Anxiety is a normal, if unpleasant, part of life, and it can affect us all at different times and in different ways. It can persist whether or not the cause is clear to the sufferer.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. It’s natural to worry during stressful times, but some people feel anxious day after day, even with little to worry about. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily life.
For people with an anxiety disorder, feelings like stress, panic and worry are longer-lasting, more extreme and far harder to control. Symptoms may also include feeling restless or agitated, panic attacks, having trouble concentrating or sleeping, sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness and heart palpitations, MQ Mental Health, 2019.
Let’s take a look at some female celebrities who have told of their anxiety and/or panic attacks:
Oprah Winfrey said in a 2013 interview that anxiety nearly caused her to have a nervous breakdown.
Kourtney Kardashian wrote on her blog “When my anxiety is extreme, it feels like my body is constantly burning calories all day long,”
Lady Gaga says “I’ve suffered through depression and anxiety my entire life; I still suffer with it every single day.”
Ariana Grande said that following the bombing at her Manchester Arena concert in May 2017, she experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Whoopi Goldberg is afraid of flying and this condition is a form of anxiety known as a phobia, a fear of a particular object or situation.
Adele suffers from anxiety attacks
It may be especially hard for men to disclose mental health problems, as boys are more often taught from young to be strong, not to be a cry-baby and not to talk about feelings. However, as of late, lots of male celebrities have expressed problems with anxiety and what’s great is they’re using their own platforms to bring awareness to mental health issues and encourage other men to get help:
Prince Harry has shared how panic attacks plagued him after his mother’s death.
Michael Phelps said that throughout his career, he struggled with depression and anxiety at various times.
Zayn Malik of One Direction said he cancelled one of his concerts due to extreme anxiety.
Leonardo Dicaprio says that his anxiety stems from the small things, things that really shouldn’t make you anxious.
Hugh Grant said “absurd stage fright attacks” would hit him in the middle of filming without warning. The episodes began while he was filming Notting Hill in 1999, after which, he took a five-year break from acting.
Ryan Reynolds said he spent many nights earlier in his career awake paralyzed by anxiety.
The above are just some of the celebs who suffer from anxiety, there’s lots more who experience different mental health disorders.
When celebrities and people in the public eye open up about their anxiety and disclose their mental health issues, it can help break down some of the barriers surrounding mental health and reduce the stigma. According to Psychology Today, “High profile people who disclose their experiences with mental illness bring a positive light to health and wellness.”
However, Each Mind Matters said that according to research, sharing your own story may have a larger impact on the attitudes of the people in your daily life than a celebrity’s public disclosure.
What helps you when you’ve experienced anxiety? Do you have any tips you could share?
In this short series about faulty thinking (cognitive distortions) first we looked at the list of10 cognitive distortions such as all-or-nothing thinking, over-generalization and magnification or minimisation, which are commonly associated with lots of mental health disorders i.e. depression, anxiety,
Then we considered how our Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT’s) are often related to a distortion that we may or may not realize we have. Let’s say, a friend on the opposite side of the road passes you by, your first ANT might be “She just ignored me.” which might lead to “She doesn’t like me anymore.” When in actual fact, she might not have seen you or she may have worries of her own to think about.
We also addressed how learning to Decatastophise is useful when you need to talk yourself out of a catastrophising situation.
You had worksheets for both these exercises and I suggest that you practice completing them until you feel confident you’ve changed at least one cognitive distortion, then move onto the next. Practice, practice, practice — you wouldn’t expect to be able to give a presentation in Russian if you’ve only ever had one Russian lesson. So practicing is the answer.
This post will now cover three more exercises to help you change your faulty thinking (cognitive distortions).
Dysfunctional Thought Record
This worksheet is especially helpful for people who struggle with negative thoughts and need to work out when and why those thoughts are most likely to crop up. Learning more about what provokes certain automatic thoughts makes them easier to address and reverse.
On the far left, there is space to write down the date and time a dysfunctional thought arose.
The second column is where the situation is listed. Describe the event that led up to the dysfunctional thought in detail.
The third column is for the automatic thought. This is where your dysfunctional automatic thought is recorded, along with a rating of belief in the thought on a scale from 0% to 100% (0 = don’t believe this thought at all and 100 = believe this thought completely).
The next column is where the emotion(s) elicited by this thought are listed, also with a rating of intensity on a scale from 0% to 100%.
Use this fifth column to note the dysfunctional thought that will be addressed. Example maladaptive thoughts include distortions such as over-inflating the negative while dismissing the positive of a situation, or overgeneralizing. Use our Cognitive Distortions List to help you.
The second-to-last column is for you to write down alternative thoughts that are more positive and functional to replace the negative one.
Finally, the last column is for you to write down the outcome of this exercise. Were you able to confront the dysfunctional thought? Did you write down a convincing alternative thought? Did your belief in the thought and/or the intensity of your emotion(s) decrease?
A brilliant CBT tool is this Fact Checking Thoughts Worksheet because it can be extremely helpful in recognizing that your thoughts are not necessarily true.
At the top of this worksheet is an important lesson: Thoughts are not facts.
Of course, it can be hard to accept this, especially when we are in the throes of a dysfunctional thought or intense emotion. Filling out this worksheet can help you come to this realization; thoughts are not facts.
The worksheet includes 16 statements that the user must decide are either fact or opinion. These statements include:
I’m a bad person.
I failed the test.
I didn’t lend my friend money when they asked.
This is not a trick—there is a right answer for each of these statements. (In case you’re wondering, the correct answers for the statements above are as follows: opinion, fact, opinion, fact.)
This simple exercise can help you see that while we have lots of emotionally charged thoughts, they are not all objective truths. Recognizing the difference between fact and opinion can assist us in challenging the dysfunctional or harmful opinions we have about ourselves and others.
This worksheet employs the use of Socratic questioning, a technique that can help you to challenge irrational or illogical thoughts.
The first page of the worksheet has a thought bubble for “What I’m Thinking”. You can use this space to write down a specific thought, usually, one you suspect is destructive or irrational.
Next, you write down the facts supporting and contradicting this thought as a reality. What facts about this thought being accurate? What facts call it into question? Once you have identified the evidence, you can use the last box to make a judgment on this thought, specifically whether it is based on evidence or simply your opinion.
The next page is a mind map of Socratic Questions which can be used to further challenge the thought. You may wish to re-write “What I’m Thinking” in the centre so it is easier to challenge the thought against these questions.
One question asks whether this thought is truly a black-and-white situation, or whether reality leaves room for shades of grey. This is where you think about (and write down) whether you are using all-or-nothing thinking, for example, or making things unreasonably simple when they are complex.
Another asks whether you could be misinterpreting the evidence or making any unverified assumptions. As with all the other bubbles, writing it down will make this exercise more effective.
A third bubble instructs you to think about whether other people might have different interpretations of the same situation, and what those interpretations might be.
Next, ask yourself whether you are looking at all the relevant evidence or just the evidence that backs up the belief you already hold. Try to be as objective as possible.
It also helps to ask yourself whether your thought may an over-inflation of a truth. Some negative thoughts are based in truth but extend past their logical boundaries.
You’re also instructed to consider whether you are entertaining this negative thought out of habit or because the facts truly support it.
Then, think about how this thought came to you. Was it passed on from someone else? If so, is that person a reliable source of truth?
Finally, you complete the worksheet by identifying how likely the scenario your thought brings up actually is, and whether it is the worst-case scenario.
Recap. Today we’ve looked at the Dysfunctional thought record, Fact checking thoughts and Cognitive restructuring. You have worksheets that you can use to identify your faulty thinking by fact checking and Socratic questioning.
I hope you’ll try some of the exercises and let me know how you got on. If you didn’t complete any of the exercises, why not? What stopped you? I’d love to get your thoughts.
My last post was about our faulty thinking (cognitive distortion) such as all-or-nothing thinking, over-generalization and magnification or minimisation, which are commonly associated with lots of mental health disorders. I think we’d all agree that this unhelpful faulty thinking is just like any other automatically occurring bad habit, something we want to change.
Did you know — with practice and effort, you can become more aware of what is happening in your mind and change how you are thinking for the better?
Although it may seem overwhelmingly difficult to change your own ways of thinking, it is actually comparable to any other skill – it is hard when you first begin, but with practice, you will find it easier and easier to challenge your own negative thoughts and beliefs. Think about it; you wouldn’t expect to drive a car onto the motorway if you’ve only ever practiced driving once.
Today we’ll look at our both our Automatic Thoughts (download a worksheet here) and Decatastophising (download a worksheet here). These models come from cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to change our thought patterns, our conscious and unconscious beliefs, our attitudes, and, ultimately, our behavior, in order to help us face difficulties and achieve our goals.
Automatic Thought Records
The Automatic Thought Records worksheet is an excellent tool for identifying and understanding your cognitive distortions. Our automatic, negative thoughts (ANT’s) are often related to a distortion that we may or may not realize we have. An ANT might occur when a friend on the opposite side of the road passes by, your first ANT might be “She just ignored me.”
Completing this exercise can help you to figure out where you are making inaccurate assumptions or jumping to false conclusions.
The worksheet is split into six columns:
Automatic Thoughts (ATs)
A More Adaptive Response
First, you note the date and time of the thought.
In the second column, you will write down the situation. Ask yourself:
What led to this event? i.e. “Friend walked past.”
What caused the unpleasant feelings I am experiencing? i.e “She ignored me.”
The third component of the worksheet directs you to write down the negative automatic thought, including any images or feelings that accompanied the thought. You will consider the thoughts and images that went through your mind, write them down, and determine how much you believed these thoughts.
After you have identified the thought, the worksheet instructs you to note and write down the emotions that ran through your mind along with the thoughts and images identified. Ask yourself what emotions you felt at the time and how intense the emotions were on a scale from 0-10 (0 = barely felt it and 10 = completely overwhelming).
Next, you have an opportunity to come up with an adaptive response to those thoughts. This is where the real work happens, where you identify the distortions that are cropping up and challenge them.
Ask yourself these questions:
Which cognitive distortions were you employing?
What is the evidence that the automatic thought(s) is true, and what evidence is there that it is not true?
You’ve thought about the worst that can happen, but what’s the best that could happen? What’s the most realistic scenario?
How likely are the best-case and most realistic scenarios?
Finally, consider the outcome of this event. Think about how much you believe the automatic thought now that you’ve come up with an adaptive response, and rate your belief (on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being ‘don’t believe the automatic thought at all’ and 10 ‘believe entirely’). Write this on your Thought Record.
Determine what emotion(s) you are feeling now and at what intensity you are experiencing them (you can use a scale of 0-10) Write this down too.
This is a particularly good tool for talking yourself out of a catastrophizing situation.
The worksheet begins with a description of cognitive distortions in general and catastrophizing in particular; catastrophizing is when you distort the importance or meaning of a problem to be much worse than it is, or you assume that the worst possible scenario is going to come to pass. It’s a reinforcing distortion, as you get more and more anxious the more you think about it, but there are ways to combat it.
First, write down your worry. Identify the issue you are catastrophizing by answering the question, “What are you worried about?”
Once you have articulated the issue that is worrying you, you can move on to thinking about how this issue will turn out.
Think about how terrible it would be if the catastrophe actually came to pass. What is the worst-case scenario? Consider whether a similar event has occurred in your past and, if so, how often it occurred. With the frequency of this catastrophe in mind, make an educated guess of how likely the worst-case scenario is to happen.
After this, think about what is most likely to happen–not the best possible outcome, not the worst possible outcome, but the most likely. Consider this scenario in detail and write it down. Note how likely you think this scenario is to happen as well.
Next, think about your chances of surviving in one piece. How likely is it that you’ll be okay one week from now if your fear comes true? How likely is it that you’ll be okay in one month? How about one year? For all three, write down “Yes” if you think you’d be okay and “No” if you don’t think you’d be okay.
Finally, come back to the present and think about how you feel right now. Are you still just as worried, or did the exercise help you think a little more realistically? Write down how you’re feeling about it.
This worksheet can be an excellent resource for anyone who is worrying excessively about a potentially negative event.
So today we’ve looked at our automatic negative thoughts and decatastrophising. Did you complete any of the exercises? If yes, what did you learn. If no, why not — what stopped you from completing them?
I’d certainly be interest in your thoughts.
Much of this post has been adapted from Positivepsychology.com andtherapistaid.com two self-help sites that have science-based online resources, techniques, tools, and tips. I’ve borrowed their worksheets but you can also take a look at the sites where you’ll find lots of great info to help your mood.
Lets just get all the blurb out of the way — you can skip it if you want and just scroll down a few paragraphs to the thinking errors (cognitive distortions).
In 1972, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and cognitive therapy scholar Aaron T. Beck, who focussed his attention mainly on depression, published his book Depression: Causes and Treatment.(1)
The cognitive approach believes that mental illness stems from faulty cognitions about others, our world and us. This faulty thinking may be through cognitive deficiencies or cognitive distortions (processing information inaccurately). During his work, Beck developed a list of “errors” (cognitive distortions) in thinking that he proposed could maintain depression.
Cognitive deficit is an inclusive term used to describe impairment – when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life i.e. dementia. (Outside the scope of this post).
Cognitive distortions are exaggerated or irrational thoughts that cause individuals to perceive reality inaccurately. Whilst Beck laid the groundwork for the study of these distortions, his student David Burns (2) continued research on the topic and further developed the cognitive distortions to a list of ten.
The cognitive distortions listed below are categories of automatic thinking, and are to be distinguished from logical fallacies:
All-or-Nothing Thinking: You see things in black-or-white. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When you ate a big spoonful of ice cream, you told yourself, “I’ve really blown my diet now.” This thought upset you so much that you finished the entire tub!
Over generalisation: You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as “always” or “never” when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird poo on the windshield of his car. He told himself, “Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!” Of course the don’t always crap on his car.
Mental Filter: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.
Discounting the Positive: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count.” If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positive takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.
Jumping to Conclusions: You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. Your partner’s late coming in from work and you think, “Oh no. He must have had an accident.” Mind Reading: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively towards you. Your friend passes you on the other side of the road and you think,”Huh, she’s ignoring me!” She might not have seen you or she might be fretting over her own worries. Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, “I’m really going to blow it. What if I flunk?” If you’re depressed you may tell yourself, “I’ll never get better.”
Magnification: You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, “Look at the size of my nose.” or you minimise the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the “binocular trick.”
Emotional Reasoning: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly.” Or “I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person.” Or “I feel angry. This proves I’m being treated unfairly.” Or “I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second-rate person.” Or “I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless.” Just because you feel like crap, it doesn’t mean that you are.
“Should statements”: You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, “I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.” This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. “Musts,” “oughts” and “have tos” are similar offenders. “Should statements” that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: “He shouldn’t be so stubborn and argumentative.” Many people try to motivate themselves with should and shouldn’ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. “I shouldn’t eat that doughnut.” This usually doesn’t work because all these should and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite.
Labeling: Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” You might also label yourself “a fool” or “a failure” or “a jerk.” Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but “fools,” “losers,” and “jerks” do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem. You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: “He’s an S.O.B.” Then you feel that the problem is with that person’s “character” or “essence” instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.
Personalisation and blame: Personalisation occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, “This shows what a bad mother I am,” instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, “If only I were better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.” Personalisation leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy. Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: “The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.” Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It’s like the game of hot potato – no one wants to get stuck with it.
Cognitive therapy (CT) is a type of psychotherapy developed by Beck based on the cognitive model. This states that thoughts, feelings and behavior are all connected, and that individuals can move toward overcoming difficulties and meeting their goals by: identifying and changing unhelpful or inaccurate thinking, problematic behavior, and distressing emotional responses.
This involves the individual working collaboratively with a therapist to develop skills for testing and modifying beliefs, identifying distorted thinking, relating to others in different ways, and changing behaviors
My next post will look at ways of restructuring some of these unhelpful distortions.
I know I’ve had all of these thought distortions at some point in my life? Have you had any? Which ones?
Beck, Aaron T. (1972). Depression; Causes and Treatment. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Burns D. (1989). The Feeling Good Handbook. Harper-Collins Publishers. New York.
If you are interested in learning more about this book, you can find it on Amazon (I have no affiliation with Amazon) with over 1,400 reviews to help you evaluate its effectiveness.
While I can’t give you all the answers, take a look at this model which helps in identifying and treating mental illness.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, Fifth Edition, has defined depression as 5 or more of the following symptoms that are present for 2 or more weeks and cause significant emotional distress and/or impairment in functioning:
depressed or sad mood
short-tempered or easily annoyed
loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies or activities that was previously enjoyed
feeling of worthlessness or guilt
thoughts of death or suicide
difficulty with concentrating or making decisions
feeling tired or fatigue
feeling restless or slow
changes in appetite such as overeating or loss of appetite
changes in weight such as weight loss or weight gain, and changes in sleep pattern.1
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression occurs due to a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.2
Genetic vulnerability refers to the inherited characteristics passed on from parents to children that make it more likely that a person will develop a mental illness or addiction.
Biological theory suggests that depression is caused by an imbalance of naturally occurring substances called neurotransmitters (Serotonin and norepinephrine) in the brain and spinal cord.
Depression is said to be almost twice as likely to affect women than men and tends to have different contributing causes in women than it does in men. Contributing factors include reproductive hormones (biological)
Psychological and environmental/social factors—such as lifestyle choices ie too much alcohol, past trauma, low self-esteem, substance abuse and loneliness can also play an enormous part in depression.
Treatment for depression consists of participation in psychotherapy, taking antidepressants, or a combination of both. However, many individuals don’t participate in psychotherapy or antidepressants due to factors such as side effects, lack of access/resource, or personal choice.
According to Agius et al 2010, the stress -vulnerability model is an extremely useful model for identifying and treating relapses of mental illness. We accept that humans carry genetic and other predisposition to mental illness. However, the question arises as to how stress impacts on a person in order to cause mental illness to develop. Furthermore there arises the issue as to what other effects such stress has on the human body beyond the human brain. 4.
The Stress vulnerability model explores the interrelationship between all these factors, and the genetic component which in large part constitutes the ‘vulnerability’ part of the model. Such problems occur in many Psychiatric illnesses, including Depression, PTSD, as well as Schizophrenia.
Vulnerability Factors predispose individuals to develop mental health problems e.g psychosis, clinical depression. Problems are triggered by stress. If vulnerability is high, low levels of environmental stress may trigger distress. Use and effectiveness of coping strategies goes some way to explain why some have problems and others don’t.
Let’s take a look at the model and I’ll share how my vulnerability lead to a psychotic depression:
Look along the bottom where it says Vulnerability – high to low. For me, because mental illness runs in the family (genetic) I have a predisposition to mental illness. I grew up with mum as single carer for four children, I was shy and had low self-esteem (psychological). We moved a lot, I went to more than ten schools and each time I was bullied because of my new accents (social/environmental), then there’s the childhood abuse (psychological), so — I have a high vulnerability to mental illness.
Now look at the left-hand side where it says stressful events: my ex had a baby with someone else, then the breakdown of my relationship, my ex was cheating, I experienced domestic violence, one of his girlfriend’s plagued me for eighteen months, I wasn’t sleeping, I felt suicidal, I was now a single parent and didn’t have any real coping mechanisms other than to bottle it all up. Therefore, you can add up all the stressful events and my arrow is very high, as in the diagram.
Follow that curve in the model and you’ll see how I have an extremely low stress threshold towards mental illness. Hence my psychotic depression, anxiety, panic attacks and anorexia.
While I still have a predisposition to mental illness, there’s been a huge reduction in my stressful events so I now have a higher threshold for stress.
So, back to the chart — Along the bottom line, I’m at the end, on the right ‘high vulnerability’. But along the left side, I’m presently low down on the scale as I have minimum stress at the moment (trace along the chart with your finger). So you’ll see, I’m currently in the mental health category, rather than mental ill-health.
I still experience depression and anxiety but they tend to be reactive. I still take medication and I have an extensive toolbox of coping techniques that I can use, when necessary.
I found this model really helpful when working with patients and they liked how it might explain why they developed a mental illness. If you have a mental illness and you wonder why, try using the above chart to see if it’s helpful in determining the how or the why me?
Does this model fit with your ideas? Where would you sit on the graph? Do you think vulnerability needs more explanation? I’d really appreciate your thoughts.
Charlie Evans (2018) wrote a great article about the science of emotions and I’ve borrowed the following chart, The chemistry of emotions. The chart explains how different parts of the brain are responsible for different moods, or activate parts of the brain that trigger the stimulation of the autonomic nervous system.
While it’s a scientific explanation, I think the chart is self-explanatory so don’t be afraid of the big words like Noradrenaline and Acetylcholine.
Now let’s look at a neurological description. Lenzen (2005) conducted an interview with noted neurologist Antonio R. Damasio and I’d like to share the following excerpts with you.
Damasio was asked if he differentiated betweenfeelings andemotions.
Yes. In everyday language we often use the terms interchangeably. This shows how closely connected emotions are with feelings. But for neuroscience, emotions are more or less the complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli.
When we are afraid of something, our hearts begin to race, our mouths become dry, our skin turns pale and our muscles contract. This emotional reaction occurs automatically and unconsciously.
Feelings occur after we become aware in our brain of such physical changes; only then do we experience the feeling of fear.
So, feelings are formed by emotions?
Yes. The brain is constantly receiving signals from the body, registering what is going on inside of us. It then processes the signals in neural maps, which it then compiles in the so-called somatosensory centers.
Feelings occur when the maps are read and it becomes apparent that emotional changes have been recorded—as snapshots of our physical state, so to speak.
What are emotions?
We all like to think we know our own emotions and that we can perceive other people’s emotions. But despite this belief, experts in this field have a great deal of difficulty coming to any agreement about what emotions really are. The thing that everyone does agree on is that emotions are the source of our greatest pleasures and our greatest pains. And when we have problems in life we often refer to them as emotional problems.
Some common positive emotions include:
A few of the most commonly felt negative emotions are:
Do you think we need both?
Look back over the list of sample negative emotions. Do you want to feel any of those emotions? You probably don’t, and it’s no wonder! It doesn’t feel good to experience any of those emotions.
We all know for sure that we need positive emotions to function effectively, grow, and thrive.
So if it’s basically universally unpleasant for us to experience negative emotions and universally pleasant and desirable to experience positive emotions, do we actually need the negative ones at all?
As it turns out, yes!
Although they are not pleasant to experience, they’re necessary for two big reasons:
Negative emotions give us a counterpoint to positive emotions; without the negative, would the positive emotions still feel as good?
Negative emotions serve evolutionary purposes, encouraging us to act in ways that boost our chances of survival and help us grow and develop as people. (Ackerman 2019)
Through years of studying emotions, American psychologist Dr. Robert Plutchik proposed that there are eight primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others: joy, sadness, acceptance, disgust, fear, anger, surprise and anticipation. (Pollack, 2016).
Each primary emotion has a polar opposite, so that:
Joy is the opposite of Sadness
Fear is the opposite of Anger
Anticipation is the opposite of Surprise
Disgust is the opposite of Trust
Can you guess how many emotions a human can experience? It’s around 34,000. (You read that correctly).
So while it’s hard to understand all 34,000 distinct emotions, we can learn how to identify the primary emotions and act accordingly. It’s especially useful for moments of intense feeling and when the mind cannot remain objective as it operates from an impulsive of a “fight or flight” response (Watkins, 2014).
Karimova (2019) suggests that emotions influence our actions in five main ways, which we outline here:
1- Emotion Component. This is where an individual simply experiences the feelings. It’s about monitoring the internal universe and recognizing what is being experienced at that time.
2- Action Tendency Component. Once the emotion is identified, the body moves into action. Emotions bestow certain actions instead of others, which means that while some are beyond our control (and thankfully so), like pulling your hand away from a hot iron, others are within our control, facing the fear to continue with a speech or a presentation.
3- Appraisal Component. By cognitively analyzing the emotion, the individual is able to pick up on the situations, actions, environments, or individuals that are causing the emotion. This aids the individual in tracking how these stimuli impact their well-being. It’s also invaluable for helping communicate the state of our internal world with others.
4- Motor Component. This is the communicative function of how we express what we are experiencing (facial expressions, hand gestures, body movements, etc.). So it is extremely important on the inter-individual level, as well as that of the individual.
5- Physiological Component. This component supports all others and is the chemical reaction that our body experiences. For instance, the rush of blood flow to the hands occurs when one experiences the emotion of anger.
While the components of the emotions we feel are present in all individuals, the intensity and expression of these emotions differ from one person to another. There are also social factors like gender, culture, and race, that influence why people may feel emotions differently despite similar situations.
What are feelings?
You can see there’s a big crossover between the two — emotions and feelings and people will use them interchangeably. However,
What’s important is understanding our own emotions and feelings; learn to name them. Lots of us tend to say “I’m hurt” or “I’m angry”. But look at all the other words that would convey our feelings much more appropriately i.e. “I feel rejected” or “I feel irritated”.
Understanding will help us build better relationships with our families, friends, colleagues and patients or students. That’s because being aware of our emotions can help us talk about feelings more clearly, avoid or resolve conflicts better, and move past difficult feelings more easily.
If you do have strong negative feelings, perhaps after an argument, it’s much easier for the other person to accept “I feel really hurt by what you’ve just said” rather than “You really hurt me”. Which one sounds better?
Think about it — “You really hurt me.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did….. you said……” and on the argument goes……
No one can argue with your feelings – they’re your feeling, name them and own them, rightly or wrongly in someone else’s opinion. They can’t tell you “No you don’t feel……”
If you have small children, teach them to understand and express their negative feelings. Give them a page of emoticons and ask them to point at the one that they are feeling each day i.e. upset face, agitated or confused. Accept that this is their feeling.
It made me smile when my sons were small and the little one would say to his big brother “I feel really upstet when you won’t let me play with your toys”. The eldest would say “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upstet you. Here, you can play with this”.
Which explanation do you think better explains emotions and feelings, chemical or neurological, maybe both? Did you learn anything that you didn’t already know? Tell me if I’ve missed anything.
Never use “20” as a substitute for, or an abbreviation of, “2020.”
I learned this yesterday as I was signing a bunch of legal documents having to do with the purchase of my new home. My wife and I were sitting across the table from a notary public who had to witness each of us sign what must have been at least 30 different documents. The notary handed me the first document and said, “Sign and date on the line right above where your name is typed.”
I took the sheet of paper she handed me and used the pen with blue ink she gave me — it had to be blue ink, she said — and affixed my signature in the designated place and then dated it “1/16/20.”
She looked at it and then handed it back to me. “No,” she said, “you need to write ‘2020’ instead of…
Do you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks and sometimes anger? As someone who experienced a psychotic depression, anxiety and anorexia, I understand just how frightening, draining and debilitating the above can be.
Before you go any further, stop!
A little tip for you. Let out that big breath you’re probably holding in right now. That’s right — let it out with a big huff. Let your shoulders drop down from your ears. Unclench your teeth and jaw, go on, give it a little wiggle and let your whole face relax. Now drop your shoulders, unclench your fist (s) and lay them (or one of them if you’re on your mobile) flat on the table or your lap. Uncurl/uncross your legs, give your toes a wiggle and let me explain quickly.
Your body physically can not be tense and relaxed at the same time. So — if you’re hunched up, fists in tight balls, jaws clenched — you’re effectively telling your brain you’re on alert, tensed and ready to fight or flee. The brain is constantly receiving signals from the body, registering what is going on inside of us. So it makes sense, if you follow the tips above, your relaxed body is telling your brain you’re calm and relaxed.
Now you might try this and think “Huh, that didn’t work,” and you might be right, the first time. But if you practice it enough — waiting for the bus, sitting on the train, in the lift, in the shower or standing in that always slow queue at the Post Office where the person in front is paying all their bills with pennies.
Practice, practice, practice. And just when you do need to relax quickly ie before an interview, exam etc, you’ll have practised so often, you can do it immediately, with ease.
While I have both personal and professional experience of mental health problems, this blog is no substitute for professional help. And if you are having suicidal thoughts, please contact your GP or the one the support services on this handy list of UK services.
ANGER is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong. … But excessive anger can cause problems. Increased blood pressure and other physical changes associated with anger make it difficult to think straight and harm your physical and mental health (1)
Observe – what am I reacting to? What am I thinking and feeling? What’s pushing my buttons here?
Pull back and put in some perspective: Is this Fact or Opinion? Is there another way of looking at this? Am I misreading this situation? How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months’ time? What would I tell a friend in this situation?
Practise what works – do the best thing, for you, for others, for the situation. What would help most? (consider both short and long term consequences).
Practice, Practice, practice. I can’t emphasise this enough. Imagine attempting to drive down the motorway or through a busy town after only having one driving lesson – do you think you could do it safely? The point is, we have to practice over and over — until it becomes second nature, like driving or cycling.
ANXIETY is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. But if your feelings of anxiety are extreme, last for longer than six months, and are interfering with your life, you may have an anxiety disorder and you should contact your GP, access counselling, seek professional help (2)
Some symptoms of anxiety:
Restlessness, pacing, fidgeting
Agitation, quick to anger
Fatigued – changes to previous sleep pattern
Changes to previous eating pattern
Changes in libido
Repeat the technique as above — breathe, relax your jaw…….. Go back up the page, remind yourself of the technique and practice, practise, practise.
Now take a look at this model for anxiety. Then read about coping skills to relieve anxiety, panic attacks and stress.
Anxiety can be debilitating, so it’s important to seek professional help if your symptoms are severe. If you feel anxious on the majority of days and experience one or more of the symptoms listed above for at least six months, it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Regardless of how long you have been experiencing symptoms if you ever feel like your emotions are interfering with your life, work or relationships you should seek professional help.
Although anxiety is a medical condition in its own right, there can sometimes be a physical reason for your symptoms – and treating it can bring the anxious feelings to an end. See your GP to rule out any other causes and do not self-diagnose.
Are you still practicing unclenching your teeth and jaw? If not, go back up the page and remind yourself of the techniques.
If you experience sudden, intense anxiety and fear, it might be the symptoms of a panic attack. Other symptoms may include:
feeling that you’re losing control
mouth going dry
sweating, trembling or shaking
fingers or toes tingling
shortness of breath or breathing very quickly
feeling sick (nausea)
Are you still sitting comfortably? Are you in a relaxed position? Have your shoulders dropped from your ears. If not, go back, remind yourself and practice!
A panic attack usually lasts 5 to 30 minutes. They can be very frightening, but they’re not dangerous and should not harm you. (4)
try talking about your feelings to a friend, family member, health professional or counsellor. You could also contact Samaritans, call: 116 123 or email: email@example.com if you need someone to talk to someone.