Emotions deeply affect our thoughts, actions, and world view and can be triggered by a variety of stimuli.

Thoughts (in addition to physical stimuli) can cause an emotional reaction.

A feeling (or a mental reaction to the physical emotional state) can trigger an irrational emotional response which can in turn trigger more feelings, thoughts, and emotions in a vicious, recursive cycle.

Hypothetical Example

I’m getting ready to make a speech in front of a large audience.

Before I go on stage, I begin to experience an emotional response of a higher heart rate, a release of cortisol, and the general activation of my fight-or-flight response of the limbic system.

In my mind, I internalize this emotion by feeling it — associating a feeling to the emotional response. I begin to feel fear and anxiety associated with giving a speech.

My rational brain tries to interpret what is happening and begins to have thoughts such as:

I’m feeling nervous. I must be nervous because I’m worried about messing up. I’m worried about messing up because I know I’m not that good or don’t have as much expertise in the subject I’m about to give a speech on (impostor syndrome).

What if they find out I’m an idiot?

There are a lot of other smarter people than me. Why should I be presenting right now?

This recursive thought spiral can in-turn cause more emotional responses and feelings such as feeling a fear of abandonment of my social status or relationships if I don’t perform well.

This cascade of emotions and feelings needs to be felt. They will come in waves and as long as I let them pass, they will pass.

After I get past my emotional response, I can begin to see that the thoughts I’m having are not valid. In fact, the feeling of excitement has the exact same emotional state as anxiety: higher heart rate, cortisol, etc.

Feeling the feelings, validating them, and understanding that our thoughts are irrational in an emotional state yields understanding.

I can then move past the emotional response and begin to give my speech feeling excited rather than anxious.

Link to original