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  • Writer's pictureMental Gear Closet

Thought-based vs. Mood-based Stress

Updated: Jan 20

Yesterday I woke up in a funk, feeling sad and vaguely unmotivated to start the day. Frustrated at myself for being in a bad mood, I quickly realized it was time to dive into my own mental gear toolbox.

This experience, while not something I want to repeat, created an important “a-ha” moment.

Sometimes stress + anxiety show up as loud thoughts and negative beliefs in our heads like an angry verbal tyrant, while at other times they manifest as a generally negative, depressed or upset mood. We may not notice any particular thoughts but rather just feel “off”.

Thought-based vs. Mood-based stress states

In mental training and therapy, you can think of your thoughts and feelings like two brothers. Sometimes they play and run happily around your mind while at other times they are loud, devious and harmful, even turning against you.

However while always together, one “brother” can show up more than the other. In other words, while our thoughts and feelings are always impacting each other, sometimes what’s bringing us down are loud, critical thoughts while at other times, a more general negative, flat or upset mood.

For example:

“I can’t do it! This is scary! I don’t want to go. Maybe I’m feeling sick and shouldn’t. What if I fail? What if I AM a failure?!”

- versus -

I'm feeling generally down, flat, unmotivated or in a funk.

Recognizing the difference between these two situations does two things.

One, better identification equals a better solution. Take for example a headache. What’s the one thing that causes all headaches? There IS NO one thing. Therefore teasing apart whether you’re dehydrated versus stressed versus concussed versus having an aneurism will be critical in taking the right course of action to heal.

Two, there is a phenomenon in which by simply noticing and describing what we’re thinking or feeling, the pent up pressure in the body quickly drops. Are you 100% cured? Probably not, however it’s common to feel a significant positive shift in stress level. (I’ve personally experienced this many times myself.)

So what is it first step? It is to cultivate the discipline of pausing to notice, and the bravery to own what we see, taking the right steps to positively shift. It is then that we make the greatest change and healing.

Be well.

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