Taking charge of your feelings and emotions allows you to change what you need to in order to live a full and happy life. Here, Bronte Chaperon explores four emotions and what to do when you experience them.
Symptom: Increased heart rate, reduced cortisol released into bloodstream.
Emotion: Happiness. Four different neurochemicals are working harmoniously in your body to create a state of euphoria – endorphins (responsible for making us feel good after a jog or a bout of laughter), serotonin (the antidepressant neurotransmitter), dopamine (the reward neurotransmitter involved in reward and addiction) and oxytocin (the so-called ‘bonding’ chemical associated with loving and feeling loved).
What to expect: Remember that happiness, the emotion, is a transient state. A stimulus – be it a compliment, a new phone or finding five dollars on the footpath – cannot produce the same amount of endorphins through each experience with it. Buying a new phone or handbag may make you happy for two weeks, but eventually you get used to it and it no longer lifts you up. Experiencing the stimulus in new ways may help to prolong the feeling of happiness, but if the source is external, expect an endless cycle of satisfaction and need (new tablet, new haircut, new car.)
What to do: When you feel your happiness is fading, remember to stop and take a moment to appreciate the things you already have or try experiencing some of your favourite things in a new way. For example: If you love your partner but feel things are getting a little stale, go somewhere new for date night. Or spend your day off exploring an area you’ve never been. What did you discover? That you both love Thai? An alley with an awesome graffiti mural within walking distance of home? Or did you finally speak to that eccentric lady who sits in the park and learn that she fled Castro’s Cuba? A sense of connectedness is among the most reliable happiness tools – as is the sense of discovery and wonder from trying new things. Take full advantage of your senses and approach the tasks mindfully for extra happiness points.
Symptom: Slowed heart rate, light-hearted, unworried state
Emotion: Contentment. The feeling that you’ve fulfilled your basic needs and desires enough to feel at peace and satisfied with what you currently have. This includes satisfying basic physical, emotional and social needs. You’ve accepted the past, are at peace with what may lie ahead and are comfortable and satisfied in the current moment.
Often mistaken for: Happiness.
What to expect: A feeling of being at peace with the present moment – you aren’t stressing about finding time to do the laundry or calling your mum, your anxiety regarding stresses isn’t present to block your contentment. You may feel a sense of self-fulfilment or self-actualisation – a psychological theory coined by Abraham Maslow suggesting that we all have an innate ‘hierarchy of needs’ including physiological, safety, social and esteem needs that need to be met before we can reach our potential.
What to do: Enjoy the moment. So often in life we’re striving for something – a job that pays better, a spouse, paying off a mortgage… When feeling content you stop and smell the roses.
Symptom: Increased heart rate, alertness without positive motivation, acting primally rather than logically
What to expect: When you are angry, you’re not thinking straight (there is scientific evidence that rational thinking goes offline when we’re angry) and you react using your limbic system. This means you’re likely to say things you may not mean and act rashly. Additionally, when angry your autonomic nervous system accelerates your breathing as a result of stressful stimuli the body deems threatening, it does this unconsciously but you can control it with practice.
What to do: Focus on steadying your breathing for a few minutes to avoid acting rashly and regretting it later – the first few minutes of being angry are generally the worst, which is why people will tell you to wait 10 minutes before hitting ‘send’ after a provocative email or text. Take some deep breaths through the nose, hold for a few seconds then out through the mouth in a relaxed manner – this helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming your body down. Breathing deeply should help to reduce heart rate and slow breathing. Practising mindfulness meditation is a great way to learn to control heart rate and reaction to stress. Over time, mindfulness has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve sleep and reduce gastrointestinal trouble.
Symptom: ‘Knot’ in your stomach.
Emotion: You are likely to be feeling guilt – the feeling that you should or should not have done something. This is driven by conscience (or if you subscribe to neurologist Sigmund Freud’s train of thought, our super-ego and ego are feuding over what our id or instinctive desire function wants, and what is socially acceptable and just.)
Often mistaken for: Anxiety.
What to expect: Often when you betray a moral standard by your own accord you will feel a sense of dread, shame, remorse and as a result anxiety and paranoia over your decision. You may also ruminate over your shame frequently until your wrong has been righted, and become overly sensitive to the slightest criticism (self-criticism runs high when you feel guilty, which makes your ego extremely touchy). In order to not feel guilt you may repress the feeling and live in denial, overcompensate to make everyone happy or become overly anxious at making the ‘right’ decisions in the future.
What to do: If another person was involved, apologise and explain why you did what you did without seeking vindication. Owning your behaviour is empowering and ordinarily begets good will in the other person – assuming the slight didn’t cause significant damage. If you can’t apologise – say you hit a parked car and failed to leave a note – speak with someone you trust about what you did and how you’re feeling or write it down. This acknowledgment will serve as a statement to yourself that you have noted your mistake and are doing your best to learn from it. It will also prevent it from cascading into self-flagellation out of proportion to the mistake. Remind yourself that you too are human and we all make them.