Are You Emotional?

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Emotions are a natural process and allow us to experience life, fall in love, and stay safe. They animate us and form our personalities. They provide us feedback about our inner and outer worlds, guide us and help form relationships.

They serve a purpose.

Sometimes a powerful emotion commands your attention like anger, love or grief. Other times, it’s more subtle. Regardless of the intensity, you’ll feel its presence in your body. Can you imagine life without emotions? The thought is frightening!

As a human, you can’t stop your emotions. You can’t control your emotions because they happen automatically. What you can control is how you choose to respond to them.

What is an emotion?

Emotions are messengers from your body to your brain. They start as biochemical and neurophysiological signals before you give them meaning.

They are part of a feedback loop. Your body-mind perceives changes in your physiology triggered by a stimulus. This could be something you saw, thought, or felt. The response may include a variety of symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms or a change in the rate or depth of your breathing.

As you register these physiological changes and put things into context, your brain labels this emotion, making it a feeling: “I feel angry, excited or scared”.

How long these feelings stick around and how you choose to express them will vary. Sometimes your feelings make their presence known and move on. Other times, they press to the surface and stay there, demanding to be noticed.


We all have the potential to magnify our problems and imagine the worse possible outcome, creating a flood of associated stress-related chemicals in our bodies.

Your brain is great at searching for threats. If they aren’t there, your brain will search for things to worry about.

“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Mark Twain

The best trick to stop overthinking is to stop overthinking.

Being mindful is catching yourself in this self-defeating process. You may think “I hate when he does that!” and instead of creating a narrative around why your boyfriend intentionally pushes your buttons, being mindful is noticing this feeling as a feeling, and giving it space. Breathe into it. Let it play out and then let it pass.

I know I make it sound way easier than it is, but it’s possible. The trick is to interject yourself in this automatic feedback loop. Be more conscious of your reactions and more mindful of your thoughts. Forgive yourself when you slip and just keep trying.

Triggers and Reactions

Triggers and reactions result from our experiences, beliefs, and the lens through which we see the world. Two people could be in the same scenario — a careless clerk, for example, who breaks your eggs at the checkout line. How you respond has everything to do with you and little to do with the clerk. Was he careless? Could there be a different “story”. Maybe he just received devastating news and is doing everything he can to get through the day….

You can imagine lots more scenarios. Even if the clerk was unintentionally being careless, how you respond is a choice. To make it a choice instead of a reaction, start noticing your feelings as they happen. Recognize how you feel as a feeling and not necessarily true. Then, decide how you want to be in that moment.

Think before you Act

This is a misnomer. It should be “decide before you act”. Decide how much meaning to give your thoughts. Your thoughts become your feelings and your feelings influence your behavior. 

In order to uncover the thought patterns, beliefs, and subconscious coping mechanisms you’ve adopted, it helps to practice being more conscious of your everyday thoughts and actions.

Your thoughts can make or break your happiness. If you find you aren’t happy, or bad things always happen to you, consider observing the way you view the world, and more importantly, how you act.

In order to reprogram the habits, patterns and way you are (often through no fault of your own!), find time in your life to be still enough to notice your stream of thoughts. Mindfulness practices and meditation have enormous mental and physical health benefits. Even if you take just 10 minutes a day, you will, in time, become more mindful of your day-to-day thinking patterns.

There are lots of apps now to help you get started, such as Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer to name a few. These apps have options for quick exercises and practices to get out of your head.

Your emotions can be powerful messengers.  Understanding how they influence physiology, feelings, and behavior may be helpful at times to switch gears and alter your trajectory.  If you feel emotional, and it’s not how you want to be, notice your physical state and stream of thoughts.   With practice, you’ll get better at riding the emotional waves instead of reacting to them. 

With practice, you can become less emotional.  

References

  1. Frontiers in Psychology Amygdala Response to Emotional Stimuli without Awareness: Facts and Interpretations by Matteo Diano, Alessia Celeghin, Arianna Bagnis, and Marco Tamietto.
  2. Annual Review of Psychology Emotion Theory and Research: Highlights, Unanswered Questions and Emerging Issues by Carool E. Izard
  3. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience The Neurobiology of Emotion — Cognition interactions: fundamental questions and strategies for future research by Hadas Okon-Singer, Talma Hendler, Luiz Pessoa and Alexander J. Shackman
  4. Integrative Medicine The Gut-Brain Axis: Influence of Microbiota on Mood and Mental Health by Jeremy Appleton

Photo credit: Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels

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