“You’re so emotional”. Has anyone ever said this to you before? Or perhaps you have said it to someone else. Our emotions can sometimes be all over the place – whether these are positive or negative emotions – and as a result this corresponds to our behaviors at the time (whether positive or negative behaviors). How to deal with emotions, or coping with emotional stress, comes with first understanding emotions.
Understanding emotions for what they are
Emotions are a subjective, mental state of the feelings that one experiences or associates with a relationship, situation, action, or mood. The state of one’s emotions also then correlates with one’s actions, reactions and behaviors to that circumstance or person.
We are always experiencing emotions, and they can be said to be positive or negative. What we need to understand though, is that there is no “good” or “bad” emotions, but there are however, good and bad behaviors associated with these emotions. How a person chooses to respond to an emotion, is entirely up to the individual and can result in a positive or negative outcome. Therefore, it is important to understand your emotions so that you can deal with them in a positive way.
It is often said that women are more emotional than men, however, after many discussions with my husband, I find that I disagree with this statement. I believe that men and women feel emotions more of less equally, but what differs is how we express our emotions. This is because men and women are socialized differently and are held to different standards when feeling and expressing emotions. This is something that is ingrained in us from childhood.
Babies and toddlers can feel and show emotion, but they don’t have the ability to name their emotions, or describe what or how they are feeling, but they express their emotions in its rawest form, unfiltered and unrestrained. As we grow up, we learn to describe, express and understand our emotions more. We can also decide how to react in response to our emotional state, and produce an appropriate response. In essence, this is what emotional awareness is. Becoming emotionally aware, allows us to identify types of emotions, what specific emotions would lead us towards a pleasant or unpleasant outcome, and also how to behave in order to enhance or diminish the feeling or emotion. This is the beginning of emotional intelligence.
Sometimes, a person can also struggle to understand their own feelings or emotions, and as a result their actions or behaviors can lead to a negative or unpleasant outcome. An inability to understand one’s own emotions can be linked with an inability to sense or understand the emotions of those around you.
A basic model for understanding your emotions
To help you understand your emotions, take a look at the basic model below. The model shows how our emotions, expressions and actions are linked to an event or our interpretation of an event.
If, for example you have experienced a difficult or challenging emotion, you can simply fill in the blanks on the model to help you understand why you felt a certain way (this goes for positive or pleasant emotions as well). We will look at a practical example of this later in the article.
Let us also explore different kinds of emotions. There are many emotions that a person can feel or experience.
Below are a few examples of different emotions:
There are many other emotions not listed here. But let me ask: Is it OK to feel all emotions?
It is natural to feel each of these emotions at least once in our lifetime, and in many cases a lot more than once. One does not have to feel ashamed or embarrassed in experiencing any of these emotions. They are all a part of helping us identify ourselves, our beliefs and our goals, and what is most important is how we deal with these emotions.
Are there any of these emotions that you try to bottle up or avoid feeling? Sometimes, when we do this it can lead to us feeling stressed or anxious which in turn leads to even more unpleasant emotions (this ends up feeling like an endless cycle of stress).
Why our emotions can sometimes lead to stress
Do emotions cause stress or are emotions an expression of stress? To answer or consider this we need to really think about emotions individually. We also need to realize that emotions come and go, or they can, in some instances, remain for an extended period. Bottling up certain emotions can cause us to feel stressed or anxious if we do not recognize or deal with the emotion.
Some emotions can also come across as mild, intense or somewhere in between. The intensity of the emotions we feel also plays a role in our stress levels.
And finally, the way we experience an emotion (whether we interpret it as a good or bad emotion), leads to how we behave or act in any given situation, which in turn can also lead to unwanted stress.
Let’s look at some “negative” emotions that could lead to stress.
A lot of us may think that anger is an emotion that is brought on by external stimulants and the stresses of life, but quite often anger acts as a covering for other emotions. Usually when people feel sad, lonely or afraid but do not feel comfortable expressing this then they turn to anger. Anger as an emotion makes us feel strong and powerful, as it is in itself a strong emotion. When uncontrolled, this emotion can lead to violent behavior and have very harmful consequences, however, when utilized in an effective and healthy way this emotion can help us to enhance our performance.
This may seem like a strange concept. Anger as a productive emotion? Yes, it’s true that anger is often associated with destruction and violence, but what people often forget is that emotions are also a form of energy and can be harnessed. Perhaps as an experiment, the next time you feel really angry, go for a run or lift weights. Do something physical to express this emotion and see how you feel afterwards.
Sadness is a very difficult emotion to deal with, as people usually try to run away from it instead of allowing themselves to feel this emotion. This is a very important emotion to feel, but allow yourself the space to feel this emotion in its depth within reason. This emotion needs time to feel and express, but it is a dangerous emotion to dwell on for too long. I have found that while anger as an emotion is good to express in a physical manner, I find that sadness is best expressed through creative activities, such as writing, drawing and painting. Through being creative I find that I am able to feel the full extent of my emotion and also address the source of my sadness. You can try this next time you feel sad as well.
- Shame / Guilt
This emotion is strongly linked to our moral compass and should not be ignored. It is inevitable that you will do something that you aren’t proud of, but it is important that you rectify the action or do the best to do what you feel is the right thing. If left unsettled, this emotion can grow on you like a disease and cause all kinds of ailments.
These are but a few of the “negative emotions”. They may seem negative, but in reality they are very necessary emotions and form an important part of the human experience. Instead of only feeling your emotions, try to think of these emotions as energy and feel your emotions with the purpose of learning from them. Feeling stressed is also not necessarily a bad thing, because it allows you to be more alert and aware to what is happening, and if leveraged rightly can allow you to easily reach your goals. It is, however, also important that you do not act solely based on your emotions. Rather, remember to think, then act, and afterwards, allow yourself to feel.
How to deal with emotional stress
Dealing with emotional stress can be tough at times, but this is where the “understanding emotions model” comes into good use. When we can utilize this model effectively, it becomes easier or more bearable to deal with emotional stress, and hence overcome it. The very first step that one needs to take is to identify your emotion. As soon as you have identified your emotion, then it will be easier to fill in the blanks on the model to help you understand why you are feeling stressed.
Here is an exercise you can try out:
1. Write about a time when you felt the following emotions:
2. Which of the feelings were most difficult for you to recall or write about?
3. Using a personal situation where you had a difficult or challenging emotion, try to understand it by completing the emotions model.
4. Finally, repeat the model again, but this time fill it in with a new approach. If you were to interpret the event in a positive way, see how the results would differ.
By identifying and understanding the emotion you will be able to overcome and interpret any stressful event or emotion in a positive way.
Below, I give you a personal example of steps 3 and 4. See how different the results can be if only I change my interpretation of an event.
The example I use is giving a presentation. Now, I am not really one for public speaking, and for years I had feared presenting myself in front of others. There was a time when my presentation went horribly wrong, because I let my emotions take over. As you can imagine, I did not feel good about it at all.
However, putting the model into practice, I have slowly but surely learnt to overcome this fear. By changing my thoughts and interpretation of an event, I am able to overcome the stress of talking in front of people. And like this, any emotion can be dealt with by understanding it and using the model.
Apply your emotional intelligence
In this post, I have discussed emotions and defined what is meant by them and the impact that they have on our body language and the social impact that they can have. By reading through everything, you may feel equipped to have the knowledge that you need to manage your emotions and to understand them. This knowledge is useless, unless you apply it. It is easy to understand anger or sadness, and to be conscious of the thoughts and emotions running through your mind, but it is far more challenging to apply the techniques learnt in your given situation.
This is difficult when you are under a lot of emotional stress. A rule that I usually try to apply when I am under sever stress, is that I keep quiet for a moment and allow what I need to feel while counting down to 5. After the 5th second I take one deep breath, collect my thoughts and respond in a way I feel is appropriate. I also always try to use the emotions model to understand my emotions in any given situation. This is what has worked for me, and I would urge you to try these tips, but also try to find what works best for you as well.
Let me know in the comments if you have any further questions or other tips that might help other readers.