Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Emotions: Helpers or Control-Freaks?

Recently my husband and I received some “great” news. In fact, it was so “great” it had a rock plummeting to the bottom of my stomach, and made me wonder if I needed to make a run to the bathroom. The news was so “lovely” the only thing we could do in those first few minutes was fixate on how we were being meddled, okay screwed, over by someone who has attacked something dear to us _____ (you may fill in the blank here). After the initial onslaught of emotions—I woke up. I could either let the emotions ruling my body control the rest of the perfectly lovely (not “lovely”) evening with my family, or I could choose to see the emotions for what they were…an indicator that something may be amiss with the way I see my world, and then I could decide how I’d like to re-direct my emotions so it wouldn’t ruin the rest of my evening. Oh, so you caught me out! The news wasn’t “great,” it was downright debilitating those first few minutes, you could even say our neighbors Despair and Frustration knocked on our door at the exact same time followed by Mr. Angry…, but then I remembered something I knew before the news came in through our door. Would you like to know what that newsy advice was that helped me flip the switch back to ON so our rock-and-rolling evening could continue? I remembered our emotions don’t control our actions; emotions are merely helpers to give us added information about whether we need to stay, scream, flee, or laugh. Emotions let us know if we like what we’ve heard or seen, or if we don’t. If we are able to identify our emotions, then we can keep that current flood of emotions ON and stay in that present emotion and situation, or we can flip that switch to OFF and CHOOSE to switch ON another emotion (one that makes us feel good) to help influence our following actions. The “great” news we had could have easily devolved our evening into one of anger (remember if you’re angry, then there is ALWAYS a secondary or underlying fear-based emotion involved as well) and frustration. Some may also know this as going down Victim Avenue. Sure we let the emotions roll through us, but we decided not to contain them or let them fester. In fact, we did spend a little time dwelling with the initial reaction, but then I chose to feel good rather than to feel bad. Now if you are wondering where my husband’s emotions were in all this—yes he was upset initially, but for men when someone knocks on the door with a problem, Emergency Man comes out of hiding, he gets a flood of testosterone (stress reducer in men)—and he is there ready to solve the problem. In women, when we are stressed our emotion centers of the brain light up like a Christmas tree. Not so for men. It’s just how we’re wired differently, and how our hormones react differently between the sexes. For women when under stress, because the emotion center of our brain is on fire, we tend to have to talk about the situation and ruminate about what we are feeling so that our stress reliever (oxytocin) may be released to calm us down. (If you’re more interested about balancing stress read Dr. John Gray’s Venus on Fire Mars on Ice; which talks all about how to balance hormones for both sexes.) The news we are dealing with, yes, it’s a threat to what we deem our safety and security, but it did not call for immediate action last night. It has called for some action today—and we’re still going through the motions, and figuring it all out…but let’s go back to last night. REWIND: I still had to clean up dinner, get the kiddo ready for bed, and spend some relaxation time with my hubby (DO YOU SEE THIS? WHATEVER THE NEWS---I STILL AM GONNA SPEND THAT DOWN TIME WITH MY HUBBY CUDDLING…etc. You know why? I need it to stay sane. And nothing, NOTHING, is going to come between me and my time with my hubby. Our relationship is more important than any other factors happening in our lives. Okay, then!)---so I decided to choose NOT to let the current emotions from the “great” news affect the rest of our evening, because given the news, it was not going to be solved tonight, nor the next day; in fact, it will be ever present in our lives for a few days, okay—a few months—to come. So, I chose not to let the emotions rule our roost. Instead, I turned me on some Zumba tunes, and I cleaned up from dinner, packed lunches, and danced away. This enabled me to re-center myself, go back to my hubby and say, “hey, I know we can’t solve this tonight, we’ll get through this, but let’s turn the tables. Let’s choose to make the ‘great’ news into a positive—something we can work with and grow from and that will make us stronger.” (Note—the definition of resiliency…) And, off we danced. Down went our son for the night. And, ahhh, the neighbors went home—and we had time all to ourselves. Sure we did some what-ifs and problem-solving, but it was more logical, clear-headed and easy to shelve so we could take some us time too before we hit the sack! And guess what? I chose right! How about you?

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The Basic Ways We Change

There are three ways in which we can actively monitor ourselves so that we may change how we interact with our surroundings:

(1) Thoughts (cognitions)
(2) Feelings (emotions)
(3) Actions (behaviors)

When you are in traditional counseling sessions--the counselor uses a variety of theories that typically focus on one of these areas to help you make changes in your life. In the best case scenario the theory that the counselor is using is based on their training background/when they received their masters degree, as well as what the current trend is based upon research on the effectiveness of the theories in actual practice. However, we won't delve too deeply into theories and understanding methodology, because this site is educational and for you to understand more of how you work.

The activities that are posted and linked on this blog are to help give you immediate tools to begin actively reorganizing how you interact with your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

People that are aware that they can use their feelings and thoughts to influence their actions are able to control what happens to them. Novel idea? This is because they recognize that they can influence their outcomes based on identifying the emotions they are feeling, then choosing what thoughts they would like to focus on, and then putting it in to action.

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