Two ways to handle life’s less favourable emotions…
This just might be the best bit of life advice we could ever share: trying to repress a feeling or emotion does not work. Though you can certainly take measures to move past the feeling, acceptance of the initial feeling is key. Here’s how it works: you feel anxious, you panic about the impending anxiety, you try your best to run away from it and what happens? It’s not going anywhere, in fact, it just might get worse. Here’s another: you feel angry, you’re bubbling over inside and you’re telling yourself not to feel angry. Yep, you still feel enraged.
We’ve been reading about two excellent techniques that serve to keep you feeling cool under pressure, via Time. Reassuringly, these techniques are backed by science. Time shed light on these coping mechanisms from a book we’re dying to get our hands on, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long.
In the book, researchers note that people ‘who tried to suppress a negative emotional experience failed to do so. While they thought they looked fine outwardly, inwardly their limbic system was just as aroused as without suppression, and in some cases, even more aroused.’ Kevin Ochsner, at Columbia, repeated these findings using an fMRI. Trying not to feel something doesn’t work, and in some cases even backfires.’
What you can do, however, is this:
To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion. Open up a dialogue about an emotion, though, and you tend to increase it.
In one of Ochsner’s reappraisal experiments, participants are shown a photo of people crying outside a church, which naturally makes participants feel sad. They are then asked to imagine the scene is a wedding, that people are crying tears of joy. At the moment, that participants change their appraisal of the event, their emotional response changes, and Ochsner is there to capture what is going on in their brain using an fMRI. As Ochsner explains, “Our emotional responses ultimately flow out of our appraisals of the world, and if we can shift those appraisals, we shift our emotional responses.”
In short, being optimistic is more than an outlook on life, it can have a very tangible effect on your body: “Optimists may be people who have embedded an automatic positive reappraisal to life’s knocks. Optimists dampen their over-arousal before it kicks in, always looking at the bright side before a nagging doubt takes over.”