I have worked with over 1500 people, teaching them skills to handle life’s challenges.
One concept I talk about is that stress is not an emotion; it is the physiological chaos that results from experiencing a negative/depleting emotion in response to your perception of an event, situation, or circumstance.
When I ask the people I am working with for examples of depleting emotions, the answers come quickly- anger, fear, worry, anxiety, overwhelm, rage, irritation, sadness, grief, depression, guilt.
And they are correct. But the interesting thing is how quickly they can come up with so many examples.
When I ask the same people for examples of positive/renewing emotions, the answer I get comes differently. It is typically something more like: “…Happy?”
Why is this? Why the difference?
I think it is because we are generally more familiar with negative emotions- we tend to experience them more often, talk about them more often, notice them more often- than we are with positive emotions.
So what are some examples of renewing emotions?
Yes, happy is one. But so are calm, peace, gratitude, love, a sense of accomplishment, contentment, appreciation, care, love, joy, patience, hope, compassion, empathy, acceptance, curiosity, playful, excitement, passion, and exhilaration.
Any time you experience a positive emotion (any positive emotion) you experience physiological harmony - a state known as coherence. This is the opposite of stress - a state known as incoherence.
In other words, if you want to stop feeling stressed, your goal does not have to be “feel happy”. That can seem unattainable to some people. Your goal can be to feel acceptance, appreciation, love, or any renewing emotion!
Your goal doesn’t even have to be the seemingly opposite of your negative emotion. For example, let’s say you are standing in a line a the grocery store and the person in front of you have a bazillion questions for the store clerk and you find yourself feeling impatient. You might think that the only way to stop stressing in this moment is to feel patience. And while choosing to experience patience in that moment will stop the stress, there may be times that you find shifting to patience nearly impossible to do.
But you can also stop the stress and create physiological harmony by consciously choosing to experience appreciation or empathy, or any other positive emotion that might be more easily accessible in that moment.
It doesn’t even have to be appreciation for the inquisitive person ahead of you. It could be for having a store to shop in, or for the ability to stand. Just feeling any renewing emotion about anything will create physiological coherence and stop the stress.
There are so many more positive emotions than “happy”. Maybe it’s time to get more familiar with them.
Here’s to conquering stress.
The Stress Experts
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