Although our feelings may sometimes seem more like a nuisance than a benefit, emotions play a huge role in our overall well-being and, ultimately, in our physical health and longevity. People who are emotionally healthy can meet common stressors of life with an optimistic outlook and resilience. Instead of dreading unexpected events or challenges, they can let it engage their curiosity and lead them to find a new approach without feeling defeated.
Some consider people like this "lucky", believing nothing bad seems to happen to them. However no one is immune to illness, hardships like job loss, or tragedies like losing a loved one. By remaining positive, these people may answer that their life is indeed blessed, regardless of what they have experienced.
According the Heart Math Institute, “Intentionally invoking positive emotions is one of the fastest and most effective ways to reduce unhealthy stress.” Choosing positive emotions completely alters our perspective, makes challenges seem less overwhelming, and creates the opportunity for a successful outcome when others may see only failure.
Some believe that the stress response may be genetic because people tend to respond in similar ways to that of their family. I propose that this is in greater part due to nurture rather than nature. Growing up with examples of positive attitude and fortitude, people learn the successful way of meeting challenges and find that victory can be even sweeter when it is hard won. On the other hand, seeing role models meet challenges with fear, overwhelm, or discouragement can establish the belief that obstacles are insurmountable, and their response to stress can be immobilizing.
This builds into a cycle of feeling defeated, disempowered, and can lead to despair. Such a negative attitude can also incite health concerns, as poor sleep or depression may lead to inactivity, worsening health or weight issues. Hypertension and cardiac issues may develop, and the cycle spins out of control. Instead of seeking ways to overcome these challenges, those who are emotionally unhealthy can only wonder “why me?”
Recognizing what emotions are generated by different stressors empowers people to regain control of their reaction. It may seem difficult to begin redirecting your response to stress, just like any new habit. Working with someone fluent in emotions and stress response will help make the process easier.
When we become more aware, and identify what emotion we are feeling, we have the opportunity to learn more about ourselves. Is our reaction a result of prior experience? Was our previous reaction successful, or was there something that can do differently now to experience better results? Taking a moment to pause is something we have to train ourselves to do, and well worth the effort. Responding more mindfully benefits not only our personal stress level, but relationships with family, friends and coworkers as well!
R.S. Lazarus proposed that “emotion-focused coping” helped de-personalize stressful events so that people were not as deeply affected by them. In other words, hurtful words don’t necessitate a wounded ego or an argument if the recipient can recognize that the comment isn’t exactly what it seems. For example a demeaning comment from a spouse doesn't lead to such a strong negative reaction if one can frame it as arising from personal pain or job stress they may be experiencing.
The good news is that we have the power to control our response to stress! We aren’t destined to see our health suffer as life turns up the heat. We can be forged into a stronger person, instead of feeling bent out of shape.
As we gain a deeper understanding of our emotions, we see not only how but why we respond in our unique ways. And we have the opportunity to take our feelings of anger, jealousy or worry from sensations that don’t benefit us and turn them into an experience of insight and deeper knowledge of our true self.
If you're ready to learn more about elevating your emotions so you can live with less stress, I would be honored to be your guide.
- Lazarus, R. S. (1993) FROM PSYCHOLOGICAL STRESS TO THE EMOTIONS: A History of Changing Outlooks, http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev.ps.44.020193.000245