We’re a mercurial lot really – our emotions colour every second of our waking and sleeping hours…. those first flutters of love, that surge of happiness when things are going your way, the welling up of tears when you hear a sad song, the prickle of fear as you narrowly avoid yet another collision while dropping your kids off on the way into work.
Thrill seekers look to extreme sports for their highs. Compulsive eaters load up on the doughnuts to seek safety from emotions they would rather not face. Smokers go through a gamut of emotions every time they light up – from irritation and grumpiness, to relief, to guilt.
Negative emotions have been demonstrated as an aid to our ancestors’ survival in life threatening situations, priming the body physically to deal with whatever threat is looming. When in this ‘fight or flight’ state, generated by emotions such as fear or anger, the heart starts beating faster and pumping blood to the muscles where it is needed most.
In our modern world we recognise this as stress and anxiety. And it is a commonly accepted fact these days that stress can lead to a greater risk of heart disease. “Recurrent emotion-related cardiovascular reactivity appears to injure inner arterial walls, initiate atherosclerosis, and impact vascular responsiveness”, (Kaplan, Manuck, Williams and Strawn, 1993). Big words, but basically, the more stressed you are, the more you’re damaging your heart.
But if you are leading a ‘stressful’ life, struggling with financial pressures, a strained marriage, demanding children, social anxieties, a shaky job/business situation, health issues, and the myriad problems that life has chosen to throw at you, then reducing the amount of stress seems a far-fetched and impossible feat.
But is it? Really?
You know that, short of getting rid of your partner/kids/business/job and living in splendid isolation on a desert island, turning your life around seems a pretty impossible thing to do. So let’s turn the problem onto its head and examine it from the emotional angle.
How many times have you said that your emotions are all over the place? How often do you wake up teary eyed and bad tempered and look at the day ahead with despair, feeling too ‘emotional’ to be able to cope? How many of you reading this today feel that your emotions are something that you have to deal with depending on what life has thrown at you.
Appropriate emotions at appropriate times are essential in helping us to process events properly. The ‘fight-flight’ response to imminent danger can save lives – without it we are vulnerable and at the mercy of that threat.But that reaction is extreme when the threat is not a case of life or death, but more a growing gnawing in the pit of your stomach when the end of the month arrives and you’ve no money to pay the bills!
Feeling grief over the death of a loved one is entirely appropriate. It gives you time and space to mourn that person, remember that person, miss that person, and process that person’s death as a factor of your own life.
However, feeling the same depth and intensity of grief two or three years later indicates that you have not properly dealt with that loss, and your continuing emotional reaction is doing more harm than good.
Physiologically remaining in the ‘fight-flight’ state even when there is no imminent danger puts tremendous pressure on the systems of the body. We become tunnel visioned in our lives, focusing on the ‘dangers’ of our daily stressful existences. We brood over our problems, we fret over them, until the problem itself grows out of all perspective.
If I were to say to you that you do and can have complete control over your emotions, and that you could dramatically improve your life and health by knowing this and implementing it immediately, can you feel a positive emotion – hope? realisation? – start to wash over you?
Think about the emotions you go through when watching reports of disasters on the news. I know that when tragedies such as the Connecticut School Massacre were reported I had to switch off – just the mere thought of such avoidable tragedies brings tears to my eyes. But therein lies my point. The THOUGHT of it made me emotional, so I made the CHOICE to switch off.
If you come home after a stressful day at work, and then get worked up by upsetting news, then have a little rant, which upsets your spouse and children, then you eat a bowl of ice cream to make yourself feel better, so feel immediately guilty, all the while fretting over work and projects and social pressures – all you’re doing is picking the scab off a barely dry wound and re-exposing it to the elements.
There are many techniques that you can be taught to stop this spiral of negative emotions, but I want to leave you with the most important thing of all. Once you have grasped this point, everything else follows on quite easily.
That emotion you are feeling is being created in the moment. It is not rising up out of some long buried trauma. It is not injected into you by the evil powers-that-be who rule your life. It is the direct result of the way in which you are reacting to a certain situation. The good news for you is that you can choose to react in a different way by changing your perception of your reality.
Consider how you currently think about your partner/kids/business/job/life – has this way of thinking become habitual? Is it fed by the social media you follow? Does it feed into a belief system that is currently holding you back? Sometimes you can get so used to thinking in a certain way that you don’t realise you are doing it – it becomes a subconscious part of your cognition, deepening a neural groove that becomes intrinsic to what you perceive is your very nature.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Stepping back and gaining a critically wider perspective can give you a crucial inroad into beginning to better understand those emotions, setting you off on the journey to true mastery.