Understanding emotions

Understanding emotions

18 June 2020

Emotions are a key to looking after our mental health but in reality how much time do we spend working on them or even understanding them?

Often, we let emotions happen to us and we might only be aware of emotions when they overwhelm us, or we might think our emotions are useless.

Emotions are important. They serve a purpose. Their main purpose is to act as messengers to us and influence the way we behave. Emotions are needed to help us survive. They also help us work as a community together. Below is a list of some common emotions are their purpose. 

 Emotion  Purpose  What happens if we did not have that emotion?
 Fear Fear is about survival. It is reaction to a perceived threat.  We would be unable to keep ourselves safe and may not survive. For example, if we were walking through the bush and a tiger came out, we would not react and not be able to keep ourselves safe.  
 Anxiety Anxiety is about safety. It is around preparing for a potential threat or problem. It is anticipatory in nature and often is due to a learned response created based on experience.  If we did not become anxious, we may not survive. For example, if we were at the top of a cliff we might fall as we are not worried about being close to the edge. 
 Happiness Happiness is a positive feeling that drives us to do things and it is the reward that keeps us going back.  If we did not experience happiness, we may find it hard to become motivated. A good example of the purpose of happiness might be when we don’t like our job, but we go to work to see our colleagues because they give us joy. 
 Sadness Sadness lets us know what is important to us and our value system. By experiencing this emotion we are often driven to stop the feeling happening again.   If we did not have sadness, we would keep making the same mistakes again and again and may not care if our loved ones died. For example, we feel sad when we hurt someone’s feelings this acts as a deterrent for future situations.
 Anger Anger can be a defensive response to protect ourselves or to warn others to stay away. It also lets us know what we do not like and what we need to change.  For example, if we didn’t get angry, we may not feel the need to change anything. Anger at politics might motivate you to vote a different way or seeing an injustice might make you stand up for them or get help. 
 Stress Feeling stressed or overwhelmed is your body’s way to tell you that too much is happening and to slow down.  We need stress to motivate us to be productive. Stress is directly related to your performance and there is an optimal level of this. If we don’t have any stress, then we often don’t do much
 Shame and guilt Shame is closely related to guilt. Guilt is about feeling bad about something we have done. However, shame is about how we feel about ourselves as a person and about being flawed or ‘a bad person’. Guilt can be productive because it helps us change our behaviour. Shame is often negative and unhealthy.

Often people would say that they don’t want their emotions, but they are necessary and useful! 

The first step to managing our emotions is to realise they have a purpose and to start to figure out what we are feeling at these times. In fact, brain imaging research has shown that being able to name an emotion diminishes emotional reactivity within the brain. Here is a link to the emotion wheel that has a lot of emotions in it. It is a simple but effective tool to use:

1. Find the wedge of emotion you are feeling. Do this by starting in the middle with the common words for emotion.

2. Within that ‘wedge’ find the best word that describes your emotions

If you would like to find out more on how to manage your emotions contact your local FRC or make an appointment with a psychologist.

Written by Mates4Mates Psychologist Laura Stewart.

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