Jan 27, 2013

The impermanence of emotions and thoughts

In my struggle with anxiety and depression there was an exercise that helped a lot.

While reading 'The mindful way through depression', I came across the advice to look at my body as a map/thermometer of my emotions. When I'm anxious, for example, I feel a kind of fidgety hot ball in the center of my stomach. When I'm feeling peaceful I feel a different kind of warmth, one that is pleasant and embracing. The exercise consisted in regularly checking my 'emotions thermometer' throughout the day, just to see what was there - in a curious, non-judging kind of way.

Before doing this exercise I didn't have a clear idea of how I felt during the day. I thought I was more or less always anxious and depressed. Even if the anxiety and depression were only working at the background of my mind. In fact, I was frequently depressed/anxious, but I also found out that I didn't always feel like this. To my surprise, I had moments of peacefulness, enthusiasm and joy. I also found out that the moments in the 'dark well of desperation' weren't as frequent as I thought they were. By being attentive to my emotional map I further began to link my emotional states to certain triggers. In a way, it all began to look much simpler. By linking the emotions to triggers, I could also think of strategies to not feed these emotions, to not let them grow into an ungovernable big monster - like they used to.

Another important thing I learned is that emotional states are like colored glasses. They taint the way you see the world. So I learned not to trust my thoughts very much when I'm in a dark mood. In a dark mood my mind bombards me with negative thoughts that can say all kinds of destructive things...

But I think that the most important lesson was the lesson of the impermanence of emotions and thoughts. They are always changing, always moving, like clouds in the sky of our mind (and body). I love this metaphor: our awareness is the sky, our thoughts and emotions are the clouds - sometimes these clouds are dark, rainy and stormy, other times they're just like thin white shreds, letting the sun pass right through them. They always change, but the sky above them never changes - always still, always blue, always receptive and kind...

This is something so simple, really. But I guess I only learned it very recently - and it's always a work in progress...

How do you deal with strong negative emotions and thoughts? I'd love to hear about your experience.

See you soon! :)


  1. I had an episode last night when I was tired, and everything felt hopeless and pointless. I struggled to see the point in anything, my hobbies, my work, my long term ideas and where I'd like to go.

    So I wrote them down, and put them in the mouth of my Censor. I wrote everything that he said to me, all the negative and destructive thoughts. Giving it space by writing it down allows me to challenge the Censor, to separate it from my own voice, and it feels better. I know I can fight the negative voice of the Censor but it takes energy. This morning, I went back to all the negative things it said, and converted them all into positive statements/affirmations. I've noticed this recently, that the Censor preys on me when I'm tired and have no energy, and that's also when it's most believable.

    In short, I write the strong emotions and thoughts in my writing journal, and recognise them as my negative Censor. I love your cloud metaphor, I'm glad you found something that works.

    1. Linda, thank you so much for sharing your experience :) That is a great strategy to distance yourself from the negative thoughts. I must try it myself, and put them in the mouth of Cruela.
      Trying our best not to merge ourselves with these destructive thoughts is very important.

  2. This is really useful Mopsa. I think by recognising that our dark moods are destructive and our thoughts during them irrational we can help understand ourselves better. It's about being kind to our ourselves, accepting that there will be dark moods sometimes and squeezing out the positive emotions of every day. Since having a stress induced illness two years ago and recovering from it I am much more in tune with my thoughts and how they affect my body. A big difference is that I now seek out happiness everyday and I am slowly working to eliminate those things from life that trigger negative emotions. Thanks for posting this xo

    1. Claire, thank you for sharing your experience :)
      I agree with everything you wrote. Kindness towards ourselves is fundamental. I've been learning it lately, and it can be pretty hard! My brain is conditioned to be harsh on me.
      And what you wrote about finding happiness everyday has been the key to my recent overall mood improvement. Practicing gratitude each day and looking for the tiny and simple pleasures can do wonders.
      It's great that you've recovered from your stress illness, and are now living a simpler/happier life :)

  3. Well, I just found you! (via Depression Marathon)
    This particular post caught my interest. Yes our emotions are ever-changing but with mental illness, instead of saying 'this too shall pass', it behooves us, as you have pointed out, to make note of our emotions and recognize when we have negative ones and talk back to those negative ideas, which are usually lies!
    I am going to follow by email for awhile. You have an interesting approach and I like your ideas. Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Wendy! Thank you for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts and kind words :)

      I'll be visiting your blogs too.