Have you ever noticed how a feeling, either emotional or physical, occurs with almost every thought? I had known from previous experiences how my emotions fluctuate with my thoughts, but I had not made the connection that passing thoughts can affect me physically. I keep a to-do list and it usually grows, then shrinks, then grows and shrinks again. Last week, however, was filled with unexpected meetings and my list kept growing and growing. As I noticed this, and felt pressure to get everything done before I go on vacation in two weeks, I could feel my abs tighten. This happened throughout the entire week. On Friday, as I reviewed my list before the weekend, I felt my abs tighten again and I realized – this is probably what gives people ulcers.
My very next thought was, I don’t want an ulcer! I relaxed and then considered how other thoughts have caused different physical feelings. When my husband pays me compliments, I feel a lightness in my chest. When my kids work my last nerve, I feel tension in my shoulders. When I hear something truly uplifting, I feel a wave of goosebumps.
Thinking on this brought me back to when I battled depression. I recalled the unkind thoughts I used to keep about myself. Even though I can’t relate to those thoughts today, I remember how they once made me feel. They filled me with tension and a frantic energy. At the time, I suffered from anxiety and bouts of insomnia. I now suppose that those were the physical result of such discordant thoughts. Sadly, at the time, I chocked it up to me being “messed up and made like that.” Overcoming those thoughts took time, but became easier after I developed a trick. I began to reach for a better feeling thought.
It’s a habit that grew more out of avoidance than strategy. For example, I used to often think that I was a terrible daughter and a disappointment to my dad. The opposite of that would have been to say, “I am a great daughter and I make my father proud.” At the time, there was no way I would have been able to hold that thought and feel anything but resistance to it. Even so, I couldn’t stand the way it felt thinking I was a disappointment, and eventually settled on, “I love my family and want to make them proud.” This was true and felt much better. Another example from that time of my life was a recurring thought that “I wasn’t special or worth anyone’s time,” which I traded in for, “I try hard and always have somebody to talk to.” Notice that I didn’t jump to, “I am special and people want to spend time with me.” There’s no way, from the dark perspective that had become my baseline, I was going to believe that. I would have been lying to myself and that carries its own discord.
These weren’t monumental shifts, but they were enough to get me through my darkest days. It’s a much more subtle version of the reframing technique I shared in my post about flipping the script on fear. If you, or anybody you know, is struggling with obtrusive thoughts that hurt physically or emotionally, help them find a better feeling thought. Look for a thought that is light and believable and whenever the disempowering thought makes an appearance, simply swap one for the other – it gets easier with practice and can open you up to a world of opportunity.