Why is understanding and managing emotions more crucial than ever?
Because managing our emotions in a balanced way is not just about making us feel better. It is about making us stronger and more resilient against health threats, since chronic negative emotions such as stress, anxiety and anger deplete our energy and immune system when we need it the most.
As a mental health therapist, I have seen the rise of anxiety, overwhelmed, and depression in recent times in all kinds of people, particularly in young people. Sadly with the arrival of the pandemic last year, 2020, this has only increased. We have collectively been suffering from a wide range of negative emotions going from slight worry to overwhelm, anxiety and sometimes complete panic. The list can be long and varied, boredom, frustration, anger, sadness, grief, etc. However, we must not forget, the even in hard times, we can also experience many positive emotions varying from mild contentment to absolute joy.
I am sure that most of us would prefer to feel the more positive ones and do away with the others, but could prove disastrous. All emotions, good and bad, are there for a reason, and they all are necessary for our survival because they are our navigating system, they guide our actions as we negotiate the world. In reality, all emotions can be simplified to two basic ones, comfortable and uncomfortable. That is the beginning of our emotional experience as babies, comfortable and content or uncomfortable and unhappy. Later we develop a more defined range of basic emotions, joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation.
But what are emotions?
We can define them as “spontaneous and temporary state of being, in mind and body”. They are not found in a specific area of our brain. An emotion is the combination of thoughts and bodily sensations we get according to what is happening to us or around us. They arise from our inner thoughts and beliefs or from being in contact with others. We are emotionally affected by the mood of others. We all have experienced walking into a room and picking up the good, or the bad, vibe of the people in it.
The good news is that all emotions, good or bad, are transient. They come into our consciousness, deliver their message, and possibly nudge us into a particular action, and then they go and let another emotion in. However, what there is an interesting effect that keeps emotions in place longer than ideal. A network in the brain creates this retention effect. It is called the Reticular Activating System. Let’s say than when one emotion is centre stage, it likes to stay there for as long as possible. The Reticular Activating System will act as a sort of filter, or a bouncer, that will reject or deny access to our consciousness to any thought or information that does not fit in with the current emotion. So, if we feel angry, rather than let the anger pass, our mind will find more reasons to be angry, sad, or whatever the emotion is. When people are highly emotional, this Reticular Activating System makes it very challenging to make them accept logical reasons to calm down. And this is especially true for people who suffer from anxiety, once the reason that made them anxious is no longer there, they will find another reason to feel anxious and then another one. It is not their choice. It is how their system works until they learn how to be in control of it. And that is the excellent news, emotional balance and control are possible and much easier than many people anticipate. It is not a question of ignoring or suppressing unpleasant emotions; it is a question of changing some the ways we think about the world and ourselves, the beliefs that make us react in a particular way. Some of the beliefs and ideas that we have we acquired as children. Most of the time, we do not even know those beliefs are there. Nonetheless, they control our behaviour and emotions.
Hypnotherapy, either by itself or with other forms of talking and movement therapy, is an effective method to update the subconscious, discard the outdated beliefs and get back in control.