Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 9 - More thoughts on thoughts

Like I said yesterday, our thoughts have a huge impact on our emotions, behavior etc. Many people think that circumstances or emotions control what we think but the reality is, it can be the other way around. Let me explain... I have a friend who has some serious road rage. We'll be driving together sometimes and when a car cuts her off she gets really frustrated! Whereas I could care less (not sure why - it IS a frustrating thing to get cut off - but it's never bothered me much), she cares a lot! She'll say things like "what a jerk" and "why are people so rude?!" etc. I can see her countenance change and it is obvious that her temperature is rising! I tend to remain more calm and try to let it go. In both of our cases, the situation is the same. We were both driving and got cut off. But for her, the situation creates a great deal of anger and anxiety and can even keep her on edge long after the "cut-off" occurred. I can let it go and move on with my day with relatively little fluctuation in emotion.
Our perception of events and what we tell ourselves as a result has a huge impact on how we feel. For those of us who are prone to anxiety, it is crucial to begin to recognize when these negative thoughts come up and stop them from affecting our moods or even our whole day.

Here is the hard part: Many times these thoughts will come up and we won't even realize it. They are actually known as "automatic thoughts" in the psych circles. So what we need to work on is stepping out of stressful situations (by taking some deep breaths or literally even stepping away) and carefully observing the thoughts we think, as well as the effect they are having on our anxiety levels. Is there something more positive we could think instead? Or at least something more balanced? Using the above example, we could think: "Yes I just got cut off and that really sucks. However, I don't know that person's story. Maybe they are on their way to something really important and are in a hurry. I am not going to let this ruin my morning." Or something like that. You get the point. Notice the positive effect it has on your anxiety and emotions.

One final example... I have heard this story many times and it really makes me think. (I apologize if I butcher it. I don't have it in front of me to quote exactly). There is a guy riding on the subway alone and he is next to another gentlemen with two young children. The kids are acting up and really getting on the nerves of  the guy who is by himself. Finally, he angrily says to the gentleman with the two children, "What's wrong with your kids? Can't you keep them under control?" (or something to that effect). The gentleman apologizes profusely and tells the man that his wife, the children's mother, just died and they are on their way home from the hospital. They are absolutely devastated and don't know what to do.

We never know what's going on with other people or why they behave the way they do. Keep that in mind when you find yourself getting worked up and thinking negative thoughts about other people or situations!

See you tomorrow!


  1. Great post Angela. So easy to just react & whenever I've done so without thought I have to say I ended up filled with regret!

  2. Angela,

    Nice to meet you. You commented on our Grace & Truth Living Site.

    Wow, what a move for you guys. We live in Northern CA and are praying the Lord moves us out your way. Though, I'm a born and bred California girl, the South just calls to me. So, what do you think about Durham? I've been to Charlotte, and last summer we were in Atlanta, and stayed a week in the Nashville area.

    I am already making plans to be on Concord, NC this summer. So, fill me in, how have they received someone from California?

  3. This is such a great reminder of how we need to always consider other's thoughts/feelings with our actions

  4. Thank you Joyce and Erin for your comments! I agree, it is natural to just react without considering all of the possible factors first (what the other person might be going through, how overreacting might make us feel in the long run etc). We have to remember not to!

    Joanne, thank you for commenting as well! I really like Durham. Being a CA girl as well I didn't know what to expect! But the people I have met are incredibly nice and friendly (southern charm I suppose)! If you ever have specific questions or want to chat more feel free to email me. I would love to tell you more about our experience and hear more about your thoughts as well! acharlescoach@gmail.com