AN ABC Guide to Managing Negative Emotions Part 2
In PART I, we considered how our thoughts can lead to emotional distress as a result of misinterpretation and emotional/thinking biases. In PART II, we take you through a simple ABC guide on how to manage negative thoughts and emotions.
By learning how to reframe our thoughts into facts when we encounter a situation or event, we can develop a highly effective strategy to manage negative thoughts and emotions. The aims are to:
- Learn how to elicit a different emotional state;
- Learn how to regulate the intensity of our emotional responses;
- Learn how to strengthen our ability to RESPOND EFFECTIVELY to situations, as opposed to REACTING EMOTIONALLY.
How do I take control over my thoughts and emotions?
The Fitzrovia Psychology Clinic presents a simple evidence-based ABC guide to fact check your thoughts, in order to help you to regain power over your thoughts and emotions. Here’s how:
STEP 1: AWARENESS
In a state of high emotion, our thoughts tend to race, making it difficult to distinguish FACT from OPINION. Therefore, before you can identify the facts of the situation, you will need to slow your thoughts down.
Bring your AWARENESS to your breath in the first instance to support you to do this. After a few minutes focusing solely on your breath, you will notice that your thoughts have slowed.
Now, bring your AWARENESS to your thoughts. If you are with a friend, partner or family member, you could label your thoughts out loud to them. For example, ‘I am having the worry thought that…’. If you are practicing alone, you can write your thoughts down. The act of identifying and labelling these thoughts, either verbally or through writing, is the first step to reducing the emotional intensity they are eliciting.
STEP 2: BEGIN TO FACT CHECK
Once you have brought your awareness to your thoughts, you can BEGIN TO FACT CHECK them.
In a non-judgemental way, begin to verbalise or write a separate list of the key facts of the situation. Be sure to sieve out all opinions and judgements within your thoughts. If you get stuck or are unsure if a thought is a fact or not, you can ask yourself this question: “Could another person disagree with or dispute this statement?”. If the answer is YES, then it likely still contains opinion.
Keep sieving out all opinions until you are left with emotionless statements of fact only. For example, if we use the previous situation of a friend cancelling plans last minute, the opinions you may have experienced are:
- My friend made up an excuse to avoid me
- My friend clearly doesn’t like or care about me
- My friend doesn’t want to see me again
Whilst the facts of the situation are:
- My friend cancelled our arrangements today as they said they were unwell
- My friend apologised
- My friend asked if we could rearrange our plans
STEP 3: CONNECT THE DOTS
By focusing solely on the facts, we can now adjust our emotions and responses to fit the reality of the situation – a bit like connecting the dots.
For example, when you interpreted a friend cancelling plans as FACTS that they did not like you, it likely prompted strong feelings of sadness. When we examine the factual statements however, we can identify that this was not the case. Strong feelings of sadness therefore do not match the facts of this situation.
Now, instead of intensifying your sadness by withdrawing from your friend, you may instead respond to the facts of the situation by wishing your friend a speedy recovery and proposing another date to meet up. Your sadness will reduce in intensity and begin to pass.
Whilst this skill takes practice to master, it can have a significant positive impact on helping you to manage your distressing thoughts and emotions. So, when you next find yourself in a situation where you are EMOTIONALLY REACTING as opposed to RESPONDING EFFECTIVELY, try our simple ABC guide to mastering your thoughts and emotions!
Written by Ellie Bacon, Assistant Psychologist (Supervised by Dr Emily Smyth, Clinical Psychologist)