The Intricate Dance of How Feelings Shape Our Thoughts and Behaviour
Here at the Mental Fitness Corner, we have been looking at the interplay between our thoughts, actions and feelings, and how they form the very essence of our psychological experiences. So far, we have seen the influence of thoughts (the ways that we make sense of situations) and behaviour (the things we do as well as the things we don’t do, e.g., avoiding a social event).
In this article, we will delve into the fascinating effects of feelings on thoughts and behaviour. The term “feelings” refers to both emotion as well as the physiological changes that may occur. For example, when we feel the emotion of anxiety, we may feel our hearts racing; or, when we feel anger, we may feel our faces flushed; and so on.
Emotions are important and serve as a rich source of information, acting as signals, informing us about our needs, desires, and the overall quality of our experiences. When we pay attention to our emotions, we gain valuable insights into our thoughts and behaviour. For example, feeling anxious before a presentation may indicate the importance we place on others’ perceptions or our fear of failure.
The influence of negative emotions, such as fear, anger, or sadness, can significantly impact our behaviour and thought patterns. When we become overwhelmed by negative emotions, our thinking can become distorted. It’s like looking through a coloured lens that colours all your perceptions. For instance, someone experiencing intense jealousy may engage in behaviours that are driven by suspicion and mistrust, which further reinforces and exacerbates their negative emotional state.
In contrast, positive emotions can have a transformative effect on our behaviour and thoughts. Experiencing joy, gratitude, or contentment enhances our ability to problem-solve, be more open-minded and creative. Positive emotions can broaden our perspectives, allowing us to see more possibilities and engage in healthier, more fulfilling social interactions. By cultivating positive emotions, we can nurture resilience and strengthen our well-being.
Hence, the first step in managing our emotions is to develop emotional awareness by taking the time to regularly tune in to our emotions, and to notice how different situations, people, and thoughts make us feel. Journaling or mindfulness exercises can be very helpful in developing emotional awareness.
Emotional regulation is the key to harnessing the potential of our emotions. It involves recognising and understanding our feelings, managing their intensity, and responding to them in adaptive ways. Examples of effective strategies for managing our emotions and promoting a sense of calm and balance include deep breathing, meditation, physical exercise, self-care, and engaging in activities we enjoy.
Our feelings have an extraordinary impact on our thoughts and behaviour. By paying attention to our emotions, regulating them effectively, and nurturing positive emotional experiences, we can harness the power of our internal world to shape a more fulfilling and purposeful life. Remember, our emotions are not merely fleeting experiences but rather are profound messengers that can help us unlock the secrets to leading a more meaningful and authentic life.
This article completes this three-part series on the interplay between thoughts, behaviour, and feelings.
Let’s look at an example that considers all of these aspects and recognises that changing one component results in a chain reaction that changes the others.
Imagine being overwhelmed by stress at work. Whenever you face a challenging task or a demanding deadline, you experience intense anxiety, which negatively affects your performance and well-being. However, after learning about the intricate relationship between emotions, behaviour, and thoughts, you decide to take proactive steps to positively influence your experience. You begin by paying attention to your emotions during work-related situations. You may notice that your anxiety stems from a fear of making mistakes and the pressure to meet high standards. By acknowledging and labelling your emotions as anxiety, you gain a better understanding of its underlying causes. You may then explore different strategies to manage the anxiety, e.g., taking short breaks throughout the day to engage in deep breathing exercises or mindful meditation to help regulate your emotions, reducing the intensity of your anxiety, and regaining focus.
The next step might be to identify the negative thoughts that fuel your anxiety and realise that your fear of failure is causing you to catastrophise and imagine worst-case scenarios. You can then actively challenge these irrational thoughts by questioning their validity and replacing them with more balanced and realistic perspectives, such as reminding yourself that mistakes are a normal part of learning and growth. You may then work on incorporating activities that bring you joy and relaxation in your daily routine, such as short walks in nature during lunch breaks, or keeping a gratitude diary. Through consistent practice and self-reflection, you may find yourself experiencing a significant positive shift in your work life, feeling feels more in control of your emotions, performing better under pressure, and maintaining a healthier work-life balance.
Remember, everyone’s journey is unique, and it may take time to find the strategies that work best for you. By actively engaging in this process, you have the power to shape a more fulfilling and authentic life—one where emotions are not barriers but rather become steppingstones to personal growth, well-being, and transformation.
Stay tuned for our next article where we will explore “The Amazing Connection Between Nature and Mental Health.
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Important: If you find yourself struggling to navigate your emotions or are experiencing significant distress, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. They can provide guidance and help you develop personalised strategies to manage your emotions effectively.
Dr Rosanna Francis is a clinical psychologist who believes in the inner strength of the individual, and the value of tapping into these strengths and learning new skills to help one live a more comfortable, fulfilling life. She has over 20 years experience working across a diverse range of psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, complex trauma, relationships, stress, self-confidence, and emotion regulation; and, a special interest (research & clinical) in working with people with high intellectual ability who struggle with anxiety.