How to control my moods, thoughts, anxiety through logic
March 14, 2013 6:11 AM   Subscribe

You feel a strong emotion/think anxious thoughts. You know that logically that this is an exhausting, time-wasting, and wrong way to feel and think. How do you get yourself to stop feeling this emotion, or stop having those anxious thoughts? How do you get yourself to believe your logic and change your feelings, thoughts and moods?

I'm a very emotional 21 year old female currently in a very intense experience--an semester's exchange in France.

This has been very difficult, but I'm satisfied with the way I'm dealing with the changes overall. I have made mistakes and had a few social issues, but I've come a LONG way--From living with my parents my whole life to living on my own, to making tons of great new friends, to traveling to many new places, to learning new skills like cooking, improving my french... this experience has been a very positive one for me.

However, I am having some emotional difficulties. I am very extroverted, but still deal with pretty frequent social anxiety. It does not happen all the time--and it seems to be improving lately, but I usually have a few days a week where I'm simply in an anxious and awkward mood where I'm super self conscious of everything and uncomfortable in my own skin. I have uncomfortable thoughts about what people are thinking about me and if I'm acting horribly stupidly... This makes things worse, in fact, as it makes me a nervous chatterbox who overshares!

I notice that the more comfortable I'm getting here, as I settle into living here, the less intense and frequent this social anxiety becomes. However, I still feel it and logically, I know I shouldn't! I'm slightly awkward and frequently can be in pretty embarrassing situations, but it's part of my personality and I don't think people mind it all that much. I'm not stupid, I'm friendly, I try to be respectful, and I'm super outgoing --at my recent birthday, tons of people showed up and I realized that I've been making tons of real friends! It felt great. But the "do they still like me?" and "did i make a giant, irreversible fool out of myself?" feelings keep creeping up, and I don't want them to make a big giant anxious mess out of me. I'm trying my best, making friends, having fun, learning a lot, and I don't want to worry so much about stuff I can't control.

It just doesn't help me, and the anxiety is crippling me from becoming the best, most happy person I can be, as well as reducing the value of this wonderful, life-changing experience.

How do YOU start changing your thought processes and moods to more logical and helpful ones?

Thank you!
posted by rhythm_queen to Human Relations (18 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
You're trying to tackle emotion with logic, and that doesn't work. That's like trying to solve a trigonometry problem by applying the principles of color theory.

Therapy is usually what people recommend in this instance, and I'm going to say that, even though I know this may not be the easiest thing in the world for you logistically...but at the very least, please forgive yourself for not being able to logic your way out of these thoughts.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:18 AM on March 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

I am an almost 40-year-old relatively smart, successful (I say that not to boast but more to establish that I have really have nothing serious to complain about or be concerned with) white male living in a foreign country (in my case, Japan).

I have been living with anxiety, especially of the social kind you describe, for a long time. As long as I can remember. And I empathize with your experience of living in a foreign country--I think this can amplify the feeling.

First of all, I haven't found a cure as such, but I've accepted that this is "just me." Ironically, that in and of itself made it easier to deal with.

Otherwise, there are a few things I try to consistently remember that help me.

1) Most people are forgiving. Those who are not are not people I want in my life, for the most part.

2) People tend to be more worried about their own stuff than what is wrong with you. Hell, half of them could be just as anxious as you.

3) Along the same lines, if you engage with people, forget about yourself and show interest in others, it really helps dispel these feelings. If you're "not in the mood," sometimes it can be tough to get going, but this really helps.

4) Regarding the oversharing, I can understand. I would refer to #3--I often end up feeling like I'm telling people more than they want to hear, and when that happens, I immediately shut myself off and ask them a question about them, their lives, etc. That helps me because then I can start focusing on them, and finding things we share and can discuss.

5) None of these feelings last a very long time, if you don't focus on them. The more you think about them the more they repeat over and over and over...

Believe me, I know that last bit of advice can be hard to swallow, but it's good to keep in mind even when your mind is acting like your worst enemy and repeating the same nonsense over and over.

I will add one more thing, which is that you are doing things in your life which lead exactly to the kinds of situations which are most going to provoke these feelings. That's great, you are really brave, and I wish I'd had your balls (um, if you know what I mean) when I was your age. Think of it as training, which will make you stronger and stronger the older you get and the more experienced you are.

On preview, I will agree with EmpressCallipygos, in that therapy has helped me a lot in my life--but I've also accepted (through therapy, ha) that these are things that I have to wrestle with in a proactive way--they don't just magically disappear even through therapy. But what therapy has given me is the courage to deal with these issues on my own, using healthy proactive tactics rather than being constantly triggered.

Best of luck! I think you'll be fine.

(P.S. no you didn't make a fool of yourself.)
posted by dubitable at 6:26 AM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sounds like it's exactly what you're looking for. It's a method for challenging your irrational thoughts with more logical, less worrying ones, and practiced regularly is supposed to have really good results.

Feeling Good by David Burns is the usual DIY CBT recommendation on AskMe. There's also the Feeling Good Handbook, which has exercises for you to work through.
posted by penguin pie at 6:30 AM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind: You're spending all your time thinking about yourself and how you come across to other people. Guess what those people are doing? The same thing. They aren't thinking about you. They're thinking about themselves. People spend very little time and energy thinking about other people. Everyone is focused inward, even people who are not especially anxious.
posted by something something at 6:36 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I notice that the more comfortable I'm getting here, as I settle into living here, the less intense and frequent this social anxiety becomes. However, I still feel it and logically, I know I shouldn't!

What is the logical reason why you should not feel social anxiety?
posted by Ironmouth at 6:42 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think you're fine.

Keep in mind that 1. Nobody is ever paying as much attention to you as you think they are; 2. You are an American (I assume) in France, so as long as you don't screw up too badly you're going to make a good impression compared to what they may have heard about Americans! Seriously, they know you are young and a foreigner and will make social mistakes. They have young people there too, after all.

I've found a good way to deal with strong emotions is to feel them fully, let them wash over you, and then set them aside. Accept that they may return periodically, like ocean waves, then do what you need or want to do anyway, regardless of your feelings. Consider them like the weather or the tides: something you can't control, something that will affect you and shape you, but that won't destroy you, because you are strong enough.
posted by kindall at 6:43 AM on March 14, 2013 [9 favorites]

I agree that you seem to be wanting logic to do something that it just does not do. However, I have at times been depressed or otherwise troubled, and I have meditated on the thought that there is no logical reason why I should feel that way. That is, given my life and whatever inputs have come in to my mind, there is no necessity that compels me to react emotionally in a way that is bad for me - I could react some different way. That can be a useful way to snap out of brooding over things. But the mere contemplation of this idea won't, by itself, change anything - it has to goad you on to change something. There is also nothing logically that means that I can't stay miserable. The point of this exercise to me is to help me believe that a better life is possible and reachable.
posted by thelonius at 6:48 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is a slightly different method than using logic, but (as someone else who babbles her way to oversharing when anxious) I often say something like, "I'm sorry, I'm feeling really self-conscious about my accent and when I get self-conscious I tend to babble," or "Sorry I'm babbling, I'm just so nervous because I don't know anyone here," or whatever. People generally respond really well to this because EVERYONE has been socially anxious, half the people you're talking to RIGHT THEN are feeling socially anxious, and admitting your vulnerability puts other people at ease about their own anxieties. And I find that saying it out loud makes me immediately less anxious and less self-conscious. Plus it shows you that 99% of people you're dealing with are fundamentally kind and generous people who want you to feel good about yourself.

I guess it's still a form of oversharing but it's worked really well for me. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:48 AM on March 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, to my last post I will add: there is something liberating about realizing that if you really screw up socially, you will probably never have to see those people again anyway, if you don't want to.
posted by kindall at 6:56 AM on March 14, 2013

I concur that Feeling Good - The New Mood Therapy book is EXCELLENT approach for solving your emotional disorders using logic. It really helps you 'walk back' your irrational thoughts, and your emotions (which really aren't irrational - your thoughts are irrational, your emotions are just natural byproducts) will come back to a normal place. It's worked for me for many years. Good luck!!
posted by zettoo at 7:01 AM on March 14, 2013

What kindall describes above is excellent advice--you need to turn toward the emotions, embrace them, and then let them move along--this is the nature of the mind. Thoughts come and go, and it's natural and normal for some of them to be good and some of them to be painful. It's the ruminating that does you in--when you focus on the negative thoughts and don't let them just pass through. They might come back, but so do the good ones, and that's just how our minds and feelings work.

I've learned a ton from the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I really liked the book Mindful Way through Depression because it helped me figure out the logic and rationale behind how to feel! You can also just look up Kabat-Zinn on youtube and find a plethora of videos describing the technique. The idea is if you just practice, you'll get better at the ability to let your emotions "wash over" you, as kindall so aptly put.
posted by gubenuj at 7:15 AM on March 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do you exercise? It's incredibly helpful in just reducing overall anxiety. Rather than trying to talk yourself out of it, your body just burns it out. Saved my sanity.
posted by Miko at 7:17 AM on March 14, 2013

Fake it until you make it. You are going to feel your feelings, and ignoring them would be bad, but you don't have to act on them and then no one will know that you feel awkward/insecure. Eventually the feelings might even sync up with your desired behavior patterns.

Other tips: Don't drink too much - the emotional hangover is worse than the physical one. Don't act on or pay much attention to any strong, weird feelings that you have at night. If something is really nagging at you, decide to either find something you can do RIGHT THAT SECOND to improve the issue or acknowledge the fact that you will just have to work harder in the future and make peace with it in the present.

Eat and drink lots of tasty things in France.
posted by skrozidile at 7:18 AM on March 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Others have suggested good techniques, but want to offers some food for thought:

"You're not responsible for your feelings, but you're responsible for your actions."

Emotion can be quite irrational at times. Your feelings are difficult, if not impossible to directly control as they run their course. However, you can apply techniques (Exercise, CBT, etc...) that others have suggested to better regulate your anxiety/emotion.
posted by pakoothefakoo at 9:31 AM on March 14, 2013

Came in to recommend another self-help book - and I'm someone who HATES self-help books. Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, by Tamar Chansky, would probably fit your needs very well. Chansky takes a very logical, practical approach to overcoming anxiety. It's got a slant towards social anxiety, so it might be worth a shot for you.
posted by scratch at 10:28 AM on March 14, 2013

One way of using "logic" to help you be less anxious would be to analyze a situation using empirical data. So for example, you had X number of people attend your birthday party. It's logical to conclude that at least the majority of those people showed up because they genuinely like you.

"Do they still like me?" Well, have any major incidents transpired since then that would cause them to change their minds? If not, you are still liked. Assume status quo.

"did i make a giant, irreversible fool out of myself?" Even if you got drunk and acted foolishly, in my experience it's not usually irreversible. : ) Again, though, look for objective signs. Are people still talking with you? Have they said things out of the ordinary or commented on your behavior? If not, then you are still fine. Etc. etc.

And of course, don't go looking for evidence or reading into facial expressions or whatever... Err on the side of - you're likeable and smart and doing just fine. I don't even know if the above-suggested counseling is really in order. Hope that helps..
posted by see_change at 2:15 PM on March 14, 2013

This sounds like a really normal thing when you're getting used to living in a different culture and not using your native language.

I did this kind of study abroad myself. I found that lots of mundane interactions were suddenly twice as hard and often stressful and exhausting, because of the language and culture being so different, and you spend so much mental energy figuring it out. And of course you're worried about acting stupidly, it's another culture and anyone will make missteps. Some people are not so bothered by them, but it seems very conscientious of you to pay attention. I was anxious a lot because I'd say something awkward in French by accident and feel bad, or do something that was super innocuous but just not done according to my neighbors, like buy too many groceries at once or try to order dinner in a cafe when it wasn't dinnertime yet.

Anyway I'd say give yourself credit for paying attention to social cues and just continue on being friendly and if you do something foolish let it go by, everyone does foolish things especially abroad.
posted by citron at 6:33 PM on March 14, 2013

I also recommend "Feeling Good" or his more anxiety focused one "When Panic Attacks." The latter is also newer, more well organized than Feeling Good, and includes techniques that Feeling Good doesn't have. It's basically do-it-yourself CBT, and one of CBT's pillars is basically using directed logic exercises to neutralize the thoughts that are giving you the anxiety. It also includes techniques like kindall's and dozens others.

I'm actually really amused that quite a few people have mentioned that trying to regulate your emotions through logic isn't a valid technique. It's probably one of the most valid techniques when you consider how many scientific studies have shown how effective CBT is.
posted by Defenestrator at 12:29 AM on March 15, 2013

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