The Diamond of Our Experiences
My background is in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It is a valuable therapy for treating many mental health symptoms including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even PTSD. I’ve seen it be incredibly helpful, and research has shown it to be effective as well.
CBT says that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all affect each other, and this is what makes up the “CBT triangle”. This is a great framework for understanding how we as humans experience our lives, but I think it leaves out a key component: the body. Our physical sensations are a key part of our experiences, and although they happen alongside our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, they are also their own distinct part of the model.
With physical sensations, it’s more of a diamond shape, like this:
In CBT perspective, we have 85% control over our behaviors, 15% over our thoughts, and we have absolutely no control over our emotions directly. In order to change how we feel, we need to change our behaviors and our thoughts. CBT is very change based. And this is so important when we are experiencing chronic anxiety and depression that is overwhelming and stopping us from living a life worth living.
But what if we recognized our feelings and physical sensations as signals?
Most of the time we have the impulse to make difficult feelings go away as fast as possible. Many of us have some sort of behavior or thought pattern we use to do this—maybe binge watching Netflix, smoking, eating, drinking, doing all the things all the time and never wanting to miss out on anything, and a hundred other things.
Before we can change, we have to notice what we are feeling and then make the choice to do something about it. How do we even know what we are feeling? Each feeling has a different signature in the body.
What does sad feel like for you? Does it feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders or pressure behind your eyes before you might start to cry?
What does anger feel like for you? Tension all over and muscles tightening? Heat rising in your core?
What does joy feel like? Like lightness or like butterflies in your chest?
In order to change, we need to know what we are changing first. What would be helpful for changing anxiety is very different from what will help with sadness or anger.
So take a breath, ask your overthinking (maybe critical) mind to step back, tap into your curiosity, and notice what physical sensations you are experiencing in this moment. What can you feel in your body? What do emotion are you feeling? Try to just notice it and give it some space.