Stressed? Know Your Thoughts, They May Control How You Feel

Would you describe yourself as moody or stressed?  Do you sometimes feel like your emotions come out of nowhere or you get into a mood and have trouble getting out of it?  

In order to decrease stress, anger or moodiness it is important to understand where these emotions are coming from.  Emotions might be triggered by any number of events or things that happen to us.  You might react to something someone says, a hug from a friend, getting an e mail, or getting stuck in traffic.  However, it is what we think about the event, not the event itself that causes the emotion.  For example, if I get an email and I think “someone is thinking about me,” I might feel happy.  On the other hand, if I get an email and think “I don’t have time to deal with this,” I might be stressed or angry.  

If you are often moody or stressed it may be that you are distracted by and stuck in your negative thoughts.  While trying to concentrate you likely keep getting distracted by thoughts that pop into your mind which retrigger stressful feelings.  One way to release yourself from the power of your thinking is to focus attention on our thoughts.  Duke Integrative Medicine shows participants who took an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course reported less trouble sleeping through the night.  “When people become more mindful,” Jeff Greeson, PhD, MS, a clinical health psychologist at Duke explained, “they learn to look at life through a new lens. They learn how to accept the presence of thoughts and feelings that may keep them up at night. They begin to understand that they don’t have to react to them. As a result, they experience greater emotional balance and less sleep disturbances.”

 The following is an exercise will help you simply notice thoughts.  When you do this, something really interesting may happen.  You may realize that thoughts are just thoughts.  They are just like clouds floating in the sky.  They change and pass with time.  When you develop greater awareness of your thoughts, you can begin to choose which thoughts to respond to, which to allow to change, and which to allow to float by. 

Sit quietly and notice the natural flow of breath.  As thoughts arise in your mind, say to yourself “thinking.”  Once you say that in your mind, many thoughts will be derailed and your mind will settle back to quietness.  Try to notice thoughts quickly, before they become a train of thought and you’re swept off elaborating and associating.  Allow the thoughts to come and go like waves in the ocean.

The first few times you attend to your thoughts can feel awkward or uncomfortable.  You feel that you are not thinking anything.  If you do, label the thought “I can’t think of anything” as a thought.  You may get caught up in thoughts and not even realize that you were thinking anything.  If you do, when you notice you’ve been thinking about something, say to yourself “thinking” and bring your mind back to your breathing and noticing your thoughts.  If you do feel silly or awkward, just notice that feeling and let it pass.  If you find you are distracted by sounds or things going on around you, gently bring your mind back to your breath. Allow yourself to complete the exercise without judging or doubting it. 

Our feelings can be positive, negative or neutral in our lives.  Understanding how our thinking is effecting our emotions is essential to getting out of that stressed out moody cycle.

*For more information on the study in this article go to: