How You Think, How You Feel

Bringing the mind and emotions into alignment can reduce stress and put you on a path to success

Your DNA is the custom blueprint for your body, shaping trillions of cells to form your arms and eyes and every other part of your physique. But while your face and stature may be the first things people recognize about you, they only tell part of the story. Your thoughts and feelings make you truly unique, coloring your personality and influencing the way you respond to the people and events around you. In short, how you think and how you feel affect how you interact with the world.

Mental vs. Emotional Health

Keeping both your mental health and your emotional health on an even keel is vital to building strong relationships, making smart financial decisions and achieving personal goals. When your mind and emotions are in balance, you feel confident and focused, setting you up for success. Conversely, when thoughts or emotions start to spin out of control, you can experience increased anxiety, worry and stress. Understanding the factors that shape your mental and emotional health can help you bring them into alignment, so you feel calmer and more productive, and you don’t let life’s occasional curveballs throw you off course.

Mental health has to do with how your brain processes and stores information. It includes cognitive thinking, which involves your ability to stay focused and to comprehend the things that you see, hear and touch before stashing them away in your memory banks. Another component of mental health is deductive reasoning. This relates to what you do with past and present information that you receive, and how you analyze those experiences to form opinions or make decisions.

Emotional health is your ability to express your feelings, and to manage them appropriately. In the same way that your life experience will affect your deductive reasoning—you have more information from which to draw upon as you weigh the pros and cons of a decision—your age and past circumstances can influence the way you express emotions in different situations. For example, if you were repeatedly criticized by one of your parents, you might be hypersensitive to criticism and cry easily, or become angry and overly defensive rather than being open to input.

An intricate combination of thoughts and feelings influences the choices we make each day, from the food we eat to the people we associate with and the time we dedicate to different activities. The way that we make decisions also can indicate whether we lean more heavily on our intellect or intuition. Do you reason things through, weighing the pros and cons matter-of-factly? Or do you go with your gut instinct, making a choice based on what feels right? Are you easily swayed by other people’s opinions, or more apt to stick to your guns once you’ve made up your mind? Becoming attuned to your reactions, and learning to process and filter thoughts and emotions in a healthy way, can help you make better choices and build stronger relationships, both personally and professionally.

As we gain a better understanding of our mental and
emotional health, we can learn to harness our thoughts and emotions to achieve a sense of peace.

The Rule of Balance

When our mind and our emotions are pulling in opposite directions, we can become paralyzed by turmoil and feel incapable of making decisions. The tug of war between reason and feelings causes us to question our own thinking, creating self-doubt that can have a negative ripple effect. We blow the job interview, miss out on fun events, develop addictions or stay stuck in a dead-end relationship.

Similarly, a lack of mental or emotional self-control can throw you off balance. Focusing too heavily on deductive reasoning can create an endless cycle of analysis that blocks forward progress, while excessive worry, anger or fear can lead you to act impulsively and make decisions that may be unwise. Since both our thoughts and our feelings inform our behaviors and decision-making, how do you integrate the mind and emotions to bring them into alignment?

Clearing Mental Clutter

In today’s society, we experience information overload. From emails and text messages to social media and TV, our attention is being pulled in every direction virtually around the clock. It’s no wonder people have such short attention spans. Much of mental health has to do with the ability to focus, and reducing the stimuli demanding your attention can help calm your mind and let you think more clearly. Designate specific times to check your email, and turn off the automatic notifications that pop up on your computer or smartphone to minimize distractions while you work or enjoy your family. Spend quiet time reading after dinner, instead of binge-watching the latest Netflix series. Here are a few other tips to help you reduce mental fatigue and get a handle on your thinking:

Practice simple meditation. Quieting your mind for even 10 minutes a day can lower anxiety levels and even reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke, research shows.

Establish a routine. Creating set times for different activities, from eating dinner to going to the gym, can alleviate the need to figure out your schedule from day to day.

Make a list. Writing down the pros and cons of a decision on paper can help you look more objectively at the potential impact and think more clearly about your choice.

Have a plan. Setting small and large goals and outlining the steps to achieve them can help you find the mental fortitude you need to push through procrastination or self-doubt.

Ask for input. If you have a hard time making a decision, look for reliable sources of information and guidance, whether that means speaking to someone with personal or professional experience, or reading up on the topic from objective sources.

Mental health has to do with how your brain processes and stores information. Emotional health is your ability to express your feelings, and to manage them appropriately.

Reining In Your Feelings

Becoming more aware of your emotions and understanding how they influence the way you think and behave is equally important to reducing stress and improving your self-confidence. Our feelings and reactions often are tied to events that happened during childhood. As a result, certain people or situations can trigger an almost instinctive reaction that may feel like it’s beyond your control. Here are several strategies to keep your emotions in check:

Put pen to paper. Journaling is a powerful tool to release pent-up feelings and identify people or situations that trigger emotional responses. If you tend to be very analytical, writing your thoughts on paper also can free you up to be more spontaneous and connect with what your heart wants, and not only consider the “rational” choice.

Identify your core values. As you make decisions, your deep-seated beliefs and convictions are just as important as the facts at play. Take time to reflect on the things that matter most to you—for example, keeping your word, home-schooling your children, or furthering your career—and see whether your choices align with your values.

Silence your inner critic. When it comes to obstacles on the path to success, we often create our own roadblocks. If self-criticism or self-doubt is keeping you from taking a risk or pursuing your goals, it’s time to banish that voice inside your mind. Surround yourself with people who encourage and uplift you, and spend time reading books or watching videos on personal development to build your self-confidence.

Work on your social skills. As human beings, we are made for connectivity. Spending time with friends, connecting with co-workers and volunteering in the community all are great ways to build meaningful relationships and to develop empathy and compassion.

As we gain a better understanding of our mental and emotional health, we can learn to harness our thoughts and emotions to achieve a sense of peace. When the mind and heart are aligned, our capacity to reason and to process the barrage of information that comes at us daily is balanced by an inner calm of self-awareness and self-compassion. As a result, you can better focus on your goals, both personally and professionally, and commit to the effort it will take to achieve them. Striking the right balance between thinking things through and opening your heart positions you to dream freely, stop making excuses and follow your passions. With a little effort and practice, you can bring reason and intuition into harmony, and exercise sound judgment while upholding your highest values.