It’s all too easy to forget that how you feel emotionally is actually important. That might sound ridiculous, but when was the last time you thought, ‘Why do I feel down/angry/anxious/worried and how can I stop it?’ Often it’s easier to just accept those feelings as inevitable byproducts of a busy life without digger deeper. Not giving your mind the attention and time it deserves can lead to bigger problems, e.g. when the pit of anxiety in your stomach becomes a permanent fixture or when you realise you can’t remember the last time you felt proud, happy, excited or confident.
Unhappiness, stress, anxiety and low self-esteem are all natural emotions that we as humans are programmed to experience occasionally – but if you’re feeling them all the time or they’re genuinely affecting your life it’s time to take action.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based on the belief that it’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you interpret it. How you think about an event will affect your behaviour, your physicality and your emotions. For example, say you see someone you know across the street. You wave and they don’t wave back. If you think, ‘Wow, Steve just blanked me. What a rude idiot/He must hate me/I must have done something wrong’, it’ll start a negative cycle: your body will tense up or slump (physicality), you might ignore him when you next see him (behaviour) and you’ll feel emotionally angry or anxious. Whereas, just by interpreting the event differently everything would be different. By thinking, ‘Steve must not be wearing his glasses’ instead your physicality and mood would both remain neutral and you wouldn’t ignore him when you next saw him.
In our books we use something called a Mind Map to break down these cycles. They’re a really simple way of understanding what caused your mood and also what’s maintaining it. Simply click on the image below and you’ll be redirected to a PDF that you can print and fill out.
You don’t have to begin with your thoughts – an easy way to start is to remember the last time you felt a strong negative emotion and work around the map that way, filling in the gaps. Here’s an example:
Emotions: angry, worried
Situation: argued with partner
Behaviour: turned phone off and ignored his/her emails
Thoughts: ‘s/he’s just doing this to wind me up’
Physicality: hunched shoulders, racing heart
By filling in the Mind Map you’ll be able to see patterns of behaviour and recognize how every section influences and exacerbates the others. For example, by turning off your phone you’re only ramping up your worry and anger, imagining what s/he might say when you turn it back on. Your hunched shoulders and racing heart will mean you’re physically unable to calm down and assess the situation rationally. And your main thought – your interpretation of the event – is potentially very skewed. You’ve stated ‘s/he’s doing this to wind me up’ as if it is a fact (she is doing this…) when in reality it’s just an opinion. What proof do you have to back up this so-called ‘fact’? Are there actually two sides to the argument? Did you have a role to play too? Challenging these thoughts will offer up proof against them, which will help break the cycle – as will calming down your body by practicing relaxation techniques and stopping negative behaviours by turning on your phone or not snapping at your partner.
Your behaviour, physicality and thoughts are all intervention points – by changing them you will change your mood. Filling in a Mind Map and breaking situations and feelings down will give you the chance to see things clearly and offer you options to make things better. Give it a go and let us know how you get on.