Thoughts & Feelings
Our thoughts and our feelings are connected, and it can be common to cycle through the same thoughts in ways that don't help us feel good.
This is especially true if you have been through something really stressful or confusing.
Noticing and reflecting on our thoughts can help us feel more in control of our inner worlds.
We don’t always notice our thoughts when we feel something, but they’re there. A lot of the time, our thinking is quite automatic and we go straight to feeling certain things, without realising what thoughts contributed to them. Going through something stressful like bullying or abuse can change our automatic thoughts in ways that make us feel bad or make it hard to connect with others.
- We can’t always control what happens to us, but we can sometimes control how we think and respond. We all have thoughts that help us, and thoughts that limit us. With practice, we can learn to notice thoughts that are unhelpful, and by noticing them, we can stop the chain reaction that leads us to do things that make us feel worse.
- Sometimes, It’s not the situation, person or thing, but how we perceive that situation, person or thing, that causes our feelings. This is not true when someone is abusive to us, but experiencing abuse can alter the way we perceive things in the future. Remember thoughts are NOT facts. For example, if you were chatting with a friend, and she suddenly stops listening and starts looking around the room, you may think any of these three thoughts:
“Man, she’s so rude! She won’t even look at me while I’m talking!”
“She must think I’m so boring. Nobody listens to me...”
“She must be waiting for a friend to come. Maybe she’s getting a bit anxious.”
Any of these three thoughts would have produced a different emotion for you which will change how you are with your friend.
- If unhelpful thoughts lead to distressing feelings, then it’s also true that helpful thoughts lead to positive feelings. The key to changing how we feel is to begin noticing our thoughts, then choosing our point of focus.
One strategy to changing the way we feel is to just start becoming more aware of our thoughts and their effect on us.
- When you feel a certain way, try to dig and find a thought that’s contributing to it. One way to observe it more objectively is to write it down on paper. Once it’s out you can see just how unhelpful it is. Would you say this to a friend?
- Once you find your unhelpful thought, don’t judge it, just notice it. Acknowledge the thought and notice what emotion it is giving you. An example might be thinking “I’m no good at stuff like this” when doing a school project. This thought might lead to feeling anxious. Noticing this thought, and then the anxiety, might help you breathe through it, so you can move forward with your work.
- Once you've named it, you can choose not to buy into it. Just let it go and focus your attention on something good. Think of your thoughts as a train going by – watch them come and go, but don’t get on that train.