I’m often asked for practical skills for getting unstuck when feeling anxious, depressed, or angry. Fortunately, there are some basic skills which have a tremendous impact on our emotional wellbeing.
One skill is understanding how thoughts and emotions are connected so you can change how you think about things. When we struggle, it’s hard not to blame the situation around us. Yet, even the most traumatic external events do not directly cause our emotions. They influence our emotions, but we always have a thought first. That thought represents our perception of what we experience, and that perception creates our emotional response.
When I talk to clients about perceptions, I imagine us walking around with a funnel over our heads. It reminds me of the novel, Insomnia, by Stephen King. In the book, everybody has invisible stems of light, lifelines, that beam up from our heads. In the book, the lifelines represent our actual life. The funnels that I imagine represent our truths. As we experience the world around us, everything enters our funnels which creates our perspective (our truth).
Here’s the kicker… our funnels don’t always represent actual truth. The wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) thing about our brains is that we take past experience, knowledge, education, beliefs, etc. into the present. While this helps us learn from the past, it also creates problems when we develop self-defeating beliefs. For example, if hardships in my life have me believing that I am a weak person, then that “truth” becomes part of my funnel. My perception of everything I experience includes my truth that I am weak.
So, in order to change the way that you feel, it’s important to focus on your funnel. You can start by writing down your specific thoughts when you feel bad. Then, challenge those thoughts by looking for ways that you are twisting the truth. You might be focusing on negatives, blaming yourself for things out of your control, or assuming the worst. As you identify and shift your thinking, you can start to impact depression, anxiety, and other emotional challenges.
A great resource for leaning techniques to do this is a book called “Feeling Great,” by Dr. David Burns. If you are stuck in a certain unhealthy way of thinking, you may need to seek out a good counselor to help you get started.
So, what’s in your funnel?
Chris Guzniczak, LPC
Flower Mound Counseling