Managing your emotions skillfully is as difficult as a mountain climber rappelling from a vertical ledge.
I have to tell you that I don’t have a great reaction pattern to the parade of negative things that happen every day. Mostly I overreact to issues that are almost always relatively easy to resolve—and I often react as if they were life threatening. I think we as people tend to overreact to situations.
When you overreact, how do you feel inside? I think people react differently, but every time I overreact it’s like a small to large electrical shock going off in my head and running through my whole body. You probably won’t notice because I’m good at looking calm when I’m in turmoil.
Worry and dread are truly a part of us—we often feel endangered physically, financially, or that we might suffer a profound blow to our pride. Negative emotions are part of our protective system.
But negative reactions come to us as a part of adulthood which is not all good. I don’t know about you, but when I grew up to be a “responsible human being,” it’s been good news and bad news ever since. The good news was that I started to clean up my room, pay my bills on time, and show up to do my work—a great relief to my parents and friends who wondered about me.
But there are a lot of things I don’t like about this “responsible human being” gig. When I was a child I didn’t worry about anything—someone else would take care of it. As this new “responsible human being” some really bad side effects of adulthood began to emerge. From being an unfocused, chubby, hand in the peanut butter, just let it happen kid, I determined to become the model adult for all humankind.
I wanted to take care of every responsibility and opportunity, but one of my main focuses now was not just to get on the train, but to see the train hurtling toward me at the other end of the tunnel.
But what can I do about my emotional reactions? They are just me, right? If I regularly feel fearful, embattled, angry, alone, ill at ease, I really can’t do anything about that, can I?
Scientific research show us that it’s time to rethink managing our emotions. Why? There are huge physical consequences if we don’t.
Inflammation in Your Body. Yes, emotions cause muscles and nerves to become inflamed, just like when a rock falls on your toe and it swells. As your veins and arteries swell because of inflation, this damages many organs and systems in our bodies.
Memory Loss/Judgment Collapse. Have you ever said to yourself I’m just so upset I just can’t think straight? Bingo. Over a longer period of time the inability to manage your emotions erodes the memory and allows judgment to collapse. Many scientists today believe that early onset of Alzheimer’s Disease is related to the inability of people to manage negative emotions.
Heart Attack and Stroke. We often think of these two diseases and striking people randomly with nothing that we can do about either, but managing our emotions can drastically reduce our possibilities of contracting these two diseases.
Destruction of the Immune System. New studies show that negative emotions over time destroy the immune system and lay people open to a weakened body that is more open to disease. The way you manage your mind can keep your body healthy.
How do we Handle Negative Emotions?
So what do we do about negative emotions that can be important to life and survival, but at the same time can result in disease and early death?
- Keep your Serenity Safe—The most important thing is how you’re feeling, not what you’re doing. That’s totally contrary to what we’re told. If you’re powering your life with powerful negative emotions, you won’t be able to enjoy your accomplishments over time. Positive emotions support long term accomplishments.
- Have a Conversation with Your Negative Emotions. If someone came into your home uninvited you’d want to ask them a few questions. Negative reactions are never invited, but they take up room in your brain and they don’t pay rent. What level of reaction does this concern deserve, you must ask yourself. How do we resolve it quickly without emotional reactions? In other cases, it’s serious. How do we manage what’s happened and build on it?
- Make Joy Your Goal. Carol and I have always said we could have made more money in life if we had chosen a carpet cleaning franchise, but we chose something we could do every day and be excited about it. Having a joyful outcome crushes the negative situations we face each day.
- If a Toxic Environment Won’t Change, Change Your Location. A rabbi once said as it is recorded in the Talmud, “the most hopeless man is the one who complains about the town he lives in, and won’t move to another town.“ Leaving situations can be very difficult, but leaving a toxic environment is critical to survival.
Changing the pattern of the way we react to the small and large things that happen to us throughout the day is not only possible—it is key to a healthy life—but it’s a steep climb. Heathy reactions to what’s going on around us makes us better leaders. It’s as important as anything we can do.