Thinking and Feeling … About Thinking and Feeling?

Thinking and feeling are important to humans. Thinking and feeling about thinking and feeling is important to anxious humans!

Metacognitive beliefs can sometimes be the glue that keeps us stuck to our symptoms, thoughts, and big emotions.  Recognizing when strong beliefs about thoughts and feelings are leading us astray can be an important first step  in challenging those beliefs and using the principles of acceptance, tolerance, surrender, and exposure in the recovery process.

This week on The Anxious Truth I’m pretty exhausted so we’re going to take a look at that to highlight some important recovery lessons.  Why is being so exhausted, drained, and emotional not leading to anxiety and panic? Because my recovery experience taught me a new way to think and feel … about how I think and feel.

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In metacognition, we often talk about thinking about thinking. Doctor Sally Winston frames the idea of metacognition as thinking and feeling about thinking and feeling. The feeling part is really important in our context!

While recording this episode, I am finding myself pretty exhausted and feeling emotional and stressed out because life is just happening around me.  But that’s OK. If I can offer a bit of recovery encouragement , let me point out that I can feel all these things now – in a fully recovered state – without quickly falling into anxiety, fear, or panic traps. I’m not here to tell you to do what I did to recover because that’s not fair and its not a good way to provide help, but I can tell you that the recovery principle at play here is the act of forming a new relationship with my thoughts, symptoms, and emotions.  I can be in this state while recording today – without having the wheels fall off on me – because I formed new beliefs about thinking and feeling that help me navigate through difficult experiences without winding up on fire or incapacitated like I used to.

Why do some people recover faster than others?  Why can some take on the concepts logically, then more quickly put them into practice and apply them in real life? 

Well, one of the answers to this question lies – in my opinion – in metacognitive beliefs.  What we think and feel is important to us as humans. But for many anxious humans, what we think and feel about thinking and feeling is even more important. Holding rigid and deep beliefs about the importance of big internal experiences can keep us glued to our scary thoughts, our fears, our anxious symptoms, and anxiety in general.

Sometimes we form those deep and rigid beliefs about our thoughts and feelings because the reasoning, meaning-making parts of our brains take things too far. When we look at big emotions or emotionally charged states as indicators that something is very important on a practical level, our logical brains can sometimes go into frantic problem solving and analysis mode, leading that same part of the brain to confuse thoughts about scary things with the actual scary things.

Ask yourself what you think and feel about thinking and feeling?  Do you assume that big emotions indicate that the thoughts and symptoms surrounding those emotions are important and worthy of attention and interaction?  Does this lead you to treat your internal experiences – symptoms, thoughts, and emotions – as things to fix?  Are your difficult internal experiences treated as puzzles to solve rather than experiences to have?

If you find yourself being tricked again and again by anxiety, see if you can notice how being very afraid of feeling very anxious – those big internal emotional states – is contributing to this? Do you feel like you should try to solve your anxiety and fear in the moment, then hate that you got tricked into that after the fact?  This is one indicator that you are tightly holding beliefs about your thoughts and feelings that could be part of the problem.  Note that the thoughts and feelings themselves are not the problem. Here we’re talking about what you think and feel about those thoughts and feelings. There’s an important difference.

Part of recovery is based on noticing these beliefs, loosening them a bit, and then using principles of exposure (behavioral experiments if you will) to test this loosening?  When you notice that you’re reacting to your big emotional states like fear or uncertainty by fighting against those states and making things worse for yourself, what might happen if you let go and allow the experience to just be without trying to fix it? How can the brave act of letting go help you learn that your old beliefs about following your thoughts, emotions, and symptoms might be steering you wrong?

As with everything we talk about here, just hearing this isn’t enough. Logical you might experience a light bulb moment while listening to this episode, but that won’t make tolerance or acceptance any easier for you. Always remember that a brave leap of faith is part of the puzzle, so we have to make room for the struggle in the process and we have to be careful that we don’t get overly critical of ourselves as we go about this work.  Nobody gets to just decide to believe different things on demand. We can work on exposing counterproductive beliefs, then we work on changing those beliefs through both cognitive and experimental work so be patient with yourself and take the wins even when they’re small. They all add up!

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Disclaimer: The Anxious Truth is not therapy or a replacement for therapy. Listening to The Anxious Truth does not create a therapeutic relationship between you and the host or guests of the podcast. Information here is provided for psychoeducational purposes. As always, when you have questions about your own well-being, please consult your mental health and/or medical care providers. If you are having a mental health crisis, always reach out immediately for in-person help.

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Recovery tips. Updates on recovery resources. Encouragement. Inspiration. Empowerment. All delivered to your inbox! Subscribe here FREE.

Helpful Recovery Resources:

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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)





Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Therapist-in-training specializing in anxiety and anxiety disorders. Author. Podcaster. Educator. Advocate. Former anxious person.