Emotions, interpreted for their purest intentions, are messages. They are a complex conversation between your mind and body, seeking to influence behaviour as they inform you of how you feel/ think about a situation.
They’re the group chat between your physiology and psychology, as your body physically responds to your mental state and vice versa. An effective message sent with honest intentions, which I would like to believe is what our bodies are trying to do for our minds, would not send a message without any content. You would never purposefully send someone an empty email or blank text message. Similarly, our emotions should not be interpreted as ‘just feelings’.
We tend to associate any given emotion with pleasure or displeasure. Whether or not this is helpful, every emotion is an indication of something. We tend to favour the pleasurable emotions such as excitement and happiness, and wish away our bouts of anger, sadness, and anxiety. But in being able to interpret an emotion for it’s intended message, we can strengthen the communication between body and mind, and accordingly determine how to respond.
While emotions may be viewed as turbulent, unstable or dramatic, there are ways in which we can examine our emotions more objectively. Perhaps we should cease to label emotions as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but rather look at them through a lens of what is helpful.
The experience of ‘fear’ would be an excellent example to use. In large part, people do not enjoy fear or feeling fearful. But in reading the message of ‘fear’ our body telling us to take immediate notice of a given situation. To feel pain or frustration is merely an indicator of discomfort and is a message to do something about it. If emotions were to be placed in quadrants, one axis would be a range of ‘pleasant to unpleasant’, and the other would be some variation of ‘high energy to low energy’.
For an emotion to be classified as one-dimensional as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, doesn’t include the complete message. Referencing back to emotions such as anger or excitement, these are highly energetic emotions that often elicit a reaction.
When angry, people tend to respond or feel the need to say something. Similarly, with excitement, people often feel inclined to react to their excitement, whether it be celebrating, yelling or dancing.
A breakthrough I had with understanding anxiety and how to manage its symptoms came from reading Sarah Wilson’s book ‘First We Make the Beast Beautiful’. She mentioned that because anxiety and excitement are both highly energetic emotions, it would be a smoother transition to go from being anxious to being excited. I think we can all agree that to be told in a moment of anxiety to ‘just calm down’ is extremely unhelpful.
The transition of going from anxious to calm is a much greater distance than it would be to go from anxiety to excitement. This isn’t to say that it’s easy to transfer an unpleasant emotion to a pleasant one. But energy is extremely influential in the way that we translate our emotions into behaviours.
And to be in a moment of an unpleasant, energetic emotion such as anger or anxiety, is when we are most likely to make decisions that we will later regret. There should be a clarification between ‘experiencing emotions’ and ‘mood swings’. And there is an even greater divide between ‘experiencing emotions’ and the diagnosis of a mood disorder. There needs to be clarity drawn between a ‘regular’ emotion and a mood disorder. Each person will confront their own set of challenges in understanding and regulating their emotions. A person with a mental health diagnosis who has significant insight to their emotions may have more difficulty to interpret their emotions than a person who has significant insight and awareness.
Regardless of our insight to our emotions, or lack of it, emotions are the climate that our mind exists in. Philosophers, poets, and artists often reference the resemblance between moods and weather, with each emotion being a passing cloud or ray of sunshine. The observation of the weather condition and the acceptance of it can relieve the unwanted distress of even the rainiest of days.
Understanding that people have varying levels of insight, I would like to interpret this to believe that each person also has their own degree of capability to live according to their own will and will be able to live beyond an existence where they are at the mercy of their own emotions.
Again, this will look different for each person, and each person is working from a place of their own individual strengths. An extremely logical person and an extremely creative person are working from different strengths, and therefore will have different interpretations of their emotions. This is not to say any method is more or less effective than another. This is one of the reasons I find emotions to be such a challenging yet intriguing topic to tackle - every person’s experience with any given emotion is so different, despite that we label them similarly.
My happiness is not your happiness and my anxiety is not your anxiety. Although a similar process is happening amongst all anxious brains, the sensations of the emotion will feel different to each person, as it attaches to the person’s memories, fears, doubts, and insecurities.
For this reason, we should understand the magnitude of emotions, and their ability to cause earthquakes within us. And without learning how to safely respond to things of such power, we fall subject to crumbling. Familiarising and coming to understand one’s own structure can equip you for when turbulent emotions surface.
If we are able to approach ourselves from a logical, stable structure, we will be able to rest assured that we are built on solid ground. From there, weather can pass and swirl around us without us feeling at risk for being torn down at the first sign of wind. Ideally, navigating one’s emotions should be more than just damage control. We should strive to come to a place of efficient communication between what we want and the emotions we experience.