When I was younger if I had to lump certain emotions into one of two categories 'good' or 'bad', likely feelings of joy, happiness, confidence would go into the 'good' side and feelings of anger, fear, hate et cetera would go into the 'bad' side. As I got older it became less clear to me which emotions resided in which area and context became important. Feelings of fear might make one feel uneasy or bring on stress, but would steer me clear from danger in critical situations. Anger would not allow me to resolve issues with loved ones but might gain me an edge in competitive sports when needing an extra performance boost. Experiencing stress, while at times lowers energy levels and reduces confidence, naturally points you to the areas of your life needing the most attention. How we engage our emotions, depending on context, and how we respond and react to our feelings plays a major role in gaining emotional maturity and fostering a higher emotional intelligence. Kelly McGonial in her Ted Talk how to make stress your friend, shares a critical mindset shift to understanding and experiencing stress, that is: only when we deem our stress responses as negative and harmful do we in fact manifest the undesirable outcomes usually associated with stress (lowered energy levels, headaches, anxiety et cetera) Key Mindset: Accept, seek to understand and embrace all your emotions. Treat your experiences of emotion with compassion and wisdom Feelings of sadness and loss can remind us how much we are loved and did love another. Feelings of uncertainty and fear can help us make necessary changes in our lives. Positive anger can serve as a tool for motivation and renewed energy when times get tough. Key Mindset: Challenges, difficulty, failure, pain, setbacks, stress are all expected and naturally occurring entities when striving for great things and wanting more out of life Of course, understanding the role of emotion when you feeling calm is much easier than maintaining your emotional centre during challenging times or during periods requiring greater levels of effort and energy. As such its important to train our mind to alleviate the 'build-up' of stress and anxiety, so that we can raise our threshold of what we can withstand and increase our mental endurance for times requiring longer periods of concentration and focus. Let's first look at what is happening to our body when angry, or experiencing stress. Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence¹, highlights work done by psychologist Dolf Zillmann, who revealed a universal trigger of anger was the feeling of endangerment. When under threat, the brain releases two limbic surges, the one is the immediate and familiar 'fight-flight(-freeze)' response (catecholemines), the other is a longer lasting state of arousal (the adrenocortical branch) which we perceive as feelings of anger, being 'on edge', nerves, stress, tenseness which keeps our body ready for future, ongoing threats. Unfortunately, longer periods of anger, frustration and stress can lower our thresholds and when our body is kept under a constant state of threat - the 'build-up' being the successive surges in the adrenocortical branch piling up one after the other, are exacerbated by subsequent triggers and/or accumulated emotion. This explains the phenomenon of many men having a 'short fuse' and quick to temper. It also means that feelings of stress will perpetuate when the triggers remain (usually poor work conditions and negative, toxic people). Steps to reducing and eliminating anxiety, fear and stress 1. Identify triggers. 2. If possible, avoid harmful environments and remove toxic people from your life. 3. Gain understanding and mitigate any undesirable, impulsive responses. This means maintaining your emotional centre during times of conflict and stress. 4. Increase self-awareness through meditation. Meditation allows you to intercept and accept moderate levels of emotional duress and gives yourself a chance to respond to it adequately before things get 'out of control'. Your thresholds will be much higher and your tolerance and ability to handle severe challenges will improve. 5. Allow for setbacks and the possibility of mistakes in yourself and others. These emotional intelligence skills take time to master. Daily practice is key. *** ¹ Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 1996, 1998 paperback 2004.
Posted in Meditation and Mindfulness.