Change Your Thoughts to Change How You Feel
Our emotions don't just happen sporadically. If this were true we would be happy one minute, sad the next, angry for a few minutes and then maybe anxious for another few minutes. This is not how we experience emotions. Our emotions are not sporadic; rather, they are intimately connected to our thoughts. In other words, our thoughts determine our feelings.
When we think about good things we feel happy. When we think about bad things we feel sad. When we think someone is taking advantage of us we feel angry. When we think that we will miss the last bus home we feel anxious.
Many mental health problems are problems with emotions. These include depression, anxiety, overpowering anger and low self-esteem.
Learning how to identify unhelpful thoughts and how to change them into helpful ones are essential skills for good mental health.
Unhelpful thoughts are often unrealistic ones. We call these "cognitive distortions". These thoughts can occur on several levels ranging from automatic thoughts to deeply held core beliefs.
You can challenge and change unhelpful, dysfunctional thoughts into realistic, helpful ones using the Cognitive Therapy (CT) approach. A central technique in CT is cognitive restructuring, where you identify problematic thoughts, examine them, and then restructure them into more helpful thoughts. You can learn more about this technique through the following resources:
- Mind Over Mood: Change the way you feel by changing the way you think by Greenberger and Padesky
- Feeling Good: The new mood therapy by David Burns
- Change Your Thinking: Overcome Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, and Improve Your Life with CBT by Sarah Edelman
- TalkPlus provides an 8-page Cognitive Restructuring workbook that contains worksheets.
- An Introductory Self Help Course in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, especially Step 4 and Step 5.
- Cognitive Restructuring: Reducing stress by changing your thinking from Mindtools, which contains a worksheet based on the framework outlined in the book Mind Over Mood (see above)
- Cognitive Behavioral Tools is a video delivered by a psychologist who "reviews several cognitive behavioral tools to deal with stress, anxiety and overwhelming emotions." These tools include objectively observing thoughts, shifting perspective, and recognizing that emotions and thoughts are information and not facts.