It’s true that we probably don’t want our emotions to control what we do. But can we reverse this completely? Can we control our emotions and thoughts? It seems like we’re sometimes expected to do this:
– Don’t be sad!
– Don’t be silly, it’s not important!
– Don’t be afraid! There is nothing to be afraid of.
– Stop worrying!
Can we choose to end the feeling of worry and sadness? The truth is, there is no “on-off” switch for our emotions. But that does not mean we have no control over them at all- it just means that our control is perhaps much less than we might expect.
Being able to regulate and manage emotions is undoubtedly important in our well-being. However, that’s different from the intention to end a certain emotion altogether.
For example, we might use strategies to lower unpleasant emotions; we might start talking to a friend, and as a result, feel less anxious or sad. On the other hand, telling ourselves to just “stop feeling anxious or sad” would not be helpful. Similarly, we might choose to listen to a song we enjoy to feel cheerful, but just deciding to “cheer up” won’t make a diff
– If you’re feeling overwhelming anger and rage, you will find it useful to hold ice in your hands.
– If you feel too stressed out that you can’t focus, you’ll find it useful to choose a color in your head, and count everything in that color in your surroundings.
– If you’re feeling sad, you might find it useful to talk to someone, or to express how you’re feeling by drawing or painting.
Well, from a scientific point of view, it’s good news! Emotions are there to “do something” for us, so by switching them off or on ourselves, we would be missing the important messages that they’re trying to give us.
Your brain is an expert in detecting danger, and it has been like this for a long time! We know that our ancestors’ lives depended on how well they were able to protect themselves from predators and any other dangers in their environment. The more they were able to “be prepared and vigilant”, the better their chances of survival were.
“Anxiety” helped them reach that vigilance. Because they were feeling stressed, they became mentally and physically prepared to either fight, flee or freeze in the face of danger. Imagine what would happen if they never felt forced to be ready, and just sat around comfortably while a predator was nearby!
Even though there might not be a predator around the corner anymore, there are still exams, interviews, meetings, and competitions that we need to be prepared for. The right amount of “Anxiety”, in these cases, helps us be more appropriately prepared. Sometimes though, our brain might feel anxious more than we need it to be. That’s why it’s helpful to learn to use strategies that “regulate” or “manage” our anxiety.
Oftentimes, if we are entirely happy with how things are, we are less motivated to move forward, or to make improvements. Sadness may actually be a good signal for us to keep moving and trying our best. After all, we’re more likely to make more effort in a difficult situation if we are “sad” about it! Imagine if you kept losing your possessions, but felt happy about it!
This is why unpleasant feelings actually help us achieve goals and improve. What do you think? Do you agree that not having an “on-off” switch is good news?
You may have experienced feeling numb. It’s when we don’t feel our pleasant or unpleasant emotions. We can’t feel anxious or happy, energetic or sad. While this might be a reaction to a situation that is too overwhelming, it also means that we may be missing out on what our emotions have to say to us.