Talking to yourself is a natural part of human behavior. Here’s the scoop on why we engage in self-talk and how to cope.

We’ve all caught ourselves blurting out words or phrases at one time or another. Sometimes this self-talk happens in the privacy of our home. And sometimes, it occurs at the most inopportune time, such as during a business meeting.

Although conversing with yourself is natural, you may feel embarrassment and shame if you think other people have heard your ramblings.

But you’re not the only one who engages in self-directed discussions. It can be a healthy means of expression that may offer several benefits to your mental health.

The American Psychological Association defines self-talk as the act of verbalizing words or phrases to yourself, either aloud or silently in your head.

Despite the stigma associated with talking to yourself, it’s a common phenomenon that usually does not indicate a mental health condition.

Talking to yourself out loud is a natural part of human development and behavior. According to a 2018 study, children generally begin self-talk by the age of 2 or 3, and this continues to develop until age 5. From that age, overt self-talk slowly declines but rarely disappears entirely.

Still, self-talk can occur in people with specific mental health conditions such as schizophrenia. But though a person with schizophrenia may appear to be engaging in self-talk, they’re more likely responding to auditory or visual hallucinations associated with the condition.

Not only is talking to yourself natural, but it might also be beneficial to your mental health.

A 2019 study suggests that engaging in external self-dialogue may play a role in emotional self-regulation, impulse control, and guiding actions. It can also boost memory and help manifest your intentions.

Therapeutically, self-talk in the form of positive self-affirmations may help reverse the effects of negative thinking. Negative thinking is often associated with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Overall, talking to yourself can come in three forms — positive, negative, and instructional or neutral.

You may use self-talk to:

Remember things

Repeating words aloud may help you remember or find things. For instance, if you’re trying to locate your car keys, you might repeat “car keys” aloud as you search the house.

You may also use self-talk to remember phone numbers, appointment times, or addresses.

Focus on difficult tasks

This type of self-chatter might occur when you’re doing something complex, such as assembling furniture. For example, you may verbalize the instructions as you complete them to ensure you don’t miss any steps.

Motivate yourself

About to go into a big business meeting? Or perhaps you’re trying to muster up the desire to hit the gym. Either way, you might engage in self-talk to bolster your self-confidence and motivation.

Practice what you’re going to say to someone

Sometimes, talking with others about difficult subjects is a bit unnerving. Say, for example, you’d like to speak with your significant other about their behavior but aren’t sure how to phrase it. In this case, you might run through several possible verbal scenarios out loud until you figure out what you’ll say.

Also, people who have difficulty with social situations may use self-talk to rehearse words and phrases they want to use in conversation.

Process emotions

When you’re sorting through emotional challenges, you might blurt out thoughts that come to mind. You might suddenly say, “That’s it, that’s the problem,” when you realize a solution to something troubling you.

Criticize or belittle yourself

Although we’ve all engaged in this type of self-talk, vocalizing phrases such as “I’m so stupid” or calling yourself names aloud can harm your self-esteem and confidence.

Although there’s nothing wrong with having conversations with yourself, if you’d like to reduce the frequency, there are strategies that might help. For instance, you could try:

  • examining why you’re engaging in self-talk: Are you trying to make a major decision? If so, you could consider journaling your thoughts instead of verbalizing them out loud.
  • engaging in mouth exercise: Sometimes, pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth when you feel the urge to speak can help manage self-talk. You could also try chewing gum or mouthing the words instead of verbalizing them.
  • scheduling chat time with yourself: Whether that time is in the shower, driving, or home alone, scheduling external self-chat can give you the expressive time you need without others listening in.

Although, in most cases, self-talk is nothing to worry about, it can be associated with mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or psychosis. It’s helpful to understand the difference between natural self-talk and other symptoms that may indicate something else.

One indicator that it may be something else is when words or phrases are responses to voices or images you hear or see.

If you think you’re hearing a voice that’s not your own, or are experiencing other symptoms of schizophrenia, consider talking with a mental health professional about your concerns.

Although you may feel embarrassed if someone else overhears you talking to yourself out loud, self-talk is natural, and most people do it from time to time.

In addition, having self-directed discussions can be a healthy way to make decisions, focus on tasks, and increase motivation.

Still, if your self-talk bothers you, there are things you can do to help reduce its frequency. This includes talking with a mental health professional about your concerns.