Here at NogginLabs, I write for a living. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I also seem to spend a lot of my time eating whatever baked goods people bring in, and then going back to get more of said baked goods, but hiding them in a paper towel to avoid the judgmental eyes of my coworkers, all of whom are doing the same thing. Situations like this, and numerous other ones, make me anxious. But, as I was saying, I write for a living. So when I encountered a treatment for my anxiety that involves examining my words, it interested me in a way that other methods hadn’t.
I have a tough time sitting through meetings. I know, no one likes meetings, but I have a really tough time sitting through meetings—I suffer from agoraphobia. I’m pretty new to it, too. A lot of my friends in their thirties seem to be getting into craft beer, kettlebells, and board games. As for me, I seem to be getting into having panic attacks in movie theaters. I’ve always been an anxious person, and I’ve tried a lot of things to deal with my anxiety over the years, including exercise, meditation, and medication. In seeking treatment for my brand new agoraphobia, my therapist asked me to describe my symptoms. I told her that I’m an anxious person, and that I get nervous when I’m in meetings. Her recommendation for me didn’t involve supplements or breathing exercises, but instead a reexamination of my words. For example, the words I commonly use to describe myself: “anxious,” or as someone that “gets nervous in meetings.”
Shaping the Experience
Understanding how various approaches to word choice (what we in the office call “tone and style”) affect people is a big part of my job. Different types of diction are necessary to guide someone through an eLearning course. A welcome animation, or hook, should have an engaging voice that instills excitement. Legal and technical copy is serious and direct to warn the learner of dangers. My practice of describing myself as an anxious person reminds me a bit of directional text, or as we call it, “d-text.” D-text describes how to interact with the screen, using prompts such as “Select each item to learn more” or “Place the steps in the correct order.”
When creating an eLearning course, d-text seems simple at first, but it can affect the learner’s experience of your course more than you might realize. If you overuse d-text, it can be tedious or make the learner feel belittled. If you’re vague with your instructions, you run the risk of the learner getting lost or frustrated. It’s a subtle balancing act that becomes intuitive once you’ve been doing this for awhile.
That’s why my negative self-talk reminded me of directional text. It shapes the experience of my life, and it is based on the words I use. It provides the context for my interactions. If my go-to description of my own mental health is that I am anxious, then I’m going to live anxiously. If I describe myself as a “nervous flyer,” then you can bet I’ll be clutching those armrests the next time I’m flying home. It all ultimately comes down to my words, and understanding that the way I describe myself affects the tone of my everyday life.
Revising the Script
I’ve been working on this for about a month now. I try not to tell myself that I get nervous in meetings, or in any kind of social engagement. Being so new to this, it’s hard to say if it’s effective or not, but I do notice that the more I try to use neutral or positive language when it comes to my mental health, the less I notice my anxiety. I don’t think it’s curing me, because I don’t think there is any cure, but I think that using the right language can help me manage it.
So my recommendation for you is this (DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional, and I regularly wear shirts with holes without shame; just keep that in mind): if, like me, you are currently struggling with a mental health condition, examine your words. You may be saying things about yourself like:
I am depressed.
I have social anxiety.
I get scared in meetings.
Those things may all be true. But you don’t have to live that language. Take a pass through the d-text of your life, and see if you can’t soften the words. It might have an impact on how you navigate the world.