Mental Health

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

“The mind in its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.”
 
— JOHN MILTON

Emotions are among the trickiest things to deal with.

They affect every aspect of our lives and largely determine its quality.

Without understanding how emotions work, we will struggle with living our ideal life and fulfilling our potential.

In this article, you will learn how emotions work and, more importantly, you will be better equipped to deal with them.

Ready? Let’s get started!

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

Why Is It Important To Talk About Emotions?

Emotions act as a filter that taints the quality of your experiences.

When you’re feeling good, everything seems to feel better; your thoughts are positive, your energy levels are high, etc.

On the other hand, when you feel depressed, everything seems dull, even though the world outside may remain the same.

Moreover, your emotions act like magnets.

They attract thoughts on the same ‘frequency’, which is why, when you’re in a negative state, you begin thinking negative thoughts that end up making your feel even worse, unless you replace these thoughts with more positive ones.

In other words, by dwelling on your negative thoughts, you’re creating a lot of unnecessary pain in your life.

How your survival mechanism affects your emotions?

A Bias Towards Negativity

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

Your brain is designed for survival.

Even though you’re not facing death every day like our ancestors, your survival mechanism hasn’t changed much since then.

Your brain is constantly scanning looking for potential threats, which is resulting in giving significantly more weight to negative events than to positive ones.

Being rejected from your tribe used to reduce your chances of survival. As a result, your brain is became hardwired to look for any sign of rejection.

Although being rejected today carries little to no harm to your survival, your brain is still programmed to perceive rejection as a threat to your survival.

This is why rejection is so painful. If you listen to your mind, you may even start over-dramatizing and believing that you aren’t worthy of love and become depressed as a result of this rejection.

For instance, if your boss criticizes your work, you might find yourself thinking, “What if I’m fired? What if I can’t find a job quickly enough? What if my wife left me? What about my kids? What if I can’t see them again?”

Without separating real threats from imaginary ones, you’ll end up experiencing unnecessary pain.

How Dopamine Can Mess With Your Happiness?

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in rewarding certain behaviors, like exercising, having sex, or eating great food.

The role of this rewarding feeling is mainly to ensure your survival by looking for food so you don’t die of starvation and searching for a mate so you can reproduce.

Today, this reward system can be, in many cases, obsolete and can be addictive.

Activities, such as using social media, watching pornography, playing video games, or gambling lead to release dopamine, which can make these activities highly addictive.

In 2005, Korean, Lee SeungSeop died after playing a video game for fifty-eight hours straight with very little food or water, and no sleep. The cause of death was heart failure induced by exhaustion and dehydration. He was only twenty-eight years old.

Moreover, this version of happiness can actually make us unhappy. The shots of dopamine we receive throughout the day shouldn’t be mistaken for happiness.

The good news is that we still can choose not to act each time our brain releases dopamine.

To better control your emotions, it is important to identify your addictions as they can rob you of your happiness.

The ‘One Day I Will Become Happy’ Myth

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

Most people believe that once they’ll achieve their dreams, they’ll finally become happy.

This is just another trick your mind plays on you.

We quickly adapt to new situations. For instance, buying a new car can make you happy but only for a while. Once the initial excitement wears off, you’ll move on to the next goal.

This phenomenon is known as ‘hedonic adaptation.’

How Hedonic Adaptation Works?

In 1978, a study investigating how winning the lottery or becoming a paraplegic influence happiness found that one year after the event, both groups were just as happy as they were beforehand.

This shows that no matter what happens to you, once you’ve adapted to the new event, you’ll revert back to your initial level of happiness.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t be happier than you are right now. It just means that external events, in the long run, have very little impact on your happiness.

In fact, according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, 50% of our happiness is determined by genetics, 40% by internal factors, and only 10% percent by external factors, such as being single or married, working or jobless, etc.

The bottom line is: It’s your attitude towards life that influences your happiness, and not what happens around you.

How your ego affects your emotions?

What Is The Ego?

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

The ego refers to the self-identity you create throughout your life through your thoughts.

Your ego, or your story, or your identity, is a mind-created identity that has no concrete reality.

Events that happen to you have no meaning in themselves. It’s your interpretation of these events that give them meaning.

You also identify with your name, your age, your religious beliefs, or your occupation in a similar way.

This mind-created identity creates beliefs, which leads you to experience certain emotions. For example, if someone criticized your religion, you feel offended.

Are You Aware Of Your Ego?

People with high self-conscious can see through their ego.

They recognize how excessive attachment to a set of beliefs can create suffering and make them enslaved by their ego.

In other words, ego and awareness cannot coexist.

Your Ego’s Need For An Identity

Your ego is not concerned about your happiness or peace of mind. Your ego is restless. It wants you to do and have great things so you can become a ‘somebody.’

Your ego needs an identity to exist, and that identity is created through identification with things, people, or beliefs.

The ego equates ‘having’ with ‘being,’ which is why the ego likes to identify with objects.

The following is a list of some of the things your ego identifies with:

1. Physical items

Ego thrives in today’s economy. People don’t just buy a product, they also buy the emotions attached to the product.

For instance, if you want to enhance your status, you may do that through buying products (house, car, clothes, vacation, etc) that will reflect your new status.

While buying new things isn’t wrong per se, believing that these things can fulfill you— which they can’t, is wrong.

2. Your body

You body can be the easiest thing to recognize and identify with. This is why most people derive their self-worth from their physical appearance.

However, you can still observe your body without ‘identifying with’ it.

3. Other people

The ego uses your relationships with others to strengthen its identity, through things such as obtaining the approval of others.

For instance, you want your parents to be proud of you, your wife to love you, and your boss and coworkers to respect you.

Parent/child relationships

People who create a strong sense of attachment and identification with their children, tend to view their children as their ‘possessions’.

As a result, they may try to control their children’s lives and maybe even ‘use’ them to live the life they wanted to live. This may happen largely unconsciously.

Couples

Needing someone to be happy is a play of the ego. Once you realize that you don’t actually need anyone, you can start enjoying your partner’s company.

4. Your beliefs

The ego will use any belief to strengthen its identity, be it religious, political, or metaphysical.

People can become so attached to their beliefs. In extreme cases, they would be ready or even kill to protect these beliefs.

Your Ego’s Impact On Your Emotion

Many of the negative emotions you experience in your life come from strongly attaching your identity to people, things, or beliefs.

For example, when someone you love abandons you, your self-esteem crashes and you feel worthless.

The more you let go of these attachments, the more positive emotions you experience.

Your Negative Emotions As A Guide

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

You might blame yourself to experiencing negative emotions and view yourself as mentally weak, but your emotions aren’t bad.

It’s the way you interpret emotions, as well as the blame game you might engage in, that is creating suffering and not the emotions themselves.

Your negative emotions can be a powerful guide. They serve a purpose, telling you what’s not working and allowing you to make changes in your life.

However, unless you pay attention to the message these emotions are sending, it’s hard to benefit from them and grow as an individual.

You can think of your negative emotions as the equivalent of physical pain.

Physical pain sends a powerful signal that something is wrong, and that something needs to be done. You might need to undergo surgery, change your diet, or increase exercise.

If you didn’t have pain, chances are you would be dead by now.

Similarly, negative emotions signal you to do something about your current situation. Perhaps, you need to let go of some toxic relationships, quit a dreadful job, address unhealed wounds from the past, or change you disempowering story about yourself and your life.

The Fleeting Nature Of Emotions

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

When you’re feeling low, you get so caught up in your emotions it’s hard to imagine being happy again.

But no matter how sad you feel at a given point in time, it passes.

If experience the same emotions repeatedly like chronic depression or anxiety, it probably means you’re holding disempowering beliefs and need to change something in your life.

If you believe that your chronic depression is out of your control, it might be a good idea to consult a specialist.

What Impacts Your Emotions?

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

There is a wide array of factors that can influence the way you feel.

Fortunately, you have some control over these factors.

In fact, apart from spontaneous emotional reactions caused by your survival mechanism, most of your emotions are self-created.

They are mainly the result of the way you interpret thoughts or events.

Other factors, such as your body, the food you eat, or how much your sleep, also play a role in determining the quality of your emotions.

1. The Impact of Sleep on Your Emotions

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

Sleep deprivation impacts your mood in different ways.

Some of the most serious potential problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke, obesity, depression, impairment in immunity and lower sex drive.

Sleep deprivation can also cause anxiety and depression.

According one survey, people suffering from anxiety or depression, most of them reported receiving less than six hours sleep per night.

How to Improve the Quality of Your Sleep?

There are different ways to help improve the quality of your sleep:

Keep your bedroom is pitch black – Or use a sleep mask.

Avoid blue light emanating from electronic devices – If you absolutely have to use electronic devices at night, considering wearing glasses that block the blue light, or using an app or software such as f.lux to “warm” the color temperature on devices.

Relax your mind – by listening to soothing music, reading a book, journaling, etc.

Avoid drinking too much water within two hours of going to bed – interrupting your sleep pattern will probably make you more tired the next day.

Related: How to Sleep Better? (18 Proven Tips to Sleep Well at Night and Wake Up Rested)

2. Using Your Body To Influence Your Emotions

The Complete Guide to Understanding Your Emotions

Body language and body posture

Changing your body language and posture can alter the way you feel.

In one experiments, Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, found that participants who adopted a high-power pose for just two minutes, displayed characteristics similar to those of confident people.

She noticed hormonal changes, such as an increase in testosterone levels by 25% and a drop in cortisol, the hormone of stress, by 10%.

The most well–known high power pose is called “The Wonder Woman” pose. You simple stand tall with your chest out and your hands on your hips.

Exercising

Failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts.” – Michael Otto

Regular exercise was shown to improve your mood as well as your physical well-being.

One study shows that supervised aerobic exercise has large antidepressant treatment effects for patients with major depression.

Exercise not only helps treat depression, but also to prevent relapse. One study has revealed that one hour a week of exercise of any intensity can prevent future depression.

3. Changing Your Emotions By Changing Your Thoughts

Meditation

Meditation helps quiet the chatter in your mind and cure it of restlessness.

It also helps you distance yourself from thoughts, reducing their power and their negative impact.

As a result, you start experiencing less negative emotions and feel more at peace with yourself.

Visualization

Your subconscious mind believes everything you think about. It doesn’t distinguish real experiences from ‘fake’ ones.

This means that you can alter your emotions by simulating desired experiences through visualization.

Visualizing positive experiencing will elicit positive feelings such as gratitude, excitement, or joy.

Related: When Your Brain Lies to You: How to Stop Cognitive Distortions and Overcome Depression?

4. Using Your Words To Influence Your Emotions

Your choice of words influences the way you feel.

For instance, when you unconfident, you use words such as “I’ll try,” “I hope,” or “I wish.” Using these words can make you even more unconfident.

To enhance your confidence, try using “I will”, by saying, “I will complete this project by then end of this week.”

Words to be avoidedWords to be used instead
Should/MightCould/Would
Have toWant to
Always/NeverSometimes/Seldom/Often
Try/Hope/WishI will
Maybe/PerhapsAbsolutely/Definitely/Without any doubt
If everything is okayOf course/Sure/Certainly
If everything goes wellNo problem
You make meI feel I am
If onlyNext time

The Power of Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are statements you repeat to yourself on a regular basis until your subconscious mind beliefs them.

They can help you condition your mind to experience positive emotions such as joy and gratitude.

How to use positive affirmation

* Use the present tense (I am, I feel, etc.).

* Avoid negative forms like “I am not sad,” rather use “I am happy”.

* Use visualization at the same and involve your emotions.

* Repeat the statements every single day.

5. The Impact of Your Breathing on Your Emotions

Although breathing should happen naturally, most people don’t know how to breathe properly.

Proper breathing benefits you in different ways:

* Rapid breathing such as the Breath of Fire: Helps release stress and increase alertness and energy.

* Eight breathing cycles per minute: provides relief from stress and increases your awareness.

* Four breathing cycles per minute: Increases visual clarity and heightens bodily sensitivity.

* One breathing cycle per minute: Helps optimize cooperation between brain hemispheres and drastically calms anxiety, fear, and worry.

6. The Impact of Your Environment on Your Emotions

Your surroundings can affect your emotions.

This environment includes the people you hang out with, TV shows you watch, the place you live in, the desk you work on, etc.

For instance, negative friends may influence your attitude and drag you down.

An organized desk can help increase your productivity.

Related: How Indoor Plants Make You Feel Better? (11 Healing Powers of Plants)

Conclusion

By understanding the mechanism behind your negative emotions, you’ll be able to manage them more effectively.

The first thing to understand is that emotions are unpredictable.

One moment you feel happy, the next you feel sad.

Expecting to be happy all the time means that you’re setting yourself up for failure.

To start taking control of your emotions you need learn to let them pass without feeling the need to identify strongly with them.

You must allow yourself to feel sadness without beating yourself up about it by thinking, “I shouldn’t be sad,” or “What’s wrong with me?”

No matter how mentally tough you are, you’ll still experience negative emotions, like sadness, grief or depression.

But that’s okay because emotions are there to help you change an unhelpful attitude or situation allowing you to grow as an individual, which the most important thing.

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Resources

  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book Master Your Emotions, © 2018 by Thibaut Meurissee. All rights reserved.

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