Are you tired of being stressed out all the time?
Do you want to change but aren’t sure what to do?
Well, you’re not alone and I’m here to help!
If you want to know how to reduce stress you need to figure out what you’re feeling. This means identifying the specific emotion that’s causing your stress—because unless you know what you’re feeling, you can’t change.
As I often say on the Wise Mind Living blog, your stress can always be boiled down to one of the big eight emotions. There are only eight emotion families to choose from (read about them here) so that makes the task of identifying them easier.
The next step to stopping stress is to become aware of the cycle of an emotion. Believe it or not, every emotion follows a standard cycle even though each emotional experience feels so complex and unique.
Every emotional experience can be broken down into six components that are always present. Becoming aware of the cycle of emotion—what it is, how it affects you and how you can interrupt it—is a way to be more mindful of emotion.
In understanding these six component parts, you’ll be using Wise Mind, and that’s always the goal, no matter the situation.
So let me describe each component in the Cycle of Emotion:
1. Prompting event
This is the thing that triggers you to feel an emotion in the first place.
The trigger can come from something that happens outside of you (like someone saying or doing something). Or can be something that happens internally (like a thought or a memory).
For example, if you get a phone call from your babysitter saying that your son has just broken the window with a baseball, there’s a good chance that’s going to trigger anger.
No matter what triggered it, every emotional experience includes a “story” you tell yourself about the prompting event.
These are the thoughts you have about the trigger and what you think it means about you, other people or the world in general.
You’re more likely to think in distorted ways when you’re feeling a big emotion and this can increase its intensity. So, it’s important to watch out for some of the hallmark emotional thinking traps (read more about them here).
Interpretations you might make in the broken window example could be thoughts like “He should know better” or “I can’t stand that he keeps making such dumb choices.”
3. Physical response
As you’ve likely experienced, every big emotion has physical symptoms that go with it.
If you’ve ever narrowly avoided a car crash you might remember how your heart raced and your hands shook with fear. But what you might not realize is that all emotions – not just big ones – have physical signals.
Start paying attention and I bet you’ll notice some of the more subtle physical changes associated with your emotions such as slight tension in your jaw or shoulders, or feeling cold or flushed.
4. Urge to act
Since the main reason you have emotions is to keep you safe in the world, every emotion is hardwired to urge you to do something.
However, acting on the urges that emotional experiences trigger, like wanting to throw the file back at your boss when she gives you a huge assignment at 4pm, are not always in your best interest!
Becoming more aware of those urges is a great way to identify what you’re feeling and avoid making an Emotion Mind choice.
The more mindful you are of what you’re feeling, the more in control you’ll be of your behavioral responses.
So whether the emotional experience makes you want to scream, hide under the covers or reach out for help, if you view it through Wise Mind you’ll get to decide which will be the most effective course of action.
At the close of every emotion cycle you experience its aftereffects.
This is the impact the whole emotional experience has on you and includes the impact of the trigger—and how you responded to it. Having gone through the cycle you’re likely to have additional thoughts and feelings about it, and this can start a whole new cycle of emotion all over again.
So if you ran home and screamed at your son about the broken window only to discover later that it was the neighbor’s kid that threw it, you might feel shame and regret. And there you go onto a whole new emotion cycle!
Now that you know the components of an emotional experience, it’s time to practice being more mindful of them as they happen. Each part of the cycle offers you a chance to intervene with a distressing emotion and make a change, but only if you’re mindful of what each component is all about.
And now it’s time to put this knowledge to use in your homework assignment, something that I call a Wise Mind Review.
The next time you notice yourself feeling a big emotion, start writing and see if you can quickly break it down into these six components. When you can standardize an emotion and break it down, it feels much more manageable.
Sometimes just catching yourself in the emotion can stop it from getting bigger or causing you to stress out. You can change your reactions, resist emotion mind urges, and prevent the next emotion from starting if you’re aware of your emotions.
Like any new skill this takes practice. And, sometimes it can be helpful to ask for someone else’s perspective. So, if you find yourself stuck, leave me a note in the comments section below.
Photo credit: Bigstock