Feelings are so influential in terms of how we live our lives.
Our feelings are derived from our thoughts, and whether we realize it or not, we are in complete control of our own thoughts. I have a few concepts I want to share regarding thoughts and feelings and how they have impacted my life.
The first is a story about my son when he was about four years old. I can’t remember exactly what was happening at the time, but for some reason he was upset, and he blurted out, “You make me angry!”
I explained to him that while it was perfectly fine for him to be angry, I could not make him angry. He was in charge of his feelings, and he was allowed to choose how he felt, but no one was responsible for choosing his feelings but him. This was a lesson I learned the hardest way possible when I was 23 years old. At the time of the conversation with my son, I was 28 years old. I was attempting to give my son a jump start on this learning.
There are a couple of important lessons I was trying to convey in this conversation. First, I let him know that it was okay to be angry and to feel the feeling of anger he was having. (I’m not sure I truly learned that lesson until just recently, if I’m really honest with myself.) Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to express feelings freely—particularly negative feelings like anger. I wanted to be sure my son knew it was safe to feel and express his emotions. Second, I made it clear that he was in charge of choosing how he wanted to feel. No one else in this world (not even his mother) could make him feel any certain way.
He was quite perplexed by this idea. After thinking for a few minutes, he exclaimed, “You make me choose angry!” It was so cute. It took a few more lessons, but by the age of five, he totally understood that he alone was responsible for his feelings. That was a beautiful thing for him to experience at such a young age.
The second point I want to make about feelings is: feelings lie. Feelings are not facts. If we let our mind run rampant with the thoughts that pop in and out of our head, they can consume us. I should know. I let depressive thoughts consume me for over 20 years. I spoke so badly to myself (and about myself) that I didn’t ever want to get out of bed—so I simply didn’t. I laid trapped in the prison of my own mind for more than seven years while life passed me by.
After I got well (through repeated positive thoughts and small actions over time), I was rarely plagued with negative thoughts. I maintained wellness by doing everything I could to “feed” my mind with only good and positive things. I exuded joy for a long time.
Then life happened—and some not so great things got me down. Queue the obsessive negative thoughts. I’m just going to tell you right now that if you’re not vigilant with the process of questioning, evaluating and managing your thoughts, they can overtake you. Also, the assault can happen quickly. If you’re not careful, you’ll be in the depths of depression before you realize what happened.
One of the things that sent me into depression—and kept me there—was my tendency to not want to deal with my feelings. It was much easier to be numb than to feel.
Particularly when a negative emotions came about, I would numb out with food, alcohol, TV and the antidepressant medications that controlled me. I basically had no feelings. I was simply numb.
After I got well (and stopped taking psych meds), I started feeling feelings so intense and raw they brought me to tears because I was so happy. I also felt sadness 100 times sadder than my most depressed day. The beauty though, is these feelings were temporary and were eventually replaced with something new—whereas depression was the same ‘ol, same ‘ol, day after day. The sheer monotony of it was horrifying.
When feelings come about, it’s important to take them in, feel them, and determine what the next steps are. Every feeling is a message. Sometimes we need to sit with the feeling to understand the message. Sometimes that means being sad for a while or going through the grieving process until the feeling is replaced.
Sometimes though, we have thoughts and feelings that are simply not constructive, and the only purpose they serve is to keep us trapped. When that happens, it’s important to manage the negative thoughts and feelings so we aren’t consumed by them. The good news is, we can turn negative thoughts around just as quickly as they came about.
When you become aware that you’re going in the wrong direction, you want to recognize it—the sooner the better. Awareness is key.
Following are two techniques that have helped me stop a downward spiral and redirect my thoughts to a more positive frame:
Technique 1: Feelings are not facts. Begin by making two lists—the first one is a list of everything you’re feeling at the moment. Simply write everything you’re thinking. Don’t make any judgments or worry about whether the thoughts and feelings are rational. (They may not be, but they are clogging your brain nonetheless.) Then make a second list. What are the actual facts of your current situation? For example, you may be feeling unloved, but the fact is you have a number of friends, family members and fur-babies that love you very much.
Seeing these results on paper and knowing that while the feelings can be overwhelming, the facts are manageable, really helps me put things into perspective.
Technique 2: Identify your top five priorities, and dedicate at least 15 minutes each day to each of these priorities. Most importantly, schedule time for each of these priorities at the beginning of the day. At the end of each day, document your accomplishments for each of your priorities.
In the past week, I had a rough couple of days and didn’t really want to document my priorities, because I didn’t think I had accomplished “enough.” Once I actually sat down to document my progress, a couple of things happened:
1. I realized I’d accomplished much more than I thought I had. (When we are depressed, we often don’t give ourselves credit for all that we do.)
2. Seeing my progress motivated me to do more.
Just remember that a thought is just a thought—and it can be changed.
You’re in charge. Don’t let negative thoughts overtake you.
It’s okay if you get down, it happens to all of us. What matters is that you get back up.
Here’s a great song to dance to as you’re getting back up. Let’s dance!
Author: Melissa Drake
Photo: Flickr/A Health Blog
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina