This week, “The Science of Stress: Becoming a Resilient Person” course takes me to the purpose of emotions and the difference between positive and negative emotions. Why is it important to manage intense -ve emotions and promote +ve emotions? Becoming resilient means gaining mastery of our emotions, so they don’t get the best of us but also getting the most out of life by spending more time in a happy fulfilled state.
As our big toes are for balance and our tongues are for tasting, emotion is a subjective experience that combines our bodily reactions (our heart rate, slow/fast breathing) and our cognitive reactions (such as pleasure or pain, thoughts or images). Even though emotions get a bad rap, they are essential as they energize and motivate us to perform. There’s a reason why we experience anger – it helps us to defend ourselves. Stress about finances can lead one to be anxious, which helps to narrow one’s focus and solve the issue at hand. So negative emotion narrows our attention and our behavior, positive emotion broadens our attention and behavior – such as joy leading to greater play or even a party. There is value to both emotions.
Emotions have a lot of range to them, from normal to impairing. Anxiety is a normal fear response, whereas a panic attack is when anxiety becomes too intense. When emotions get really intense we actually lose our ability to engage in rational, logical thinking and can do really regrettable things. A person’s inability to control or regulate their emotional responses to certain situations is known as the amygdala hijack, because the amygdala is where emotions are regulated. So part of becoming an emotionally resilient person is developing regulatory skills to manage intense negative emotions in response to situations that have previously gotten the better of you. According to Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, if one doesn’t have self-awareness and is not able to manage distressing emotions, then no matter how smart, this shortcoming will pose a significant obstacle in life. Scientific research shows that an individual’s ability to manage their distressing emotions and intentionally incorporate practices that cultivate positive emotions, is intimately related to their well being and overall life-satisfaction.
The goal is not to prevent emotions from happening, but to manage them and increase our awareness of triggers that provoke negative emotions. Daniel Siegel suggests the method “Name the Negative Emotion to Tame It”. Identify and label it, such as, “Right now I’m experiencing anger.” or whatever emotion fits the situation, and remind yourself, I am not the emotion I’m experiencing. The simple thought of “This too shall pass.” is often useful. We want to trigger that parasympathetic response that turns off our fight or flight response and we do this by slowing our breathing. Cultivating positive emotions, not just managing negative ones, is an essential ingredient to resilience. Barbara Fredrickson’s study shows that positive emotions broaden our inventory of thoughts and actions, and contribute to more positive emotions, greater happiness and well-being.
Two atoms are walking down the street. The first one stops and says “I think I just lost an electron!” The second one replies “Are you sure?”