Now that bitchass men are getting bold enough to plow over innocent civilians with trucks, it’s hard not to feel afraid in very strange times like these. I know after watching the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile I couldn’t stop crying — I cried all night, on the bus the next morning, at my desk at work and into my lunch the next day. Not only because their deaths had touched every race-related sadness I had ever known, but I could not stop picturing the moment when my spirit would have to jump out of my body and choke the shit out of the officer who might do the same to my sister. Or to my cousins, my uncles, my friends or even my own mother.  

The thoughts were so automatic — I put myself in the shoes of the victims and flipped the story a hundred different ways until it clicked as a reality. This is what empathy is. We all do it and understanding each other this way usually helps us to connect to one another better. However, when empathizing with a tragedy, in particular, it can be hard to know what to do with all the emotions that stir up inside of you. Especially when differentiating between what’s real and what your mind is making up. But I’m here for all that, and I’ve got three things to keep your mind cool and emotions in balance. Check it out.

Understanding Automatic Thoughts
Automatic thoughts are the first thing that come to mind whenever we experience something. Like when someone walks into a bar, and you automatically think "Damn, I’d hit it." Or when the waiter hands you the chicken burrito and your brain cues Rihanna to sing Wheeeere have youuuuu beeeeeen, all my lii-ee-iiiifee?

Yeah, that is what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) calls automatic thoughts. They are our reactions to stimuli that dictate what emotions and behaviors we’ll experience next. But thoughts are just thoughts — not all of them are real. And in the case of when I was mourning the future deaths of my family members due to an injustice that did not happen to them, this is where an automatic thought becomes a negative automatic thought —  and we have to be careful when we do that.

Looking At The Spread
Peep the chart below: it’s an automatic thought record of a woman who is freaking the eff out about her husband not calling her.

As you can see, she breaks down the situation and the automatic thoughts she’s thinking. Then she goes a step further and assigns an emotion to how each of those thoughts are making her feel.

Now, let’s apply this to a fear that's bugging you out. Say the recent events of the latest ISIS buffoonery has your mind completely turned out. As you can see from the chart, each section can help you understand the totality of all the things you are automatically thinking and feeling right now — about this one situation alone.

The point of the exercise, if you are completely honest with yourself, is that you will see that you are thinking things that you might not actually like or agree with. And that there are emotions at play that, if you did make a decision based off of them, you could regret later (see where I'm going with this?)

Choosing New Thoughts
When we look at another chart more similar to the concept above, we can see what happens when we follow the thought chart all the way through with some logical thinking. (Yes the copy is tiny, but work through it, ya’ll. It’s worth it.)

Here we see a person, who is very worried about walking home for some pretty good reasons. However, instead of allowing their automatic thoughts define her reality, he/she took a moment to examine each thought and determine how reasonable they really are. And peep the percentage change of their emotions: see how they find more balanced when a conscious thought replaces all the automatic ones? While charts like these aren’t designed to make you feel “all better”, they will definitely help you find some balance during intense, emotional times.

Pulling It All Together
In troubled times likes these, we are going to be experiencing some very intense emotions as a collective human race. We will see more cowardly acts like those in BangladeshDallas and Nice. It will make us want to automatically protect ourselves and draw away from those who can do us harm. But as your spirit searches within itself to make those decisions, it’s important that we do so as consciously and rationally as possible. To not make decisions Brexit style, because an automatic feeling drove the logic of our decisions.

The moment I stopped picturing my sister being slain, and started picturing myself calling my senators-- I really began to feel better. And feeling better led to me googling how to email the President of the United States himself — and then I actually did it. They were choices more aligned with my moral compass. Where I believe in using my empathy and passions to make a situation turn into something better. As we slip into this new chapter in human history, we would be doing our minds and spirit a huge favor to keep an eye on what’s automatically going on inside of us.

After all, we now know that not all your thoughts are real — but your choices definitely are.

Here’s a link that will help you learn more about CBT therapy and another one to download a blank thought record of your own.

Breonna Rodriguez is a Designer, Writer & Badass Chica based out of NYC.

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image post credit Nadine Ijewere