How Your Mental Coloring Causes Stress and Anxiety [Illustrated]

Do you think that those (tragic) events of the past fully define and determine how you feel today?

Do you often lose hope thinking that your current emotional and mental state is an inevitable result of your past?

If so, then I have some great news for you.

Life events are kinda… over-rated!

You may feel some resistance to continue reading. I promise that this is an inspiring post. 😉

Our society, education, family and health system are so preoccupied with removing stressful situations, sometimes at the cost of intoxicating us with heavy doses of medication and limiting our natural expressions, while at all this time, overlooking the essential source that causes stress and much misery  – our mind.

External life events and our internal capacity do not determine our emotional and mental well-being. It is, in fact, our personal interpretations, narratives, and the meanings we attach to these events that predominantly shape the way we experience life.

I’m not saying that the event that triggered the traumatic or painful experience you have gone through, or are dealing with right now, is not important. It is challenging to go through rejection, humiliation, failure, or loss. By all means, take all necessary action to take yourself out of a stressful situation that is causing you needless  pain. My invitation and encouragement is that besides taking care of what happens in your external world, you need to put more attention to what is happening in your internal world.

Your ability to influence the external circumstances of your life is limited; but not your capacity to change the way you interpret things, and the attitude you choose to cultivate. Your internal world is your kingdom. The more you exercise this internal muscle, the easier it gets.

We have the freedom and the power to change our current emotional and mental state, with our choices of behaviour and thoughts, regardless of what has happened or is happening to us.

Never be defined by your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence. ― Anonymous

Same Input, Differing Outcome

As illustrated above, assuming identical internal capacity and identical life challenges, some people get filled to their maximum capacity and feel overwhelmed, while others have room to handle many more challenges to come, and even give a hand to others. Some people will break with pressure – others will eat it like an energy bar.

Some seem to know the alchemy to transform severe painful experiences into a passion, hatred into compassion and conflicts into harmony. These people take advantage of their disadvantages and actually make use of their traumas constructively. Behind a beautiful song usually lies a sad story. The life of many famous leaders is a testimony of such possibility, such as Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey and Nick Vujicic. Some call this resilience, I call it mastering the “mental coloring”.

What happened to you is not as important as what happened in you. ― Giovanni Dienstmann

Mental Coloring Process Causes Stress

Let us have a closer look at this internal alchemy that has the power to transform life events and their effects on us.

A life event that has already happened is an unchanging fact, a given, an input. What we experience, however, is not the same bare input. As illustrated above, every single event gets additionally colored by our mind and only then gets stored as a memory, an output.

When we talk about our experiences, what we are actually referring to are our mental coloring of an event (what happened). That is, we don’t relate to what happened as a raw experience, but rather an event coated by our personal interpretations. The interpretations are the stories we tell about ourselves, our situation and our life. These largely influence our emotional well-being or lack of it.

Often the stories add needless layers, additional emotion and noise that pollute the event and the present moment. That is why the process of healing involves reprocessing these psychological materials. This allows us to look, with more objectivity and a fresh perspective, on what we created out of what happened. There is, thus, an opportunity to develop a more wholesome narrative.

The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but your thoughts about it. ― Eckhart Tolle

At times, when we look within, to remember what has happened, we cannot see or remember the bare event anymore – the coloring process has created such a thick layer around the event that it literally blinds us. At this point, no one can convince you that what you are thinking is pure imagination, that the story you are telling is not what actually happened… Your point of reference says something else.

=> I further illustrated this point with How The Storytelling Mind Can Cause Stress [Parable]

If you do not monitor the stories you plant in your head, you will get lost amongst the weeds of your thoughts. ― Sepi Tajima

Examine What Causes Stress

examine what causes stress

Life events can create lots of physical pain, but they do not carry suffering in them inherently. Suffering is in the mind. Negative experiences do not need to create life-long phobia, self-doubt, low confidence, depression, stress and anxiety. It is our personal repeated negative interpretations of these events that create stress and its symptoms.

I know this may be a ground-shifting thing to say, and a lot to digest. Give it some thought, and time to really see the implications of this. Carefully observe how your mind works day to day, and tell me if it’s not the case. Your narratives are your life stories. One key skill for living better is to learn how to tell better stories to yourself about yourself.

Once you acknowledge and become more mindful of the workings of your mental coloring, its patterns, and repeated stories, you can actually uproot the causes stress, anxiety, panic attacks and depression. A skilled counselor or coach can support you to understand and break through these negative patterns, allowing you to live a more satisfying life. Practicing meditation and mindfulness can be powerful tools to improve your filtering ability and emptying your cup. I will gradually post other tools and techniques to better equip you for your journey.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength. ― Marcus Aurelius

Guiding Questions

#1  What is the story I am telling about myself or my life situation?

#2  Is the story empowering or is it disempowering?

#3  Am I sure that the story I am telling is 100% true?

#4  How can I tell a more empowering story?


=> You can download the free PDF for easy reference at your own convenience.

=> This is the 2nd post of a series. It is an invitation to look at your life and well-being from a refreshed perspective. My commitment is to be with you on your journey, in your struggles, in your pain and sorrow. My goal is to clarify complex topics and make them more digestible. So stay tuned.

=> Previous post: How to Better Understand Your Stress Levels

=> Next post: The Power of  Belief and How It Can Cause Stress

Final Words

Please help raise awareness by sharing, so more can benefit.

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Finally, I’d love to hear from you in the comment section. What was the biggest takeaway you got from this article?

Spend a moment thinking about that and sharing with us. This will help others visiting this page, and it will help you to remember what you learned! 😉