Cycle of Thoughts, Emotions, and Sensations

Our bodies, emotions, and minds are linked. We know this, but we also forget. After a day of ruminating about a past conversation where you think you said something stupid, or imagining future conversations where you tell someone off brilliantly, you wonder why your mood is terrible or your neck is so tight you can barely move. It’s easy to forget the powerful effect your thoughts can have on your feelings or body sensations.

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Thoughts impact your bodies and emotions, and bodies also impact your thoughts and feelings. It’s tough to remember this too. So often the first instinct is to fight fire with fire, to try to battle negative or distressing thoughts with more thoughts. To try to talk yourself out of what you are thinking. We’re so enamored with our brains, we think they can do anything.

Sometimes your brain can be helpful, it’s true. Sometimes reviewing evidence against your fears can prevent you from imagining the coming catastrophe. Other times, thoughts aren’t the best tools for the job. Fighting fire with water can be more helpful than fighting fire with fire. Changing the way you feel in your body or your heart can make a powerful shift in your obsessive thoughts.

Here are a few non-thinking ways to intervene when your thoughts feel out of control:

  • Exercising. Vigorous exercise can tire you out, which means less energy available to the perfectionist. Exercise also releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural mood-lifters. When you’re feeling more positive overall, it’s harder for your inner perfectionist to shout so loud.
  • Soothing. Sometimes a calming, loving action might be better than vigorous exercise. Soothing action could mean taking a bath, meditating, praying, or wrapping your arms around yourself in a hug. Or maybe asking someone you trust for a hug.
  • Distracting. When your inner perfectionist is criticizing you, try briefly acknowledging that voice, and then turning your attention to something really interesting. Watch a favorite movie, get absorbed in a book, talk to good friends—whatever will capture your attention.

Want more tools like this for changing your relationship to your perfectionism? Sign up for my free six-week perfectionist email challenge or check out my book, The Perfectionism Workbook for Teens.