When you are feeling bad and are struggling with life, you are not alone. Everyone experiences emotional anguish sometimes. It’s one of those human experiences we are likely not able to avoid in our lifetime.
However, when the pain becomes really tough or too long-lasting, it is time to do something about it. When life gets hard, you have to figure out what you can do to make it better. Sometimes you can change your circumstances so that your situation is better. Most times, you have to accept your situation and learn how to change your train of thought or challenge your thinking so that you can modify your mood and actions.
What is the connection between our thoughts, feelings and actions? Oftentimes, how we interpret our thoughts has a significant effect on our emotions, including emotions that are painful as well as pleasant. For example, if you think that your husband doesn’t love you because he didn’t get you anything for your birthday, you are setting yourself up for a downward spiral of depression and resentment. However, if you think that your husband shows his love in many different or spontaneous ways, not including times you expect acknowledgement, you are likely to be less disappointed if he doesn’t come through. Changing how you think can significantly alter how you feel.
Most of us can’t change our feelings unless we change what we think. I can ask you to feel “happy” right now, but it is unlikely to happen unless you think of something that makes you happy. On the other hand, sometimes our feelings come from nowhere, like a panic attack, and we can’t think of any thought that may have brought on the emotion. When this occurs, you can choose to change how you think to help better manage your anxiety and realize that the panic is simply an autonomic response telling you to better manage your stress level; or you can let your emotions run the show to a point in which you are convinced that you will die, have a heart attack or go crazy because of the panic attack. Again, how you think about the panic attack makes a difference in how you cope with it.
The same goes with excessive worriers who ruminate about something they have no control over. Once they realize that they need to challenge those thoughts to stop their unnecessary worrying, they may be able to “let go” of what they can’t control and have room to take a breath and enjoy the moment.
Sometimes, thoughts and emotions spiral down to a point that is difficult to break the fall. However, changing your actions may then be a positive step to regain some control. For example, even if you don’t feel like it, go for a walk, take a hot bath, watch a good movie, smile even if you don’t want to, or do something fun; all of which help you get a better perspective.
Helping yourself by using your thoughts to change your moods or using your actions to help both your moods and thoughts are good starters when life gets tough. Of course, getting out of a bad mood takes lots of will power and motivation, but it just may be worth it when things don’t come so easy.
Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
St. Williams Mental Health Services