FINDING CALM IN A TIME OF ANXIETY AND STRESS
It is said that our emotions guide us in facing predicaments and tasks too important to leave to intellect alone – danger, painful loss, persisting toward a goal despite frustrations, bonding with a mate, building a family. Each emotion offers a distinctive readiness to act, each points us in a direction that has worked well to handle the recurring challenges of human life (The Emotional Brain).
“All emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that has been instilled in us. The very root of the word “emotion” is Motere, the Latin very “to move,” plus the prefix “e” to connote, “move away,” suggesting that a tendency to act is implicit in every emotion. That emotions lead to actions is most obvious in watching animals or children; it is only in “civilized” adults we so often find the great anomaly in the animal kingdom, emotions – root impulses to act – divorced from obvious reactions.” (The Emotional Brain).
Each emotion plays a role in our lives and helps us to “to move” to something or away from something. Emotions also have biological identifiers as well. For instance with “anger” there is a surge of blood which flows to through our body to our hands, heart, increasing our hormones (adrenaline) and energy. With fear, the blood goes to the large skeletal muscles, like our legs, making it better for us to flee and away from our face, making us look drained or “white with fear” and also triggers circuits in the brain’s emotional center that flood hormones that put the body on notice for “fright and flight” responses.
Research use to think there were six basic emotions; happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust. But we know now that there are more including awe, appall, confusion, anxiety, etc. and when you mix and match these, you have got a palette capable of painting the whole entire human experience. These are our universal languages where we recognize and reflect each other's experience whether we speak the same language culturally or not.
The mind/body or “head and heart” (emotional and rational) – these two minds operate in tight harmony for the most part in our bodies. They help us balance between emotional and rational thoughts, with emotion feeding into and informing the operational mind, and the rational mind refining and sometimes vetoing the independent faculties, of the emotions. They are meant to work together for maximum effect.
The amygdale acts as the storehouse of emotional memory. More than affection is tied to it – all passion depends on it.
LeDoux stated that life’s earliest years lay down a set of emotional lessons based on the interactions between infant and caretaker, creating wordless blueprints for emotional life as they grow (Science, How Scary Things Get That Way, 1992).
When emotions announce themselves so loudly we can't ignore them, stop ignoring them. It is important to listen. Then make some simple tweaks to your emotional life which can recenter you, give you an edge, and reframe so your mind can actually change how your brain is processing the event(s).
1. Know yourself: Lao Tzu stated: "Knowing others is wisdom; knowing yourself is enlightenment." When you are having emotions and have the impulse to act on it, first name it. Resist reacting and instead name it because it puts your prefrontal cortex back in the driver's seat.
2. Decide what to do now that you are going to "act" and take appropriate action behaviors like walking it out; singing it out; affirmation it out; deep breathing it out; yoga it out; and more are effective self-management techniques giving your body time to calm down. In anger management research shows it takes the average person 20 minutes to calm down from anger so be in control so your body can regain its control.
3. Talk it out. David Caruso, psychologist and co-founder of Emotional Intelligence Skills Group said, "talking about how you feel and why - feeling heard and validated - can be incredibly effective sorting out your thoughts and helping you see your situation more positively."
4. Remember "it's" not always about you. Even if you are in control you are going to react by interacting with people everyday who have varying levels of emotional reactions. Texting, emailing, twittering, etc. all have digital possibilities of impacting, misunderstanding, and sometimes just plain inability to interpret because you just have words and no facial expressions, tones, and other communication tools to help us clarify.
5. Look at your relationships with others. Having peaceful, happy, supportive friends and family will help you with your emotional stress.
6. Have compassion and empathy for others even if you disagree on things. Have humility enough to understand and acknowledge your own shortcomings. We can agree to disagree without creating animosity and anger.
7. Find activities that take you away from self-is-hness and into other-is-hness. What does that mean? Make others happy through acts of kindness, service to others, gardening, exercising, writing, painting, singing, and so on. The benefit to making sure people are happy is that it is the cornerstone of productivity. Research has found that people who skip this in their lives have more depression, anxiety, stress, dissatisfaction in their relationship, and poorer immune systems.
Happiness is developed and created by us (The Happiness Advantage) so we can counter anxiety and stress by looking for, developing and implementing happiness techniques and tools.
8. Boost those Happiness levels: Repeat things that brought you happiness in the past. Immerse yourself into something that is bigger than yourself; mindfulness and "moment" living helps with happiness; exercise and make small adjustments daily to feel more at peace, centered; clear up the clutter in your life.
9. Get rid of the following:
a. Unhappy relationship clutter:
Keeping stuff from past unhappy relationships keeps a part of you tied to that relationship and tied to the past.
There is absolutely nothing healthy or advantageous from hanging onto memorabilia or gifts from a past unhappy relationship. Be strong, be honest and ask yourself, what is the benefit for holding onto these things.
b. Depression clutter:
People with depression tend to have a lot of things stored on the floor. Stuff on the ground pulls your energies down and encourages you to withdraw from the world emotionally.
If your floor surfaces are covered with lots of stuff make an effort each day to start moving things up from off the floor. I guarantee it won’t be long until you start noticing a difference in your moods and how your home feels.
c. Addiction clutter:
Compulsive buying for the sake of it and addicted to sales and bargains without any thought simply adds to the congestion and confusion already filling your home and life.
Take an honest look at your stuff and see if you have any addiction clutter floating around. Better still never go shopping without a list, consciously choose what you intend to bring into your home and for every new item purchased throw out at least two. Keep the energy flowing.
d. Need to impress clutter:
You feel your sense of self worth is reflected by the appearance (or value) of the stuff in your living space. You generally don’t like many of your possessions but have them because they are the latest trend, most impressive or even most expensive.
Filling your home stuff to impress your ego or others, simply means you are out of alignment with your life and the energy in your home. This can be as obvious as a bookcase full of books that you never look at or even care about. It simply gives the impression you are well read and knowledgeable.
e. Unhappiness clutter:
Buying stuff to make you feel happy again is a quick fix solution. It does not bring deep long lasting satisfaction to your life and the item you bought only brings happiness momentarily. Unhappiness clutter can then turn into guilt clutter when you realize a few days later you don’t really need it and feel guilty for buying it.
f. Emotional hiding behind your clutter:
Overfilling your rooms, cupboards and home with stuff is often used to hide from the outside world or your true self. It keeps the attention away from you and focused more on the hundreds of nick knacks you have everywhere.
g. Denial clutter:
If you are scared of change then you will have denial clutter. You have a sense that your world may fall apart if you start removing serious amounts of clutter from your home. You may be consistent in throwing out surface clutter but when it comes to a serious clutter busting session to invite wonderful change you consistently tell yourself this item or that possession is not clutter.
Do you really need all those plates and salad bowls in your kitchen or clothes in your wardrobe?
h. Other peoples clutter:
When you look after stuff for other people get clear with how long you are minding it for. Short term is generally fine as you are being helpful. If however their stuff turns into annoyance or frustration then your act of kindness has evolved into energy draining clutter that’s not even yours. Your friends or family need to find other arrangements or put it in storage.
Now that you have done some emotional house cleaning, you are open to these 8 easy ways to be happier:
1. Remember whence you came: don't underestimate the power of nostalgia. Share stories about past positive experiences and share them. Look at old pictures and smile. Smiling makes the brain believe you are happy and it releases Oxytocin which creates healing.
2. Don't Dwell on failures and things you can't control. People who ruminate are shown to be more depressed, unhappy, and angry.
3. Spread the wealth: do something nice for someone else. It can be monetary, or an act of service. Buy someone at Starbucks their coffee, call someone and laugh together, send someone (and yourself) flowers, etc.
4. Eat a snack around 2pm: That's when levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps regulate mood, can take a nosedive, according to research. Make the snack a mood-boosting snack that has B vitamins and complex carbohydrates (whole grains).
5. Get a move on: Exercise, walk, dance for 30 minutes three times a week. This gives you the same benefits as the most powerful psychiatric medications research shows. Exercise and yoga are both effective at calming and happy-making in your parasympathetic nervous system and brain.
6. Limit your options: too many options can be overwhelming not to mention stressful and anxiety producing. So whittle your options down to a few choices and pick one.
7. Start Baking or learning hula or quilting, writing, etc: Just find something that occupies 100% of your attention while you're engaged in it. You'll be more motivated and focused - feelings that promote happiness. Belong to a social club or movement. Find something to have the feelings of control, making a difference, and/or both.
8. Make your Bed: when I was researching my training on happiness, this was the number one most impactful change that people brought up over and over. It turns out, research shows, that people are happier when everyday tasks in their lives are completed. Shoot for concrete changes: hanging a key hook in your entryway, moving your bank account to a better interest producing account; breaking your procrastinating behavior; being aware of your negative "voices" and changing them into positive voices; empty your closets and dresser drawers to a more manageable system and donate clothes. If you haven't used it in one year - donate it.
How to have an awesome life? Find the things in life that make you say wow!! We are wowed by kindness and being in the presences of something transcendent - something that makes us feel less important in a good way: Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, etc. where you feel like you are a part of something bigger. Feeling "awed" or in awe changes our body on a cellular level, Keitner, researcher at U.C. Berkeley said. People who have "awe" were shown to decrease their depression, autoimmune diseases and diabetes and also had lower levels of IL6, a biomarker of inflammation.
So power down your devices like phones and twitter /facebook/instagram accounts. Go outside and look at the world through eyes of "awe" and awesome. I live in Big Bear Lake and everyday am grateful to see my "awe" and "awesome" every day and add music, writing, sharing, loving and enjoying the moments of each day with attitude of gratitude. Life is too short to ignore anxiety and stress so acknowledge the emotions and then DO SOMETHING to change those emotions into laughter and happiness.
Kathie Mathis, Psy.D, D.D., CEO California Cognitive Behavioral Institute, President of California Association of Anger Management Providers, Master Trainer, CBIF, CAMS-IV CDAC, CSAC, Laughter Coach, Life Coach, Doctor of Psychology and author of Emotional Addiction - A Bitter Sweet Truth