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Conquering Emotional Blind Spots Is Challenging, But Worth It

Knowing you have them is the first step.

I’ve signed up to get emotionally attacked by my phone every day. Along with hundreds of thousands of people, I get a daily notification from the astrology app Co-Star. It sends an A.I.-generated nugget of wisdom based on what my horoscope and the message is usually ruthless.

“Who do you trust with your most intense feelings?” Co-Star asked me recently. The question stunned me so much that I had to sit down to think about it. When I could think of no one, I ended up booking my first therapist appointment in months.

“Taking the time to correct a friend’s behaviour is an act of love,” the app quipped. I realized that I was holding back from talking to an acquaintance about a hurtful remark they made because of how much I hate confrontation.

I’m no masochist and would be mortified if anyone talked to me like Co-Star does. But I won’t be deleting the app anytime soon. These regular roasts serve an important function in my life that little else can: they force me to self-reflect on my emotional blind spots that erode my relationships.

What is a blind spot?
Emotional blind spots cause life obstacles that aren’t visible to us, but are obvious to others. Maybe you never apologize authentically because accepting blame makes you feel bad. Or you could be a habitual people-pleaser, to the detriment of your stress levels. This hard-wired obliviousness is often due to our cognitive biases. Our brains are constantly filtering endless amounts of information, making them prone to decision-making shortcuts that are based on memories and emotions rather than rational thinking.

When it comes to uncomfortable situations or interactions, our cognitive biases are likely to kick in and lead to reactions that are unhealthy for us or the people we care about. But like rear-view mirrors, there are tools that can help us spot what obstructs our judgement.

Find a blind spot
Listen to how others describe you. Counsellor Kevin Beauchamp advises keeping an ear out for “the just factor:” it’s when your social circles use the word “just” before referring to you as an excuse for your behaviour.

“That’s just Paul, he gets angry … She doesn’t take feedback well, that’s just the way she is,” he gives as examples.

Mindfulness exercises can also unearth uncomfortable truths. Oprah Magazine recommends looking at patterns in bad relationships and listing what makes you unhappy in your current ones. If it seems like all your exes have the same negative quality, it might be time to question the common denominator. For example, if you blame former lovers for never knowing how you feel, it could be that you’re prone to shutting loved ones out.

Mood-tracking can also be revealing. Should certain encounters frequently make you feel unhappy or if certain statements about your life (from friends or astrology apps alike) cause you to double-take, you might be able to trace your mood to a warped line of thinking you regularly fall into.

OK, I know my personality flaw. How do I change it?
Counsellor and mental health journalist Kathleen Smith writes we should question some personal adages. These might look like:

  • I must be loved at all times.
  • I must avoid all conflict.
  • I must have control over everything.

If you find yourself agreeing with statements that support an “I must” mentality, it’s worth asking yourself why and work towards proving that statement wrong.

This can be easier said than done. But our personalities are a lot more flexible than we think.

University of Cambridge psychologist Brian R. Little studied the “personal projects” people undertake in the pursuit of changing themselves, such as getting over social anxiety by volunteering. Little found they could eventually change their personality traits permanently, as long as their project was something they really cared about.

You can do this by setting attainable goals related to your shortcomings. A 14-week long study suggests that participants who kept challenging themselves to change were more successful than those who just expressed a desire to be different.

For those who want to be less neurotic, study author and psychologist Nathan Hudson said activities like saying positive affirmations can directly intervene in one’s neurotic thought process.

Personal project ideas for common blind spots
You don’t need to step completely out of your comfort zone to change your personality. Starting small and being consistent are key steps to making progress:

Trying to be less avoidant? Send a difficult message over text, instead of saying it in-person.

Want to be less self-critical? Say three compliments every time you have a negative thought about yourself.

Quick to anger in an argument? Before replying, slow down your breathing and consider the other person’s perspective.

Trying to listen more? Pay attention to how much others speak and ask questions about what they bring up.

20 Ideas For 2020 is our month-long series that explores easy ways to take action on the ideas and changes you may have already been thinking about.
By Al Donato       01/07/2020 

2 Mindfulness Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

Self-Care For Leaders: 2 Mindfulness Steps To Silence Your Inner Critic

“What will they think of me?,” “I’m not good enough,” “I am lazy,” “What if I fail?,” “I am overwhelmed at work.” “Everyone is more beautiful, smarter, stronger, thinner.” “I can never be a good leader.”
Our minds seem to have an infinite supply of critical comments. And those comments are hard to ignore. They distract us and they limit us and they even interfere with our ability to enjoy a peaceful sleep. To be clear, I am not talking about our ability to reflect on where we are in life, and assess our strengths and weaknesses so we can choose what we might want to change. That ability is fundamental to our growth as a human being.
The inner critic is different. It is not constructive and it does not deal with the facts. It is a story-teller. And when we feed the words of the inner critic, the story becomes a full-length feature film that keeps us frozen to the status quo. We begin to believe the criticisms. And those critical comments have the power to prevent us from following our dreams, or taking the chances needed to find happiness or love or success. They can also begin to make us feel sad or anxious.
So, how can mindfulness help?
  1. Begin by calling to mind an example of an inner critic statement. As you do so, notice if other thoughts start to pop up to enhance the statement, or if you start feeling any sensations of discomfort in your body. Are they familiar? When else do you notice those thoughts or feelings?
  2. Now see if you can meet those words and thoughts with this sentence: “This may or may not be true.” Once again pay attention to sensations and feelings that arise.
There is no need for you to try to deny the critical comment, it is enough to simply begin to generate some spaciousness around it. You are beginning to develop a different relationship to the words that pop into your head. And with that shift, some spaciousness begins to develop and some of the weightiness begins to lift. What decisions will you make now that all that chatter in your head is beginning to quiet down?
This post is the second in a series on Self Care. The first post looked at ways to get a better night’s sleep Self Care for Leaders.
Janice Marturano       Jan 7, 2020
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Feeling Bad About Feeling Down Is Good For Your Mental Health: Study

Letting yourself feel negative emotions is good in the long run, researchers says.

Accepting and embracing your negative emotions can actually make you feel better in the long run, a new study out of UC Berkeley says.

According to researchers, feeling that pressure of needing to be constantly upbeat will not make you feel better – in fact, it will make you feel worse because of added stress.

“We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health,” senior author Iris Mauss of UC Berkeley said in a statement.

People who allow these feelings of sadness, disappointment and resentment “run their course,” the team found that these individuals are more likely to report fewer mood disorder symptoms than those who judge them and push them away, even after six months.

To find this out, researchers conducted three separate studies on several groups both in the lab and online. They factored in age, gender, socio-economic status and other demographic elements.

In the first study, over 1,000 participants filled out a survey. They were asked to rate how strongly they agreed with certain statements like, “I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling the way that I’m feeling.” Those who didn’t feel bad about feeling bad were more likely to show higher levels of well-being than their accepting counterparts.

In another experiment, this time in a lab setting, 150 participants were given two minutes to prepare and deliver a three-minute recorded speech to a panel of judges. This was to represent a mock job application, to show off their communication skills and other “relevant” qualifications.

After the task was done, they were asked to rate their emotions about the event. And just as the research team expected, those who avoided negative feelings reported more distress.

For the final study, over 200 people were asked to journal their most “taxing experiences” for two weeks. When asked about their psychological health six months later, those who avoided expressing negative emotions reported more mood disorder symptoms than those who didn’t shy away from revealing their emotions.

It’s not clear why this dynamic exists, the team admits, but they have a theory.

“Maybe if you have an accepting attitude toward negative emotions, you’re not giving them as much attention,” Mauss said. “And perhaps, if you’re constantly judging your emotions, the negativity can pile up.”

Feeling negative is a natural response to stressors, lead author Brett Ford told Global News, and in the short run, these negative emotions might actually help people respond to stressors more successfully, for example getting nervous in anticipation of a closing deadline.

“People don’t necessarily feel this way, though – while some individuals accept their negative emotions and thoughts as natural, others judge these negative experiences and strive to change them,” Ford said. “Theoretically, acceptance should help people from ruminating over their negative emotions and from judging these emotions and prolonging their overall experience of negativity.”

Perhaps what surprised Ford the most was how this correlation applied to varying types of people.

“I was somewhat surprised and excited to see how useful acceptance was for so many people, finding that acceptance was equivalently beneficial for people of different genders, race, socio-economic status, and who are experiencing varying levels of stress,” she said. “This underscores the broad relevance of acceptance as a useful tool for many people.”

Ford hopes that people walk away knowing that while processing negative emotions are difficult, it might actually help our mental health in the long run.

“It’s so natural to want to get rid of negative emotions but here are a couple of more concrete ways to think about it: When times are tough and you’re feeling angry, worried, sad, and so forth – try to simply let your feelings happen,” she said. “Allow yourself to experience your feelings, without judging those feelings and without try to control or change them.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

related:  Parents, this is how to tell your children you’re dealing with depression, anxiety
August 11, 2017    By Dani-Elle Dubé   National Online Journalist, Smart Living
source: Global News

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Gut Bacteria can Directly Affect Anxiety, Behavior and Emotional Health

4 Tips to Balance your Gut from a Holistic Therapist.

When treating those with anxiety, my clients and I work together to help balance different aspects of life: body, mind and spirit.  Science is showing us that cultivating good digestive health is a crucial piece of the treatment puzzle. Research is showing that the bacteria in your gut can directly affect your behavior and emotions…. This might be surprising for many, however it’s a critical, and often overlooked factor in treating anxiety. Healing and restoring balance to one’s digestive tract, ideally with the help of an integrative medical doctor can make a huge difference in symptoms. Your digestive tract can be damaged by chronic stress, medication use and exposure to foods that aren’t great for your body (to name a few). Many factors besides poor digestive health may contribute to your symptoms.  Maybe you’re in an unhealthy relationship, suffer from low self-esteem, struggle with panic attacks, or worry needlessly about little things.  No matter what the issues that are contributing to your anxiety, experiencing it can leave you feeling isolated, scared and mentally exhausted. When it comes to treating emotional distress, utilizing multiple agents of change is the most beneficial way to experience relief. For example, when treating anxiety, it’s extremely beneficial not only to receive therapy, but also to change your diet, exercise, patterns of self-talk, methods of self-care and introduce relaxation techniques.  Working on balancing your gut flora can be a very healing addition to the aforementioned therapies. While research is still emerging, science is supporting the idea that your gut bacteria affects your emotional health. Dr. Michael Gershon first brought this groundbreaking science to the public with his lab studies with rodents. He was first prompted to study the connection because of his interest in serotonin; 90% of our serotonin is produced and manufactured in the gut! He wrote, The Second Brain, which describes the role of the digestive tract in regulating emotional health and decision making.

Some fascinating research has been conducted to further this idea. Researchers swapped the bacteria in anxious mice and fearless mice by changing diet, adding antibiotics or adding probiotics. They found that the timid mice actually started taking more risks and acting more gregarious and the opposite also happened: the fearless mice acted more timid. In a 2013 study published in Gastroenterology, researchers studied the effects of probiotics in humans. After 4 weeks of ingesting probiotics, they scanned the brains of each participant. The researchers found subtle signs that the brain circuits involved in anxiety were less reactive.


But, how do the brain and the gut communicate? The brain and the gut are in constant communication via the vagus nerve, a large nerve that connects the two. The concept of “gut feeling” and butterflies in your stomach is actually a real thing! In a study conducted in Ireland, researchers found that when the vagus nerve was cut in mice, they no longer saw the brain respond based on changes to the rodent’s gut flora.  Scientists have also begun to study certain neurochemicals that have not been described before being produced by certain bacteria, thus suggesting that gut microbes can produce their own version of neurotransmitters. This is another way that gut microbes may communicate with the brain. Pretty fascinating, right?!

Wondering how to nourish your digestive tract? Here are 4 tips.

1.)    Start eating more and more WHOLE foods. Limit processed foods, sugar, alcohol and caffeine. Choose fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and lean proteins.  Check out this article from Dr. Mark Hyman on the subject. Start with small changes. Choose a sweet potato instead of fries, eat half of your dessert rather than the whole plate, or order an open faced sandwich. Changes should feel do-able, not overwhelming and anxiety producing!

2.)    Increase your body/food awareness. Notice how you feel after eating. Take note of fatigue, bloating, anxiety, gas, reflux or any other symptoms that you might be experiencing. This will allow you to start mapping patterns and become aware of what foods might be troublesome for you. If you continually eat foods that don’t react well to your body, it can damage your delicate digestive lining and balance of good bacteria.  Log your findings for at least a week.

3.)    Eat foods rich in probiotics. This can include yogurt, kefir, fermented foods and sauerkraut.

4.)    Reduce Stress. Stress can damage your very thin digestive lining. Practice relaxation techniques, meditate, use positive self-talk and engage in activities that bring joy. Managing stress will help you to heal from the inside out and also reduce anxiety symptoms.

Most of all, if you are struggling with anxiety, reach out for help from a therapist who specializes in anxiety or your doctor. Relief from symptoms is possible!

Wishing you the best of health

By Meghan Toups MS            September 22, 2014

About the Author: Meghan Toups is a frequent contributor on Expanded Consciousness, she is a Nationally Certified Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Georgia. Meghan also received her health coaching certification and training from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she was trained in more than one hundred dietary theories and studied a variety of practical lifestyle coaching methods. 

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Stop Letting Your Feelings Color Your Thoughts

Imagine getting into a political discussion with someone who is highly passionate about their beliefs. If the conversation is a good one, those beliefs will likely, at some point, come under question. If their emotional PH is high enough, they’ll interpret that as not only their ideas being threatened, but their identities too. Soon, you’re not having a conversation anymore, but a back-and-forth defense match. It’s not about listening, it’s about being right. You reach for over-generalizations, they argue with singular, personal anecdotes, you make sweeping assumptions, cite studies you read once-upon-a-time, their faces widen with bewilderment at how you cannot possibly see what’s so logical and self-evident to them.

This is a really common example of what happens when people allow their emotions to color their thoughts.

Being passionate is fine. Feeling a lot is fine. But when you lose your ability to differentiate what you feel from what you think, you debilitate yourself. Your arguments lose their edge. You can no longer think clearly. You panic. Irrational fears take hold, because you have corresponding emotions which make them seem true.

Twist your wrist really hard with your opposite hand. Enough so that it hurts a bit. Enough so that the sensation is comparable to what you feel in your chest when you have anxiety. Are you panicking as you twist your wrist? No, because you haven’t assigned meaning to that sensation. In other words, your emotions are not coloring your thoughts right now, because you know better – and that is the key.


Your emotional child cannot run the show. Your mental parent must do that, which is something you develop over time.

It’s rare to see an intelligent person become overly-emotional about one fixed, definitive idea. They’re often passionate about concepts, topics, or subjects, but never singular “truths.” This is because well-read, studied, informed people are aware of complexity, possibility, valid, opposing arguments. They know they don’t know everything, and they also know that almost nothing is black-or-white.

You must learn to apply the same logic to your emotional life.

Most things people become extremely emotional about lack depth. They get stuck on one idea, and convince themselves it is unfailingly, unquestionably true. They assume they know everything. They leave no room for growth or learning or possibility.

Your feelings can inform your thoughts, but they cannot color them. Your feelings should be utilized as a mechanism to guide you – show you what makes you comfortable and uncomfortable. From there, your mind must discern. Is this discomfort healthy, or indicative of a problem? Is this pain coming from true hurt, or making meaning of a situation where there is none? From there, you can choose a course of action. You are no longer flailing around, being thrown by temporary, subjective, illogical, inapplicable emotions. You are using your feelings to guide you, not govern you.



Managing Your Emotions Can Save Your Heart

We often think of the heart and brain as being completely separate from each other. After all, your heart and brain are located in different regions of your body, and cardiology and neurology are separate disciplines. Yet these organs are intimately connected, and when your emotions adversely affect your brain, your heart is affected as well.

The negative impact of emotions when your heart is already vulnerable

There are two kinds of stress that impact your brain. Helpful stress (also known as eustress) can assist you with getting things done by helping you focus your attention. Unhelpful stress (distress), on the other hand, can be so severe that it can lead to fatigue and heart disease.

If you have coronary artery disease (CAD), your heart may be deprived of oxygen. This deprivation, called myocardial ischemia, can occur in as many as 30% to 50% of all patients with CAD. It can be further exacerbated by emotional stress. In fact, if you have any type of heart disease, any strong emotion such as anger may also cause severe and fatal irregular heart rhythms. Expressions like “died from fright” and “worried to death” are not just hyperbole — they are physiologic possibilities. Furthermore, when patients with newly diagnosed heart disease become depressed, that depression increases the risk that a harmful heart-related event will occur within that year.

The negative impact of emotions when you have no heart disease

Of course, stress can have a big effect on your heart even if you don’t have heart disease. Here’s just one example: In 1997, cardiologist Lauri Toivonen and colleagues conducted a study of EKG changes in healthy physicians before and during the first 30 seconds of an emergency call. They saw changes that indicated oxygen deprivation and abnormal heart rhythms.

More recent studies have also observed these changes in the setting of with stress, anxiety, and depression — all of which are, of course, brain-based conditions. Even in people with no prior heart disease, major depression doubles the risk of dying from heart-related causes.

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Cardiac psychology: Tending to your emotions for your heart’s sake

It is important to control your worry and stress, not just because you will worry less and feel better, but because less worry means less stress for your heart. This applies to the entire range of stressors, from a small episode of acute panic to a larger context such as living through a natural disaster. For all the reasons outlined above, a new emotion-based approach to heart health, called cardiac psychology, is receiving increasing interest.

You really can change your brain and get a healthier heart in the process. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Seek professional help. Don’t ignore stress, anxiety, depression, excessive worry, or bouts of anger that overwhelm your life. Seek professional help. If you meet criteria for a diagnosis, treatment can help reduce symptoms, thereby protecting your brain and your heart.
  • Available treatments in cardiac psychology. Aside from more traditional psychiatric treatment and exercise, psycho-educational programs, educational training, stress management, biofeedback, counseling sessions, and relaxation techniques should all be considered before or after a heart-related event. Newer treatments such as acceptance and commitment therapy and expressive writing can also be helpful.
  • Exercise. Physical exercise can help you have a healthier heart and brain — in the right doses. For example, many recent studies have demonstrated that aerobic exercise can help you be more mentally nimble by helping you think faster and more flexibly. Even frail older adults have improved their thinking and overall psychological well-being from exercising for one hour, three times a week. And people in rehabilitation after being diagnosed with heart failure report clearer thinking when their fitness levels improve.As clinical research scientist Michelle Ploughman commented, “exercise is brain food.” Various types of aerobic exercise, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening, and dancing, have all been proven to reduce anxiety and depression and to improve self-esteem. This is thought to be due to an increase in blood circulation in the brain, and the fact that exercise can improve the brain’s ability to react to stress.


A starting point for better brain — and heart — health

If you struggle with stress, anger, anxiety, worry, depression, or problems with self-esteem, talk to your primary care physician — or a cardiologist, if you have one. A consultation with a psychiatrist may be very helpful. Together, you can explore which of these potential therapies might best protect your psychological state, your brain, and your heart.

Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor     @srinipillay     MAY 09, 2016  


5 Reasons Why Emotionally Intelligent People Are Happier

Joan Moran       Creative Thought Leader, author, blogger, creative thought leader, wellness expert       09/28/2015 

On my way to New Orleans last December, I sat next to a man who was a project manager in northern California. Since I was about to embark on writing a speech about business leadership, I asked him what he thought were the best practices for managing a business. He advised me to read a book called, It’s Your Ship, by Captain D. Michael Abrashoff. The subtitle was even more intriguing: Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy.

It’s Your Ship Captain Abrashoff assumed command of a ship that was rated the worst in the navy. He believed that human beings are the capital of a ship, just as individuals are the capital of a corporation. In two years, Captain Abrashoff’s ship was on the cutting-edge of ship performance and productivity. It was rated no. 1 in the Navy.

Within months, Captain Abrashoff got to know each and every sailor aboard ship, knew what they were good at, found sailors who wanted to lead by example and challenged each crew member to be the best they could be at their job. Because the Captain knew everything about his crew, including birthdays and babies, he inspired loyalty, trust and happiness on board. The Captain’s slogan was: It’s your ship.

It’s Your Life According to Daniel Goldman, author of Emotional Intelligence Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, this empathic response, modeled in the case of Captain Abrashoff, as a form of emotional intelligence – is the ability to manage and reflect the emotions of others and of self. Emotional intelligence is not just a management skill, but it is a necessary life skill for creating strong and committed interpersonal relationships, which leads to greater happiness.

Dr. Goldman suggests that emotional intelligence is linked to everything from decision-making to academic achievement to having an impact to children’s developmental learning. The study of emotional intelligence has also paved the way for a slew of follow up business tools, indicating a paradigm shift from the importance of hard tools to the necessity of soft tools worldwide.

It’s annoying and frustrating when feelings, disappointments, frustrations and sadness are not acknowledged to those who are hurting by the challenges of life. Telling your “best friend,” your lover, your mother about how you are feeling and finding that an empathic response is not forthcoming makes you feel worse or even angry. Why aren’t your feelings being reflected back to you in your husband’s supportive words or hugs? Where is your father’s warm and loving reply to your sadness? Where is that supportive embrace and concern for real communication from your lover? You want someone to listen, someone to feel what you feel with mindfulness and connection.


The following are five reasons why emotionally intelligent people live a happier and more fulfilling life:

1. They are more self-aware Emotionally intelligent people power up their emotional antenna and pay closer attention to their surroundings and how they fit into a social circle. Conversation, the give-and-take of energy, fires up the neurotransmitters and keeps people mindful of the contextual involvement. That conscious awareness leads to a greater collective feeling of happiness.

2. They manage their emotions In order to manage emotions, it is necessary to understand what emotions are being expressed and what emotions are being felt. That means being fully conscious and aware of what’s going on inside of you so the outside actions can match the inside emotions. Stay present and happiness results.

3. They are more socially aware Emotionally intelligent people can manage their emotions in social situations and, at the same time, react in a positive manner to the emotional needs of others who want attention and connection. They have the ability to cheer up or calm down others whatever the context. It’s an easy transition to a happy mindset.

4. They have more empathy For some, it’s difficult to stay emotionally connected to others and imagine themselves feeling as others feel. However, for those who have emotional intelligence, it’s possible to connect their emotions through their senses and intuition, and, as a result, they usually develop deep responses to those who are in need of consolation or reinforcement.

5. They are more engaged Emotionally intelligent people have the ability to connect with others by using their emotional awareness to promote cognitive activity that result in understanding the dynamics of others. They have an ability to prioritize what they pay attention and react to, thereby, responding with appropriate feedback to the needs of others.

Emotionally intelligent people improve the quality of their relationships, cultivate leadership skills and garner the respect and love of others, all leading to greater personal happiness. And what’s even more amazing is that it’s possible to learn the emotional communication skills necessary for establishing, maintaining, and deepening relationships at any age.

Joan Moran is a keynote speaker, commanding the stage with her delightful humor, raw energy, and wealth of life experiences. She is an expert on wellness and is passionate about addressing the problems of mental inertia. A yoga instructor and Argentine tango dancer, Joan is the author is Sixty, Sex, & Tango, Confessions of a Beatnik Boomer.

Visit her website: http://www.joanfrancesmoran.com     Follow Joan on Twitter: @joanfmoran   http://www.twitter.com/joanfmoran

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10 Common Myths About Emotions (and Why They’re Wrong)

How well do you understand your own emotions? Nietzsche (link is external)once said that we are often most clueless about what is closest to us. Nothing is closer to us than our own emotions; nevertheless, we do not understand them.

Following is a list of some common misunderstanding about emotions:

1. You can’t help how you feel.

Emotions are forms of judgment . A person’s emotional experience typically results from a subjective interpretation (appraisal) of an event rather than the event itself, even though the appraisal (beliefs) involved may not be accurate. Different individuals can interpret the same event differently: For example, grief about someone’s death represents a judgment about that person’s importance to the person. For a joke to be funny, it has to be perceived as such by someone. When there is no appraisal, there is no emotion. The appraisal is like discovering the black box of a plane crash that recorded flight data just before the crash. Without a “psychological autopsy” into someone’s interpretation we are in the dark. Cognitive therapy is based on the idea that much of the emotional pain is caused by distorted (irrational) thinking.

2. Emotions cannot be expressed in words.

It is true that our language is not developed for “inner experience.”  But it does not follow that emotions are indescribable. As noted above, emotions are judgment—describable and analyzable in considerable details. Parents and teachers frequently ask young children to “use their words” when they are upset and emotional, and research shows that describing anger and fear would be helpful to self-control.  The simple act of putting feelings into words activates the brain’s control system (inhibition) and diminishes emotional reactions.

3. Emotions are feelings.

Neuroscientist Damasio writes that feelings are a bodily experience provoked by an emotional response. Feelings require some element of awareness. In other words, they register in consciousness and they are not merely intellectual (like thinking). If we were to think of an emotion as a simple bodily feeling, there would be no obvious role for reflection. We can tolerate the feeling like an itch or a headache (or diminish it with booze). What we feel is just a small piece of the picture.

4. “The hydraulic metaphor.”

As the name suggests, if emotions are denied expression, they will leak somewhere else. And we need to express our emotions to feel better. For example, we often talk about anger in terms of “heating up,” “simmering,” or “boiling over.” The metaphor represents passivity, against the view that emotions can be cultivated and educated. Research in emotion regulation  has shown that there are a variety of ways that inappropriate emotional reactions and experiences can be disrupted by making use of our human ability—reinterpretation and distraction. For example, we often use humor to block anger or fear to resolve tension.

5. “I know exactly what you did to upset me.”

People are often mistaken about their own emotions. They misread and misname them. And, of course, they misread other people’s emotions, particularly when their perception is colored by their own preferences or prejudices. Consider the emotionally complex situation of divorce. Experts note that husbands’ reactions are often dominated by anger, an emotion that allows them to maintain confident and dominant position. A therapeutic goal is to help men recognize that some of their negative affect may come from sadness, hurt feelings, and fear, emotions that are more painful and scary and that they may be motivated to avoid. Misattributions usually disappear when people are made aware of the true source of their affective states.


6. Emotions are stupid.

Emotion and reason are not competing forces but complementary processes that interact and influence each other. Accumulated evidence  shows that emotion is part of the mechanism of reasoning, and so a lack of it is detrimental to decision-making. For example, children with autism  lack the emotional capacity to grasp other human beings’ feelings or motivations. People rely to some extent on their feelings and hunches in order to make successful decisions. Emotional reactions provides a critical summary of our past experiences with a situation or event, and this summary is experienced as “gut” feeling that can make decision-making process more efficient. It is not enough to know what should be done; it is also necessary to feel it.

7. Emotions are irrational.

Rationality is maximizing our well-being. Our emotions are rational insofar as they further our collective as well as personal well-being. For example, envy is an irrational emotion. At the heart of envy is a resentful comparison (“he has it, I don’t”). Grief at the loss of love one is rational. Guilt is seen as one of the moral emotions, linked to the interests of other people and motivating concerns for others. Love is irrational, when one knowingly goes after what one cannot have, driving oneself insane in the hopeless pursuit of the impossible (e.g., dating a married person).

8. Emotions happen to us.

Most of our emotions, most of the time, are not entirely beyond our control. It is a pattern of behavior chosen and practiced over time. Some discover, for example, that anger is an effective way of intimidating people, and so they allow themselves to get angry at the slightest provocation. Some cultivate sadness, perhaps because they earn sympathy that way, or because feeling sorry for themselves allows them to withdraw and be irresponsible. Love is a process of willful escalation we work our way into.

9. “I will always feel this way.”

Typical emotions are essentially transient. What comes up often comes down. As Socrates remarked, “The hottest love has the coldest end.” A typical emotional response involves a quick rise lasting for a few minutes, followed by a relatively slow decay. For example, anger usually lasts for more than a few minutes, but rarely more than a few hours. However, people tend to mis-predict the short duration of emotional response. For example, after a romantic breakup, heartbroken people are unable to anticipate the decay of their emotions. One of the reasons for adolescents’ high risk for suicide is because when they feel pain, they lack the life experience to know it is temporary. After a while the change becomes a normal and stable situation.

10. Moods are hard to reverse.

A variety of studies have demonstrated that adopting facial expressions of emotion can lead to the corresponding emotional feelings. In other words, “Fake it till you make it.” An expression of pride produces determination. Projecting pride motivates people to try harder in problem solving. We feel sad if we sit in a slumped posture or talk in a slow and low voice. For anger management, Buddhism advises us that we should force ourselves to relax our face and soften our voice, that our internal state will soon come to resemble our external state, and that our anger will dissipate. It’s reported that the late fashion designer Oscar de la Renta believed in beauty, not for beauty’s sake, but because he understood that elevating the outside could help elevate the inside.

The take-away: If we look into our emotional lives with the idea that our emotions are forces beyond our control that happen to us, we are inclined to accept bad behavior that otherwise might be controlled. By taking responsibility instead, we will no longer feel like the victim of our own emotions.

Oct. 16, 2015       Shahram Heshmat Ph.D.

Shahram Heshmat, Ph.D., is an associate professor emeritus of health economics of addiction
at the University of Illinois at Springfield.


5 Habits Of Emotionally Balanced People

As a life coach, many of my clients come to me feeling like they’re unable to cope with their emotions. They feel overly sensitive and are fearful of experiencing any strong emotions. What I tell them is that finding emotional balance doesn’t have to be hard work — it’s simply about identifying where we need to make small internal shifts that will help us cope better.

Here are five habits that can bring you blissful emotional balance:

1. Instead of reacting, they respond.

A reaction is a hot, in-the-moment burst of emotion that’s usually driven by our ego (so we’re more likely to react when we’re disconnected from ourselves). It might last just a split second before our intuition kicks in and offers some perspective, or it might take over to a point that we act on it. When we feel crappy after dealing with a situation or person, that’s a sign we’ve reacted rather than responded. Responding will leave you feeling like you handled things with integrity and respect.

2. They honor the reality of their emotions.

When we’re in the here and now, it’s much easier to cope with emotions and see them as just that: emotions. If we get caught up future or past tripping, emotions and situations can take on new (and untrue) meanings as they become attached to stories.

For example, imagine you’re turned down for a job. Naturally you’re disappointed. If you’re not present with that emotion and experience it in the moment the mind delves back into your past for all the other times you’ve felt that way. Now you feel like a failure and start to carry a feeling of unworthiness into every other interview. When we stay present, we’re empowered to start fresh every moment and we can see every situation with perspective.


3. They look inward and have true compassion for their authentic selves.

Make a big list of all the things that make you feel great, and do at least one thing on it every day. Big or small, it doesn’t matter! Doing something that makes us feel amazing is an act of self-love — it’s that simple! This small effort reduces stress levels and makes us feel capable and confident.

Rather than waiting for other people or circumstances to make us feel good, practicing self love is all about empowering ourselves to feel how we want to feel, all the time.

4. They insist on movement.

When we’re feeling down, stressed or anxious, one of the best ways to get out of our head and reconnected with ourselves is movement — especially free movement. It’s very rare we move our bodies in a way that is totally free! Put on some music and give it a go whenever you feel like you’re in a bit of a funk. It will feel weird at first so make a feel-good playlist of songs that you just can help but boogie to. Make movement (of any kind) part of your daily ritual of looking after your emotional well-being.

5. They don’t treat gratitude as a bonus; they make it a requirement.

Practicing gratitude is super supportive for our emotional wellness because it shifts our focus to the good in our lives, and trains up to look for the positives in every situation. It gives us appreciation for all that we have instead of getting caught up with what’s lacking. To cultivate gratitude, try sharing three things you’re grateful for each day with your partner, family or housemates during dinner or before bed. You can also write a gratitude list in your journal or make a gratitude jar to put slips of paper with things you’re grateful for on them into it every day.

Looking after our emotional wellness helps us get the very most out of life. When we feel emotionally balanced, we feel more centered and connected to our intuition. We become more productive, better at making decisions, more present, and the very best version of ourselves.


6 Ways to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

What makes someone successful? Is it book smarts, street smarts or a combination of the two? Maybe it is someone who is naturally gifted in their field? You might be surprised to learn that the most successful people are those that know how to manage their emotions.

Knowing how to remain calm in the face of adversity and collected and focused despite external challenges is known as emotional intelligence, and it is the quality that makes people happy and successful.

That is good news because unlike being naturally-gifted, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be learned, practiced and improved.

In a study on emotional intelligence, a group of participants given emotional intelligence training were better able to handle difficult situations and manage their emotions than the group that received no training at all. The study also showed that the one-time training lasted well beyond the experiment. This means the work you do now will benefit you well into the future.

Here are 6 ways to develop your emotional intelligence:

Be Self-Aware

The first step to increasing your emotional intelligence is to understand your emotions by becoming aware of them. We are often told to hide our feelings but to tap into your emotional intelligence you need to feel.

Start by observing what you are feeling during one given day. Stop yourself and let yourself feel whatever it is you’re feeling.

Feel it and then describe it. When you describe it, you are becoming more aware and will begin to understand your emotional triggers and patterns.

Adapt Your Emotions

Now that you are becoming more aware of your emotions start looking for patterns and triggers. Look back at a situation where your emotions got the best of you and think of what you would do differently, if you had remained calm and collected.

This mental exercise isn’t about beating yourself up; it is about learning from your past experiences to better prepare you for the future. The best place to be when reacting to a situation is in a place of calm. Once you begin to recognize the patterns, you can talk yourself out of overreacting and begin to react with more intention.


Forgiveness is often misinterpreted as letting someone off the hook. The reality is forgiveness is about taking back emotional control over your feelings and releasing the control someone else has over you. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.

Forgiveness is acknowledging that the action happened and how it made you feel. There is nothing there that can be changed. You can choose to reside in the feelings of the past or choose to move through them. Moving through it and letting it go is the one the healthiest and most beneficial things you can do for yourself.

Girl on swing at sunset


Be Empathetic

Understanding your feelings is only half the equation, the other half is understanding and being able to imagine how others feel. Empathy connects you to another person through shared feelings.

By nature we are selfish beings; we want what we want. And that works just fine until you have to interact with another selfish person. It is through shared feelings that we begin to find our true, authentic self. Our ability to empathize with people gives us the courage to live outside of ourselves.

Manage Criticism

We are critical beings, and one of the best and easiest ways to increase emotional intelligence is stop taking everything so seriously. In other words, lighten up.

How you manage criticism you receive, can impact every area of your life. If you are holding onto critical statements and carrying them with you throughout the day, that negativity is infecting everything you touch.

It’s important to realize that most criticism that evokes negative feelings in us is usually designed for that purpose by the other person. When we react negatively to criticism, whether constructive or not, we are reacting out of our fears and insecurities.

Go back to becoming more self-aware and adapt your emotions to the situation. When you begin to react to criticism from a place of calm rather than anger, you begin to see the criticism as a valuable tool for improving your performance and showing someone’s true colors.

Stand Up for What Is Right

When you begin to develop your emotional intelligence, you are just trying to get better acquainted with your feelings and how to adapt them to serve you better. Every interaction comes with emotions from everyone involved, and now it’s time to take your emotional intelligence to a new level by standing up for what is right.

Gossiping is a prime example. When you are in a conversation that includes gossip, you might not have the most positive feelings yet you let the gossip go on. There are a million reasons why you do: you don’t want to offend anyone, you want to be part of the crowd, or you don’t know how to take a stand.

By not doing what is right, which is speaking from your experience, you are not adapting your emotions to the situation, you are giving in to them. Do what’s right and take a stand for your truth. It is not always easy swimming upstream, but the effort always pays off in the end.

Developing and growing your emotional intelligence is something that anyone can do. It doesn’t require a high IQ or access to higher education, it simply requires you to become vulnerable enough to listen and learn from your feelings.

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Sweating the small stuff? Research shows minor events play a major role in decisions

Daniel Bitonti, CTVNews.ca    Published Sunday, November 24, 2013

It happens almost every day to each and every one of us: Those small anxiety-inducing events, from a frustrating, traffic-congested commute, to spilling coffee at your desk.

And a new study out of the University Toronto shows that people who are not in tune with their emotions often let these small events play into unrelated and big decisions.

“The emotions they have, which might be caused for any reason, can carry over to important decisions they make in their life,” Stephane Cote said, a professor at U of T’s Rotman School of Management, who co-wrote the study with Jeremy Yip of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

One experiment Cote and his partner undertook involved a group of undergraduate students.

Students were first given a test on their general emotion-understanding ability, known as the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test. Some students were then put into what researchers had determined was an anxiety-inducing situation: told they had 60 seconds to mentally prepare a speech.

In this increased state of anxiety, students were then asked whether they wanted to sign up to get the flu shot at the campus clinic after having read a fact sheet about the flu.

Cote says that students with a low degree of emotional intelligence actually signed up for the flu shot in the highest numbers. But this, researchers determined, was not due to a genuine concern for their health, but rather a result of the anxiety they had about having to prepare a speech. 

“There’s a finding when people are anxious they’re too careful,” Cote said.

Students with a high degree of emotional intelligence were actually less likely to sign up for the flu shot. The conclusion is that while they had made a riskier choice, it was also more rational, based solely on the decision in front of them.

(Perhaps another tidbit to be gleaned from the study: university students really, really don’t like getting shots.)

But arguably the most interesting finding was that another group of students with low emotional intelligence – once made aware by researchers that their anxiety had nothing to do with the decision at hand – were less likely to sign up for the flu shot than those who hadn’t been told this.

The conclusion: simply being made aware that a past event has no relation to current circumstances has an effect on decision making.

And with our financial system predicated on companies and individuals often having to take risks – which often lead to big returns – the research gives us insight into why investors might become risk-averse.

It might also help us with our personal relationships. For example, you might stop to ask yourself why you got mad at our spouse last night. (Perhaps it was that flat tire you got on the way home from work.)

The research can also be applied to the political arena. 

The biggest story right now in Canada is the ongoing drama involving Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

There’s no question the mayor has engaged (admittedly) in some questionable behavior in recent weeks, including making a lewd comment about oral sex.

But Cote said it could be argued that Ford’s decision to make that comment stemmed from related attacks against him the previous day. Perhaps, just perhaps, Ford was actually in an emotionally-aware state when he said what he said.

Cote thinks, however, that his research could be applied to how city councillors might make decisions in the near future, specifically related to the perceived damage to the city in the wake of the scandal.

For example, when council is restored to normalcy, and an item comes to the floor that is part of the Ford agenda, will councillors now be more likely to vote against it simply because they’re angry at Ford?

For councillors with lower emotional intelligence, this could be something to look out for.

“Anger could lead to people retaliating, to make something they see unfair more fair, and might influence policy decisions,” Cote said.  “Even though the policy decisions have nothing to do with the cause of the anger.”

source: www.ctvnews.ca