Emotions run through our minds, hearts and lives like rivers. Some come in like trickles, and other rage and crash their way through – tearing down our relationships and inflicting themselves on the ones we love.
Most people, unfortunately, allow themselves to be driven by their emotions. Their sadness, their happiness, however they’re feeling rule their lives like tyrants without mercy.
The good news is that through emotional maturity you can regain your footing against the emotional onslaught and take control of your actions and responses before they compel you to cause harm or withdrawal. Emotions will never stop coming. They will never stop being a part of your life, nor should they be.
Here are some tools to use to help you recognize your impending emotions before they explode, and will allow you to regain your emotional and mental footing before your emotions wash you away into their uncontrollable currents.
THE MIND BODY CONNECTION – HOW THOUGHTS, FEELINGS AND EMOTIONS CAN OFTEN BE AS MUCH A PRODUCT OF THE BODY AS OF THE MIND
Emotions aren’t some intangible ethos that rides in off the winds. Emotions are often completely predictable, and are as much a factor of your physical body as they are of your mental state, and surrounding circumstances.
You’ve heard of the term “hangry”? Anger brought on by hunger is a very real thing.
When you’re body hurts, are you in a very kind and loving mood? Not often.
When you’re in the throes of an adrenaline rush, do you feel very soft and nurturing? Of course not.
These are all body-led emotional states, and just the tip of the ice berg.
So many of us write emotions off as incomprehensible states of our mental health when the truth is that they’re completely a result of your physiology as much as your psychology. In fact, it’s been suggested by doctors who study the microbiome that a large percentage our “happy” hormones are created in our digestive systems and poor digestive health and a suppressed microbiome are responsible for a large number of diagnoses of chronic depression. Knowing that, and knowing when and how your emotions roar because of primarily physical complaints is a huge step to addressing them before they get out of control.
THE BODY OFTEN DETECTS OUR THOUGHTS ALMOST BEFORE WE’VE CONSCIOUSLY REGISTERED THEM
The body can detect our thoughts almost before we’ve consciously registered them, and will react to them in very concrete and real way even if we don’t understand why.
Have you met someone and instantly felt nervous about them? Scared, or put off? Did you walk into a room and felt nervous without knowing why? Has your “gut” told you to avoid certain situations without a clear reason?
Our minds are master computers. Possibly the strongest computational force on the planet. We may not consciously understand the computations and resulting outputs from all of the values our minds are putting together, but our bodies do.
Those “gut feelings” are the hormonal and physical results of our thoughts that require zero conscious input from us.
Our bodies react to our subconscious thoughts as if they are solid and real, whether they ACCURATELY reflect the world or not.
If you’re starting to feel an emotional state, without any clear trigger or direction, take a strong moment to stop and consider your body. What are you feeling, and why? Where are you feeling it, and can you do something – like eat, or sleep – that would relieve your body and mind, before your emotional state turns into a tantrum state?
THE BODY DOES NOT JUST REACT TO WHAT THE MIND IS THINKING – IT ALSO FEEDS BACK EMOTIONAL INFORMATION INTO THE BRAIN
The body does not just react to what the mind is thinking – it also feeds back emotional information into the brain that can end up enhancing fears, worries and general overall angst and unhappiness. It’s a process that’s only just starting to be understood but is integral to emotional maturity. Understanding your physical cues to your emotional state is a level of awareness integral to peace-filled living. To be able to achieve this consciously is of huge benefit.
The mind-body-emotional connection is the key to finding centeredness, and emotional control. Your mind creates emotions, your body also creates emotions, and if you don’t intervene and acknowledge what’s happening those two mechanisms will work together to spiral your emotional state downward and out of your control.
If you don’t have a sensitivity and understanding of your body, and what’s happening in your body to influence or interpret your emotions, this turn table of emotional circuitry can quickly spiral out of your control. And you’ll have no idea why. It’s in these moments when emotions feel powerful and beyond our control like we’re riding their wave and just enduring until it ends. This is where fury, outbursts, sobbing tears and sorrow live.
Instead of riding the wave of emotion AFTER it’s gotten bigger than your control, learn to recognize the systems that create, and perpetuate your emotions so that you can short circuit them into manageable pieces.
THIS FEEDBACK LOOP IS A DANCE OF PHENOMENAL POWER AND COMPLEXITY THAT IS ONLY NOW BEGINNING TO BE UNDERSTOOD.
Most of us are barely aware of our bodies at all. It’s as if we’re flying blind through huge parts of our lives. We spend so much time “in our head” that we almost forget we have a body at all. Even people who value their fitness and health fall into the same trap of the “busy life.”
This state of overthinking can easily end up undermining your physical and mental wellbeing.
This tendency to ignore the body is often reinforced by the fact that most of us don’t particularly like our bodies very much. You might not be as tall or as thin or as attractive as you’d like. Or perhaps your body doesn’t work as well as it used to when you were younger. And ultimately everyone fears the day our bodies will fail us catastrophically and die.
This can mean you end up ignoring or mistreating your body. You might not treat it as an enemy, but you most likely don’t care for it as well as you should.
If there is one thing that everyone needs to learn in order to bring peace and “ease of being” into our lives in the midst of this frantic world, it is how to “come home” to your body.
TO BECOME FULLY INTEGRATED WITH YOUR BODY WILL HELP YOU MANAGE YOUR EMOTIONAL STATE
An ongoing and very important life goal should be to deepen your capacity to see the mind’s reactivity to your body and circumstances, by learning to pay mindful attention to the body and the emotional signals it’s sending you.
In your body you can feel the first stirrings of emotionally charged thoughts, even if they haven’t risen to the front of your mind yet. Instead of your body acting as an emotional amplifier, it can become a sensitive emotional radar; an early warning system that alerts you to unhappiness, anxiety and stress before these emotional states gain control.
Mindful attention to your body just means the ability for you to notice, and feel sensitively, the minute sensations in the various parts of your body, at will.
WHICH PARTS OF THE BODY ARE THE SOURCE OF THESE SIGNALS?
These signals can arise ANYWHERE in the body. In order to find out where in your body you first feel the sensations of the different emotions, and what their unique characteristics are, requires some practice. You need to create a literal roadmap of your body so that you can distinguish impending emotions. Why do this?
If you know that your body holds anxiety about work in your upper chest, and you’re going through your day and start to feel that particular tension, you can stop what you’re doing and assess and address your thoughts before they morph into an uncontrollable torrent of anxiety and unhappiness. If you start to notice that pesky little tightness that you know is created by tension about a work project creeping up, it’s easier to address the thought and release it before it blows up into full blown ANXIETY.
THE BODY SCAN EXERCISE – CREATING YOUR UNIQUE ROAD MAP TO THE MIND-BODY-EMOTION CONNECTION
The Body Scan Exercise requires you to bring to mind situations that you know cause you specific emotions, and then move your attention around the body, holding each region center-stage in non-judgmental awareness for a while, to assess where in your body that emotion manifests in a physical way.
Think about the last big relationship breakup that you had. This will cause love-related anxiety. Take a few quiet deep breaths and scan your body with your mind. Does your shoulder hurt, or your chest bone? Does your heart literally hurt, or does your stomach? Where do you feel tension or pain? Is it merely a tightness in a muscle, or a deep stabbing phantom knife in your side? The correct answer is unique to you, so don’t judge or worry about under-performance.
If you try it the first time, and feel nothing, find a quieter place and work on quieting your mind. Our world is a loud and dynamic place, and I’m asking you to perform a quiet and sensitive task. Your mind may be accustomed to needing a 10 on the Richter scale response before you notice it, while this exercise asks for a 3 or 4. Just work on turning back the dial on the noise in your mind and environment and try again. Often the responses we feel are hushed signals when we’re first starting. If you’re not in tune with your body, or your mind is unquiet, this exercise may take a few tries.
After you’ve discovered where and how you physically feel love-related anxiety, jot it down on a piece of paper. This is the first step to creating your emotional road map.
Have you lost a loved one to death? Bring their memory and loss to the front of your mind until you feel the pain of their loss again. Now focus clearly on where you’re feeling that pain or tension. This is grief and how it’s felt in your body. How does it feel? Where do you feel it? Is it a tightening? A sharp pain? A dull thudding?
Write down on your emotional roadmap where you feel these sensations and what they represent.
THE PURPOSE OF YOUR EMOTIONAL ROAD MAP AND WHY WE DO THIS EXERCISE
Understanding the interplay and close relationship between your mind and body is a tool that you can use to head off negative emotions before they overpower and consume you. If you recognize body-instigated emotions, like being hangry, before you explode in emotion and say harmful or destructive things to the ones you love, you’ve already begun your journey to emotional maturity.
In your busy life, if you come to understand the physical symptoms of your emotions, even before your mind acknowledges the emotions, you’re a step ahead of pausing what you’re doing and addressing and acknowledging you emotion so that you can experience and process it in a healthy way instead of being a slave to its will. This exercise takes away some of the mysteriousness, or happenstance of emotions and puts the reins firmly back in your control.
Emotional maturity is having an emotion, and NOT having to act on it. That’s a life goal we should all have. What it’s NOT is ignoring the emotions that we do have. That’s unhealthy. But dealing with emotions while they’re small and manageable is a gift to yourself and invaluable to your mental health and those fortunate enough to live around you.