How to Move from Emotional Stress in to Rational Thinking
We encounter situations that will trigger (emotional) reactions in us all of the time. We can re-train ourselves to filter out the stuff that is not useful to us; the stuff that causes us unnecessary stress and unhappiness. It just takes practice.
So how do I stop over-reacting to things?
Perception is everything!
When our brains perceive a situation or event as threatening in some way or it recognises a situation that has hurt or threatened us in the past it lets you know by releasing chemicals (notably adrenaline) around our bodies to ensure you are alert and are paying attention to the “threat”. Your brain may not entirely know what it is about this event which is troubling but it knows it’s cropped up before and needs you to protect yourself. This ‘fight or flight’ can of course be triggered when we are physically under threat but also when our emotions are threatened.
Our brains start storing this information from the time we are born and they can be triggered instantaneously as our brains work to keep us alive. Your brain doesn’t know whether it’s a real threat or a perceived one- it simply knows ‘Threat Detected- Send Adrenaline!’
You may believe ‘This is just who I am- I’m anxious and over react; a natural worrier’ but I doubt you were born this way. It has been learnt. And what has been learnt can be unlearnt!
Imagine Ella’s Dad left when she was three years old and this troubled her throughout her life. Her Mum died when she was 19 and she decided to find her Dad. When she approached him he rejected her saying he had made a new life.
Ella has experienced three major rejections (we often sub-consciously experience bereavement as being ‘left’), one of these in her very formative years; the years her brain makes sense of the world and works out ‘how things are done in life’. Is it not entirely normal that she will have a bigger reaction to any threats of rejection that someone who had not experienced this? Would it be surprising to find she feels insecure in relationships and friendships, gets jealous easily (even violent when feeling someone might leave her) and can sabotage good relationships so that she can leave them before they leave her?
These ‘fight or flight’ responses take over us momentarily but we have a choice about what happens next:
Taking oxygen in and filling your lungs does at least two things, it gets more oxygen into your body at a time when your brain has sent more blood to your limbs (to give you strength to run or protect yourself). This helps you think more clearly. Also it takes the focus away from the situation a little- if you count your breaths and focus on ‘in through the nose- out through pursed lips’ deep and slow breathing.
You may choose at this point to say “This is just chemicals- I am fine. This situation is triggering something from my past”
When you feel calmer you are ready to move your focus away from the issue a little and check out other explanations.
How is my past affecting my judgement of this situation?
Am I looking at this situation rationally or with high emotion? If it is triggering childhood stuff (even in a very non-obvious or indirect way) you will be in emotion and not thinking mode. Your body is fighting to keep you safe in this threatening situation. If you can calm yourself with breathing, use up the adrenaline by running up and down the stairs or running on the spot for a moment you may be ready to see things more rationally.
What am I focussing on? What am I not seeing?
If I am entirely fixated on the issue I cannot see what else is going on. Those people that sniggered when they walked by may have been talking about something or sharing a joke. How do I know it was aimed at me?
Challenge your negative thinking — look at the evidence calmly and rationally.
If you are only seeing one aspect, dispute this as fact and look at other possibilities.
When faced with problems, widen your focus to see MORE of the situation before you act. Emotions are extremely valuable and important and they can also cloud our judgement when in stressful situations. We can practice moving in to rational thinking, away from emotional feeling at those times when we are likely to make bad decisions. Of course we must trust our feelings and instincts, while remembering that our brain is basing its reactions on events we experienced often as very small children.
When faced with situations that trigger strong emotions, trouble you or just feel wrong check what you are focussing on and shine the light around the situation so that you can see MORE and see things in a different way. This simple skill can save you hours and years of heartache, stress and worry with practice.