Cognitive behavioral therapy and understanding our feelings

Cognitive behavioral therapy and understanding our feelings

Reviewed by:
Austin Lin, MD
Staff Psychiatrist
at Talkiatry
June 28, 2019
In this article

The idea that there are better ways to think about our feelings is the core concept behind cognitive behavioral therapy. When using CBT techniques, you rewrite your thoughts to something better for your mental health. There are many ways for cognitive distortions - the thoughts that need work - to express themselves, but there are 3 overarching ideas that you should consider below.

Whether conscious or otherwise, we all have feelings about our feelings. When we wake up on the wrong side of the bed, it’s easy to think we should just be happy. When we’re getting a bit panicky, we immediately wonder why we aren’t just calm. Other times, we lash out for no reason and defend it because it’s “just how we feel.”

There’s a dissonance between the way we feel and the way we think we should feel. Sometimes, it can be easy to break through that dissonance. If it seems like your feelings aren’t negotiable, though, you may need to rework some of those thoughts. With 1 in 5 US adults suffering from some sort of mental illness each year, understanding your feelings can be very important.

“I am how I feel.”

Something that we all need to realize sometimes is that our feelings aren’t us. When you’re having a depressive episode or a panic attack, it can be very hard to rationalize with your feelings. If someone tries to help, it might feel like a personal attack - you might think that they’re not understanding you and get frustrated. You might start to think that depression is always going to be present in your life.

In those times, it’s very difficult to create a separation between ourselves and our feelings. But it’s important to know that you can. Even if you don’t feel like you have the ability to, you should know that it can be done. When we become too attached to our feelings, it’s difficult to reach out for help.

Consider how many times your feelings have seemed almost random. Have you ever woken up after a good night’s sleep and been angry? If you’re well rested and didn’t go to bed upset, it can be hard to figure out why. Even though that emotion feels very visceral and rational in that moment, it isn’t part of you. When we have strong emotions and strong reactions to situations, that isn’t part of us either - that reaction can be worked with in cognitive behavioral therapy.

“I shouldn’t be feeling like this.”

Feeling like our emotions are part of us is a very emotional response to our emotions. It’s more rational counterpart is saying, “I shouldn’t be feeling like this”. During a depressive episode, you might find yourself thinking that you feel bad for no real reason and that you should be happy. While you do deserve to feel happy and you can work to make yourself feel better, it’s important to remember that our feelings aren’t always rational.

When you start making “should” statements, you open yourself up to guilt and frustration. Saying “I should feel like this, I shouldn’t feel like that” can easily create a situation where we start to feel bad about things that we can’t necessarily control. While these statements can seem like they’re trying to combat depression, they are often born out of it.

Remember that emotional and rational aren’t necessarily binary, as well. Emotions are a necessary part of the cognitive process, and sometimes we just have to let them in. Instead of focusing on how you are feeling, try to focus on how you want to be feeling. What action can you take that will make you feel better? Remember that emotions will pass if you don’t interact with them. When you find yourself thinking, “I should feel differently,” take a deep breath. Let the thought go, even if it’s true.

“I can’t control my feelings.”

Between being overly emotional and overly rational about the way we feel, there is a very common misconception that you need to relearn. Most people would tell you that they don’t feel like they can control their emotions. They might focus on outside factors making them feel some way, or tell you that they feel a certain way because of biological factors. While these things absolutely can affect your emotions, they are in your control.

Our emotions are born from what we think in reaction to how we feel. We can’t just choose to be happy, but we can work on altering the thoughts that make us sad. It can be a very simple thing. Maybe you just need to notice that you’re not letting yourself feel strongly enough, or that you’re spending too much time predicting the future.

These are the sort of thoughts that cognitive behavioral therapy will help you work on. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to equip you with the tools you need to feel better.

In a study titled “Is Cognitive –behavioral therapy more effective than other therapies? A meta-analytic review” by David F Tolin, cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be one of the most effective forms of treatment and broadly speaking, outperforms other forms of psychotherapy at post-treatment. The results suggest that the benefits of CBT are not limited by time, with effectiveness of CBT being equivalent or better 6 months and 1 year post the discontinuation of treatment. The results suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy should be considered a first-line psycho-social treatment for many patients.

At Talkiatry, our providers are available for consultations on a wide variety of mental health symptoms and can determine if treatment is recommended and if cognitive behavioral therapy is the appropriate option for you.

About Talkiatry

We are a local, accessible and complete mental healthcare solution that accepts insurance. Talkiatry closes the gap for individuals who want to get better, but feel that mental health care has been challenging to navigate up until this point and want a more convenient way to take the first step. Talkiatry takes the traditional local mental health visit and combines it with technology, scale, efficiency, and design to provide the best possible environment for healing.

The Talkiatry branded mental health practice is independently owned and operated by a licensed Psychiatrist. For more information about the relationship between Talkiatry Management Services, LLC and the branded group practice please click here.

Talkiatry is a mental health practice, and our clinicians review everything we write. However, articles are never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you think you may need mental health help, talk to a psychiatrist. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.

Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.

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