MASTER YOUR EMOTIONS
Master Your Emotions: A Practical Guide to Overcome Negativity and Better Manage Your Feelings
It is remarkable that people seem to focus much more on negative emotions rather than positive ones, but why? Even after having a generally good day at work, one might easily get stuck thinking about that one negative comment a co-worker made. Furthermore, why do humans have such strong emotions? Are there real ways to control them? These were some of the questions we want to answer in this essay. Thibaut Meurisse’s “Master Your Emotions: A Practical Guide to Overcome Negativity and Better Manage Your Feelings” dives deep into this topic and will be used as the main source of reference throughout this essay.
In many situations emotions can almost feel like a burden, stopping people from accomplishing the things they want in life. Especially in an environment like Proakatemia where we work closely with others, one might often hear a comment along the lines of “Let’s leave our emotions out of this and focus on the facts.” That for sure is something easier to say rather than put into practice. In fact, this is a conversation that most of the time shouldn’t even exist, since it is scientifically proven that suppressing emotions can have several negative effects on health and, consequently, at work and school performances. Talking about emotions and expressing them should be considered a natural discussion, but at the same time, we can’t let them take over all our actions and decisions.
WHAT EMOTIONS ARE
A big part of human emotion stems from survival and the survival mechanism especially has a bias towards negativity. For a long time, human life truly was all about survival and therefore negative or dangerous situations were important to learn from. Fear kept individuals away from danger and the need to be accepted ensured a place in a tribe. This is not true anymore for most of the world but the brain still works the same. In a lot of ways, some parts of our brain have become obsolete. While most of the time people are not seconds away from getting killed by a predator the brain still pays significantly more attention to adverse events than positive ones. (Meurisse 2018, 15)
People’s fear of rejection especially is a trait that shows often in everyday life and makes life more difficult in a lot of ways. Being accepted used to be a crucial part of physical survival and so our brains are hardwired to seek it. Even though being popular isn’t anymore as important to staying alive, humans still have a strong social need to be liked by others. Fear of rejection definitely is not only about literal abandonment but many big and small things. Feeling annoyed if someone laughs at you when you are being serious or doesn’t laugh when you’re making a joke. Disappointment when others already finished their food when you just arrived at the lunch table. Feeling bad when your words are misunderstood or over even the smallest critical comment. All these situations feel dangerous to the brain, and it wants to learn from them to not face them again. In order to present ones best self particularly in professional settings it is important to be aware of this behaviour and learn to distinguish between real and imaginary threat.
Another important factor that impacts our emotions is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in rewarding certain behaviours, and when it’s released into the pleasure centres of the brain it gives an intense sense of wellbeing similar to a high. Dopamine releases for example during exercise or when gambling, having sex or eating great food. This too ties into survival, the pleasure gained from eating food motivates a person to look for it. (Meurisse 2018, 17)
As important as dopamine is to human life, it also has a flip side. Like mentioned before, dopamine used to be directly linked to survival but nowadays it can easily be stimulated artificially. One great example of this is social media and its use of psychology to consume as much time out of your life as possible. Notifications keep us coming back and likes give a sense of accomplishment. A lot of very normal things can get people addicted whether that shopping, gambling, or playing video games, they all release dopamine in the brain. To truly understand emotions and have any control over them it’s important to know the role dopamine plays to our happiness. An addiction no matter how big or small can be something that brings joy in the moment but might just be making you unhappy in the long run.
One unfortunate thing about happiness is that it usually doesn’t last. Whenever there is change in your life whether that’s just new clothes or a new environment, the initial excitement and happiness usually doesn’t last very long. This is called hedonic adaptation. The human mind returns to a relatively stable stage of happiness quickly with both positive and negative experiences. All this really means is that contrary to popular beliefs, external events have minimal impact on our level of happiness, what goes on inside the mind is much more important. Next in this essay will be described internal factors and things that an individual can do to try and better control their emotions.
WHAT IMPACTS YOUR EMOTIONS
“If we exclude spontaneous emotional reactions resulting from your survival mechanism, most of your emotions are self-created. They result from the way you interpret thoughts or events. However, these aren’t the only elements that affect your emotional state. Your body, your voice, the food you eat, or how much you sleep, also play a role in determining the quality of your emotions and therefore the quality of your life.” (Meurisse, 2018)
SLEEP AND QUALITY OF LIFE ARE RELATED
For some, the fact that lack of sleep has a strong influence on one’s mood and quality of life, in general, seems obvious. This happens simply because they have had this experience so many times already, as sleep deficit has been an exponential problem all around the world and people can feel it day by day. The issue around sleeping basically started with the invention of artificial lightning, in which night work was started, and the biphasic sleep cycle that human beings were used to started to become something completely wrong. Now, sleep is monophasic, which means we only sleep in one part of the day, preferably at night, so that we can be productive in the following morning.
An extremely important data that reinforces the importance of sleeping and its relationship with mood variations and quality of life is: “Sleep deprivation also increases mortality risk. A 2016 study conducted by researchers at non-profit organization, RAND Europe, estimated that people sleeping less than six hours a night had a thirteen percent increase mortality risk than people sleeping between seven and nine hours.” (Meurisse, 2018) Gladly, the author of the book being discussed also shares tips on how to improve sleep quality, they are:
- Sleep in a completely dark environment.
- Choose not to use electronic devices a few hours before going to bed.
- Try to relax, reading a book or listening to calm music.
- Do not drink a lot of water couple of hours before going to bed.
- Create the habit of going to bed at the same time every day as a ritual.
YOUR BODY TALKS
The book points out an incredible and different way to change how we feel, through our posture. This works both positively and negatively, our posture can affect mood and emotions in unimaginable ways. As in the animal world, human beings also use body language as a way of communicating and of expressing certain feelings. The following is an example excerpt from the book: “Have you noticed how men straighten their backs, expand their chests, and tighten their stomachs when they see an attractive woman? That’s an unconscious behavior designed to show confidence and power (the same way gorillas pound their chests).” (Meurisse, 2018)
In fact, there are several studies that prove how true this theory is. Meurisse cites a study by Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business Review, which found real chemical and biological results of the influence of posture adopted by the participants, change in the levels of hormones such as testosterone and cortisol. A very helpful video to understand more about the subject is this one:
Another crucial side regarding the connection between mood and body is how exercising makes a big difference in improving humor. The information that exercising is important to have better health in a mental and physical aspect, increasing the feeling of well-being in general, has been widespread for some time, but many ignore the benefits brought by these practices for personal reasons or even big problems such as depression.
A Harvard Medical School article named “Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression”, helps to complement the veracity and importance of such information: “In people who are depressed, neuroscientists have noticed that the hippocampus in the brain—the region that helps regulate mood—is smaller. Exercise supports nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, improving nerve cell connections, which helps relieve depression,” explains Dr. Miller.” (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021) Listening to your body and its needs, from now on, becomes more important than ever since there is all this information available to help in the search for better emotions and mood.
THOUGHTS HAVE AN INFLUENCE ON OUR EMOTIONS
Thinking positively is not always an easy task, but it is certainly linked to great benefits for mood and health. The truth is that the kinds of thoughts you might have, affect your mood and can even affect your future, in a good way or not. In that sense, ”Thus, one of the most important skills you can master is your ability to control your thoughts and emotions. This entails understanding what your emotions are, how they work, and what purpose they serve.” (Meurisse, 2018)
Negative emotions must be felt, acknowledged and understood, but without letting them take over one’s life. As incredible as it may seem, feelings can also be manipulated from time to time. Practices such as meditation and visualization are widely used by Buddhists to lessen negative emotions, release different types of emotions, work through trauma, and much more. Those are ways to help your mind to develop more connections with positive emotions and change your thoughts and viewpoints around something or even someone.
Contributing to an explanation of the effect of thoughts and meditation on mood and on the brain, researchers from Harvard Medical School point the results of their work “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in brain gray matter density” as it can be seen in the following excerpt: “The hippocampus has been postulated to play a central role in mediating some of the benefits of meditation, due to its involvement in the modulation of cortical arousal and responsiveness (Newberg and Iversen, 2003), and morphological differences between meditators and non-meditators in the hippocampus have previously been reported (Hölzel et al., 2008; Luders et al., 2009). The hippocampus also contributes to the regulation of emotion (Corcoran and Maren, 2001; Corcoran et al., 2005; Milad et al., 2007) and the structural changes in this area following mindfulness practice may reflect improved function in regulating emotional responding.” (Holzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, Lazar SW., 2010)
USING YOUR WORDS TO INFLUENCE YOUR EMOTIONS
We may never think that words also influence our emotions in significant ways because our thoughts, words and behaviors are connected and influenced by each other. I remember one time my classmate told me that I should not try to explain. That explanation just impressed people that I am worried for some specific situations which could make people misunderstand, giving excuses for my behaviors or being lack of confidence. In some cases, we may also say; “I think”, “I’ll try”, “I wish”, for example, when we are not so confident or sure of something.
Changing the way of expressing our thoughts or feelings can make people understand us better. For example, instead of saying: “I hope I can finish this task before next Wednesday”, we can make people know we are controlling well our schedule with more confidence by saying: “I will finish this task before next Wednesday”. Words which we can change to use to become more confident in speaking, can be I will, Absolutely, Definitely, Of course, Sure, Certainly, Obviously, Without any doubt, No problem.
THE POWER OF POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS
I remember when I watched some movies or reality TV shows about the military environments, I have seen some military leaders shouted repeatedly to their soldiers: “Can you do that?” These soldiers also shouted repeatedly: “We can”, “We can”. The powers of soldiers’ spirit seemed to be increased significantly after that. The statement “We can” is called the positive affirmations, which means the sentences we repeat to ourselves regularly until your subconscious mind accepts them as true. That means we can adjust our feelings and thoughts like confidence and gratitude by following this same way by using the positive affirmation, for instance, using present tense instead of future tense in the sentence and avoid using negative forms, like: “I am not afraid”, instead can say: ” I am confident”. Besides, using the powerful positive affirmation which involves our emotions like: I love, I am independent…
Practicing using the positive affirmation 5 minutes per days with good attentions and trying not to use the words which shows our lack of confidence, can create the good habit for us whenever giving the speeches as we know the words can control perfectly our mind magically.
BREATH IN, BREATH OUT
In addition to the solutions to create better feelings and avoid negative emotions, breathing properly can not only keep us alive, but also help create more energy for the body, enhance the immune system, improve our sleep quality, increase more awareness and visual ability, or can effectively change our bad mood and significantly reduce the anxiety.
However, even though we breathe in and out about 22,000 times per day (according to Ryan Dinkele, PhD Candidate, University of Cape Town and his colleagues’ study), it seems to be done without being recognizing usually by ourselves. We breathe, but we may not intentionally control or make our natural breathing actions of body create the most effective outcomes as we could make.
ARE WE BREATHING PROPERLY?
Like almost everyone, I used to think that I know how to breath properly until I came for the first time to the yoga class with the Indian yoga teacher. He said breathing properly is when we make our belly expand when inhaling and squeeze in when exhaling. I guess most of us are doing this oppositely every day. Our ribcage expands when we inhale and collapses on exhalation. This can bring the air to the upper part of our lung only but cannot lead the air deeper to the below lung areas.
WHY DO WE NEED TO BREATHE PROPERLY AND BE MORE MINDFUL OF OUR BREATHING ACTIVITIES?
The benefit of breathing is undisputed. We all know how it is so important to our bodies. According to the book, breathing 8 cycles per minute can relieve stress and increase awareness, breathing 4 cycles per minute can intense feelings of awareness, increase visual clarity, and heightens bodily sensitivity, breathing 1 cycle per minute creates optimized cooperation between brain hemispheres, dramatic calming of anxiety, fear, and worry.
According to the research published on the website of Neurological Sciences by Donatella Di Corrado and his partners, breathing properly helps reduce the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in saliva and can alter the chemistry in the brain, affecting levels of another stress hormone, noradrenaline, which could enhance focus and keep brains healthier for longer.
We can see that being able to live in one of the cleanest countries in the world like Finland would be a priceless gift for us since the fact shows that every day 9 of 10 people in the world must breathe the polluted air. In the corona pandemic, when people must face a virus that can cause the severe effects on the respiratory system, causing the long-term issues with the breathing function of the body, the people started to be more mindful of the breathing training, not only to be able to breathe properly but also to adapt with breathing with the mask. Breathing deeply and properly in this new situation will help recover both physical and mental issues for human-being.
HOW YOUR ENVIRONMENT AFFECTS YOUR EMOTIONS
When changing to a new environment, most of us will experience also the changing of mood in both positive and negative directions because every element related to that environment can affect us in some ways. We may feel more delighted when seeing the room full of light and hearing the birds singing outside of the window or our mood can turn negative to seeing the messy room full of dust and darkness. Especially, imagine if you must be in the dull environments, like being in not so nice places or with the toxic people, together with facing the unexpected troubles that you are involved in some specific cases seem to make you feel that these troubles are multiplied and that can easily drag you down. In such a case, better to know that it is time to move away from the environment that makes you feel negative. It could be moving to a new apartment, new working place, have a travel trip to somewhere to relax, etc. Everyone may have their own solutions to escape from their current environments that may not belong to them to make them feel better.
HOW MUSIC AFFECTS YOUR EMOTIONS
Music can also affect our mood, for example, some music can bring us to tears, and some oppositely can pump us up with much excitement. Magically music can control our minds and actions, for example, in some told stories, music has been used as a tool to control some people in taking their decision. That’s why music is such an important factor to consider in all events. Some of the benefits of music the book mentioned include: “help you relax when you’re tired, motivate you when you’re in a slump, help you persevere when you’re at the gym, help you access feelings of gratitude, and put you in a positive mood state.”
According to the study by Valerie N. Stratton, Ph.D. and Annette H. Zalanowski, of Penn State University, about the effect of music on mood, the student group of the research reported that the music did not only make them feel better but also intensified their positive feeling in that time. Especially, the music genre or the context in which the students listened to the music did not influence the above results.
To make use of the music’s power in changing our mood, the book writer proposed to make a playlist of favorite music tailored to our emotional needs. Some people will prefer folk music, some prefer rock. However, we can adjust the feeling by choosing the favourite genres suitable for the current mood or the way we want to feel. Do not choose the music that is popular to everyone but can openly choose to listen to many kinds of music. Importantly we can know well our tastes in music, understand our emotional needs, and see how that music changes our mood. Does it make us feel inspired? Excited? Happy? Relaxed?
The book “Master Your Emotions: A Practical Guide to Overcome Negativity and Better Manage Your Feelings” by Thibaut Meurisse, provides a greater understanding of what emotions are and where they come from, making the reader understand how important this topic really is. Being informed and educated about what we feel and being able to express it in the right way is extremely necessary to comprehend other people’s feelings and the environment around us. The more knowledge about the subject and the more dedication and practice to recognize how much it can influence one’s life, emotional education is built and it can be used in all instances of life, at work, in relationships, in self-reflections, making life easier to live somehow.
Obviously, patience is needed to absorb all the content and the book certainly increases the reader’s curiosity about this topic. The biological, historical, social, external, and innate factors around emotions are super interesting and especially in an environment like Proakatemia, deserve to be addressed more frequently and seriously so that trust and empathy in teams are increased. At Flip Solutions, we value each other’s feelings and we have recently started to use the Non-Violent Communication tool, in which we start some of our pajas by exposing how we are feeling and what needs we feel have been fulfilled or not. This is a tool used to value the emotions of people around you and to know more about the environment dynamics that maybe all teams should use.
Furthermore, in the work environment of the contemporary world, emotional intelligence is a skill that many claims in an employee. On the other hand, it is hard to find because people focus on acquiring more hard skills instead of soft ones, and often see the emotional part as irrelevant. In fact, being able to understand emotions is one of the keys to dealing with problems, pressure, and conflicts in a better way. When emotions are clearer, actions are given more thought before being put into practice. Therefore, the outcome is less impulsiveness on small or big decisions. Taking care of emotions and the life factors mentioned in the book and in this essay can make us physically and mentally healthier in different aspects of life. Hopefully, the knowledge and tips shared in this essay will reach people who need them.
Written by Luiza de Oliveira Vago, Saana Keränen and Suong Tran Thi Ha.
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