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HomeHealth & FitnessIs It Normal to Talk to Yourself All Day? What Experts Say.

Is It Normal to Talk to Yourself All Day? What Experts Say.


This morning, I looked out my kitchen window and announced, to the empty room, “There’s something wrong with that squirrel — his tail seems extra twitchy.” Then I pulled out my air fryer, wondering aloud if 10:30 a.m. was too early for French fries. (“It’s not,” I said. Again, out loud.)

I never used to talk to myself. Now I do it constantly. When I asked my middle-aged friends if they did it, too, the confessions flooded in. One said that when she texts people, she says the message out loud when she’s typing, even in public.

“I just looked in my cabinet and said aloud, ‘Please, god, let there be vanilla extract,’” said another.

Do middle-aged people talk to themselves all day, every day? And is this a problem? I consulted some experts.

I couldn’t find any research on middle-aged muttering, so I asked Ethan Kross, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and the author of “Chatter,” if I had missed it. He told me I hadn’t. Talking to yourself in midlife is an “understudied phenomenon,” he said, adding that it was pretty common.

When people have conversations in their own heads, it is known as “inner speech.” When they do it aloud, it’s called private speech or external self-talk. Studies suggest that private speech peaks in early childhood, said Charles Fernyhough, a professor of psychology at Durham University in England and the author of “The Voices Within.” But in midlife, many of us pick up the habit again, he said.

Dr. Fernyhough told me that he says things out loud quite a bit. “My kids will say, ‘Dad, what are you doing?’” he added. “And I’m just like: ‘I don’t care. I study this stuff.’”

As you get older, social pressures don’t bother you as much, he added, whether they involve talking to yourself or dancing “like an idiot” at a friend’s wedding.

Talking to ourselves serves a variety of purposes, Dr. Fernyhough said. It can quell anxieties (“You’ll be OK”) and heighten motivation (“You’ve got this”). It can cheer you up, aid in planning or make an empty room feel friendlier, he added.

Voicing your thoughts can help you puzzle through problems or rehearse potentially thorny conversations, Dr. Kross said. (If you’re practicing a breakup speech or asking for a raise in a public place, he suggested, pop in some earbuds so it just looks as though you’re on the phone.)

Speaking aloud also activates what is known as the verbal working memory system, Dr. Kross said, which can help you hold things such as shopping lists or schedules in your mind a little longer.

And if you are looking for something — say, at a grocery store — research suggests that naming the item out loud might help you find it faster.

There are times, however, when a one-way conversation could perhaps raise questions about a person’s mental health, Dr. Kross said — when it violates social norms by being too disruptive or distracting to others.

It can also be harmful if it’s consistently negative, said Rachel Goldsmith Turow, a psychologist at Seattle University and the author of “The Self-Talk Workout.” Persistent self-criticism can exacerbate conditions such as anxiety, she said. “It’s like the smoking of mental health,” she added. “It makes everything worse.”

But saying “Will you look at those bananas!” to absolutely no one in the supermarket, as I did? That isn’t cause for alarm, Dr. Kross said. (The produce person had arranged them from green to yellow, creating a beautiful ombré effect.)

If there were “17 other little quirky things that accompany that behavior, then we might have a different conversation,” Dr. Kross said. But otherwise, his message is, “If it’s working for you, keep doing it.”


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