4 Connections

Reading time: about 7 minutes.

Everything's connected

Our actions, emotions, physical sensations and thoughts are all connected.

For example, if I have a pain in my chest, I might wonder if I’m having a heart attack. As I begin to think more about this, I notice that I’m beginning to feel scared, which makes me feel more tense and a little shaky.

My hands might begin to tremble, so I might try to tense my muscles to stop myself shaking. This makes me even more tense, which leads to pain in my muscles. I begin to sweat and take fast, shallow breaths.

This convinces me there’s something seriously wrong; it convinces me that I’m about to have a heart attack, though the end result is more likely to be a panic attack.

The good news is that as my behaviour, emotions, physical sensations and thoughts are all connected, if I change one of them, I change them all.

What we notice.

When we’re anxious, we tend to do two things.

  1. We focus more on our problems and challenges, and
  2. We tend not to remember times when we’ve been successful.

When we’re stressed, we have a kind of tunnel vision, we focus more on our problems. This is natural, and is supposed to help us deal better with our challenges.

Unfortunately it doesn’t help much when we’ve a lot of things to do, and can just make us feel saturated with our problems.

When we’re anxious memory works differently. We find it difficult to remember our strengths, the things we’re proud of, and the times when we’ve dealt well with problems.

It’s important to remember that when we’re anxious we underestimate our strengths. It’s not so much that we can’t cope. The problem is more that we feel we can’t.

Our experience of strong emotions and unpleasant body sensations, convinces us that we’re not coping, which makes us feel worse.

Remember our thoughts and emotions are not facts. They’re interpretations.

It’s not all that long ago that people believed the world was flat. Early explorers were afraid they would fall off the edge of the Earth. This stopped people venturing too far. The belief that we can’t cope is our modern-day flat earth, and has much the same effect.

It’s hard enough to be brave, and to face up to the things we’re afraid of, without telling ourselves that we’re weak, or that we can’t cope.

Strengths.

The symptoms of anxiety are influenced by three types of thoughts:

  1. The way we think about ourselves.
  2. The way we think about other people.
  3. The way we think about the situation we’re in.

Try this simple exercise. Off the top of your head, complete the following three sentences. Just say the first thing that comes to mind:

  1. I am.
  2. Other people are.
  3. Life is.

Consider for a moment. What effect do you think these thoughts might have? What emotions are we likely to feel if we believe the thoughts we’ve written above?

For example, what emotions would likely stem from the following beliefs?

  1. I am … rubbish.
  2. Other people are … better than me.
  3. Life is … pointless.

Now what emotions would most likely stem from the following beliefs?

  1. I am … as good as anyone.
  2. Other people are … no better than me.
  3. Life is … largely what we make it.

Some beliefs are more helpful to us than others. What we believe influences our mood and our outlook.

What we believe about ourselves affects not only how we feel, but also the things we do. Why should we bother looking after ourselves, if we don’t think we’re worth the effort, or if we think life is pointless?

Let’s take a look at some healthy, and some less-healthy, behaviours.

Some things we do improve our health. Some of the things that can increase our health and wellbeing include:

  1. Doing things which give us a sense of mastery or pleasure.
  2. Exercising.
  3. Eating healthily.
  4. Spending time with people who help us feel good about ourselves.

Some things that can reduce our health and wellbeing include:

  1. Worrying instead of solving problems. Our problems mount up, and we don’t get a sense of achievement from solving them.
  2. Avoiding challenging situations, which can make our fears grow.
  3. Paying too much attention to people who reduce our self-esteem.


What things do you do that make you feel better? Make a note of them below.

We all have thoughts and opinions about what we feel, what we think, and about what we do.

An important question is, do these thoughts help, or hinder us? Consider the following statements, and mark how true they feel for you today. There are no right or wrong answers.

I don’t think I will ever feel any better.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

Although it may take time, I can change how I feel. I know my feelings can change, because I haven’t always felt like I do today.

Everything is hopeless. I don’t see the point in anything any more.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I can change my thinking. I haven’t always thought about things the way I do now, I can recall a time when I was more optimistic.

I don’t think there’s anything I can do.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I can start to do things differently straight away. I don’t need to feel differently before I do something. A small change is a step in the right direction.

I can’t cope.

How true does this feel for you? Mark an answer from zero, meaning not at all or never true, to 10, meaning completely true or true all of the time.

I’ve got this far and have dealt with some horrible feelings. I am still here, and can remember and think about better times, when I didn’t feel so bad.

Can you think of any other positive thoughts, things you might say to yourself when you start to notice thoughts that hold you back?

Make a note of them below.

People connected

Noticing the positive.

During the coming week, notice a time when you feel just a little bit better. This may be a time when you notice that your physical, feeling, or thinking symptoms are just a tiny bit better than usual.

The difference may only be small, but there are always times when we feel just that little bit better.

If you’re struggling to think of a time, ask someone you trust and who knows you well for some help. When you have thought of a time, write it down in detail below.


The date and time I felt a little better.

What was I doing?

Alone or with someone?

On a scale of 1-10, What was my discomfort score before?

On a scale of 1-10, What was my discomfort score after?

What seemed to cause the change?

Remember.

By changing what I think, or by changing what I do, I can change how I feel.

Next – coming soon.


Written by: SC.
Written on: 17 December 2017.
Last updated on: 06 June 2019.
Checked by: JL.
Checked on: 06 June 2019.
Date for review: July 2021.
Flesch Reading Ease: 84.