Our Thoughts Can Control Our Emotions?

Have you ever been sitting in the recliner in your living room and started to daydream about the time when your boss pointed out something you did wrong in front of all your coworkers and you felt your blood begin to boil and your palms get sweaty the same way they did while the incident was actually happening? Have you ever been driving in your car and remembered the joke your daughter told you last week and it made you laugh out loud and warmed your heart? Have you ever laid in bed at night running a scenario again and again through your head, creating so much worry that you were unable to sleep? Our thoughts have power over our emotions.

A common method of working with mental health issues, for instance, issues such as depression and anxiety, is working with our thoughts. If you are struggling with something, a first step may be noticing what kinds of thoughts are running through your head without you really paying attention. Are you constantly criticizing yourself? Are you creating worst-case scenarios and then believing them to be true? Are you assuming you know someone else’s motives for doing something? What kinds of thoughts are bringing you down? Once you notice them, you can begin to try to change your thought processes. Now, this won’t be easy. You see, our thoughts are a habit, and habits are hard to break; it takes intentional effort. A way to start is by coming up with what is called a “coping thought” or something you would like to start thinking instead. For example, if I was always criticizing myself, I would take a hard look at things I am good at and create a coping thought centered around those things, such as, “I am a good wife and friend. I am capable of handling whatever comes my way.” Then, when I catch myself being self-critical, I can tell myself to stop (or, more accurately, “STOP!!”) and repeat my coping thought, which can alter my emotional response. Instead of ending up feeling down on myself, I can end up feeling comforted by the things I know I am good at doing.

In another example, I may notice that I always “mind read” and assume I know someone else’s motives for doing something. It may happen while I’m standing in line at the store and the person with the big basket of groceries pulls in the line a second before me, when in my hand is only one gallon of milk. I might think to myself, “That person is trying to drive me crazy! Can’t they see I only have one item? What a selfish jerk!” and anger begins to flare. Instead, when I begin that train of thought, I can think “STOP!!” and refer to my coping thought, “I do not know what that person is thinking. Something else could be going on in their life that I cannot see. I only have power over my own actions and no one else’s.” Instead of ending up feeling angry for the rest of the day, I can leave the store calm and under control.

These are just a couple examples of how changing our thoughts can alter our emotional response. Try noticing your internal dialogue next week. I think you’ll be surprised at what you discover about yourself, and how empowered you will feel to know you can have some control over your emotions.

-Sarah Neldeberg, MS, NCC, PLPC

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