Can we think our way out of our Anxiety and other emotions?

Often in Practice and especially during the Covid Pandemic, I’ve worked with clients who are feeling immense anxiety, among many other intense emotions and feelings, which they want to get rid of immediately. If you have ever felt the gut wrenching, impending doom of anxiety, then you will know that to want rid of this feeling is a pretty reasonable request. Though lately I have been wondering more so than before, if as a society we all too often try to think our way out of our feelings. How often do we allow ourselves and others, to sit with our feelings and receive the message that our bodies/senses/gut/instinct is relaying to our minds?

With CBT, or ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy’, being a very popular choice of talking therapy at the moment, (and no wonder with its impressive recovery rates of over 50% and 67.4% showing reliable improvement[1]), it’s no surprise that thinking our way out of our emotions can sometimes seem the ‘rational’ choice. Is the rational choice the right choice when dealing with emotions that can be anything but rational?

When working with clients I often use a tool called the Hot Cross Bun[2], which was taught to me in Relate training. It is a CBT intervention, which means it’s about ‘thinking’ our way around this problem, right? Well not quite, as the cognitive element is only a quarter of this intervention, with the other 3 parts being made up of ‘behaviour, physiology and emotions’. Often clients will realise that a big part of their anxiety response is any one of these other elements, and this can be quite a revelation for somebody who believes their anxiety is ‘all in their head’. How could a person possibly consider what they physically or emotionally feel when there is a deafening inner narrative warning them all day long that the friend of theirs who they usually trust, actually hates them, or if they go to the supermarket today they will definitely be infected with Covid.

What might happen if we remember that we have more avenues to pursue to decode these non-linguistic signals, than what thoughts we have? I have found that some clients have realised that their bodies physically remember and signal information way before their brains have caught up and put it into the context of a thought. It may be a smell, a texture or being in a certain environment. Some clients default into a certain behaviour, i.e. withdrawing, even when the client wants to take part in what they are isolating themselves from. This causes confusion, as their head is telling them to do it but their body is saying ‘thanks, but no thanks!’ Then, there are emotions in themselves, begging to be acknowledged but often told they’re unwanted, unneeded and a bit of a pain in the backside to be honest; completely denying a part of themselves as a whole person.

It is important to remember that all of the above belong to us as whole human beings and are all as valid as one another. Our bodies work with us not against us, and though sometimes the signals can be faulty, for example in cases of C/PTSD, they are all messages to our being, that let us know what we need in that situation and when we might need to slow down and listen before making a hasty decision based on thought alone. So next time you have an emotion and you find yourself trying to think you way around it, feel what’s physically going on, pay attention to what you do and lean into those feelings that can’t be put into words and you may find you have a much better picture of what is going on within.


The Body Keeps The Score, Bessle Van Der Kolk, Penguin Books, 2014

[2] Relate YP Certificate Training Material, Relate Institute, 2019


Counsellor, Relate Bradford

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog and any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner and do not represent those of Relate Bradford.

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