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No two people with feel the exact same about something. We have words like happy, joyful, zealous and excited for positive acknowledgments, and sad, angry, hateful and annoyed as negative acknowledgments, but the meaning of these words are not the EMOTIONS of these words. You might be angry but in no way have hate in your heart. Except people misread this representation of your emotion and often say “they are angry at me, they must hate me”.

It’s tricky trying to navigate how to show your emotions, and sometimes it feels easier to just shut them off. We are made to feel like showing emotions will undermine our job and hinder relationships by seeming weak or irrational.

However, our emotions are a vital function of our existence. Each emotion serves a purpose, to solve problems and support our human needs. Our emotions develop over time in response to what we are exposed to. Hence, each person has their own set of emotions that are built from their own experiences.

Despite the aforementioned stigma about emotions, they are actually crucial for critical thinking. Research has explored how lack of emotional expression leads to making irrational decisions and acting erratically and against self-interest. The way we interact with the world around us is through the ebb and flow of our emotions. Ultimately, we need to experience our emotion to be rational beings.

Over the years we’ve dissociated with the true purpose and meaning of the emotions we use because the way we respond sometimes doesn’t feel like it aligns with the context of the situation. Repeated exposure to stimuli is what forms our emotional responses. We are exposed to negative and positive stimuli when we are very young (0-7yrs). This developmental period is not remembered by the majority of adults, however it  forms the base of many of our emotional responses. So are we all responding to situations as children? No, but you may be dealing with some situations in a way that doesn’t t serve you any more.

We all know about the Flight, Fight or Freeze response. If you were in the jungle a million years ago and were faced with a predator, you’d respond with one of the F’s. This is a physiological mechanism whereby hormonal changes are initiated (cortisol release) when you anticipate the presence of a predator so you can run fast, think fast and make decisions fast. At one point in your life your brain decided (or not) how you respond to all situations. Basically, you decided when you were a wee baby whether something was dangerous or not and how you’ll respond to that.

If you were repeatedly exposed to a stimulus that was presented in a negative way when you were a child, let’s say a mouse, you would now have a fear response to the presence or anticipation of mice. Fact check me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never heard of a mouse killing a person. So does this response serve you?

Now, forget about the mice and think about the last time you had an argument or dispute. How did you respond and how does it make you feel now? Still mad? Not at all phased? Feel like you need to defend yourself? Does that response serve you? Is it negative, positive or neutral? Hopefully your answer is neutral or positive for this one. If not, you may be experiencing a chronic stress response to that situation.

We often attach strong emotion to situations such as conflict, whereas when you’re faced with the mouse you may feel afraid, but you won’t think for hours or days about how the mouse personally hates you because you lashed out at it with the broom.

So, how does this response serve you now? It probably doesn’t. You should be able to move on from it or learn from it. It shouldn’t continue to hinder you whenever you think about it.

Dealing with stressful situations doesn’t have to impact you for hours, days, weeks, months or years. You can re-train the way you respond to situations so you can move on from the psychological impacts quicker and prevent physiological presentations that arise when dealing with chronic stress.

The body usually dials down the hormonal response pretty quickly on its own, however, if the situation is still playing through your mind hours or days later, the stress response has not switched off, and you will eventually become exhausted, leading to fatigue, depression, and anxiety. It’s can be a downward spiral.

Below are some ways you can start to re-train how your brain responds to stressors

Rest and Digest – inducing rest directly after an incident adjust the way you slow down and switch off the hormonal responses that are driving the intense feelings. You can do this through breath work, yoga, meditation, stretching & mindfulness practices. Doing this each time the situation arrises in your mind will help you adapt the way you feel about the situation and how you respond to similar situations in the future.

Social Buffer – Find your safe place with your tribe – Research shows there’s a significant change in the way you handle a stressful situation when you are with people who make you feel safe. You can’t always be with people who make you safe when you encounter conflict but it will help if you call them, email them, face time them or see them in person soon after the situation arises.

Excite and Expand – Inciting curiosity of the situation may help you move through it and past it faster. Giving your brain the time to logically work through the situation will slow down the irrational thoughts and acknowledge the non-threatening context of the situation.

Ask yourself:

  • What’s really happening here?

  • What else might be going on for them or me, that I’m not seeing?

  • What’s interesting about this situation?

Re-training your responses won’t happen over night, you have to keep practicing it each time a situation happens. It’s also important to seek professional services from the likes of  counselling, psychologist, psychiatrists if there are situations you feel you haven’t healed from and that you feel are inducing a chronic stress response.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re enlightened by the way your emotions play a role in the way you respond to situations. Find below some further reading if you’d like to deep dive into the physiological mechanisms of the FFF response and the psychological impacts of chronic stress.

Understanding the Stress Response 
Endocrine System and Adrenal Response 
Reset your Stress Response