integrate it—sleep, journal, sit quietly and think, talk to another person, go for a walk, or whatever works for you.
Rest is just as crucial for your mental, professional, and intellectual health as it is for your physical health.
Words—they come fast and thick these days. It’s your responsibility to decide what you will and won’t consume. Choose the words that nourish you.