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New Way to Analyze our Emotions

While I am sensitive to the way my emotions are affected by health and circumstances, this new approach gives me even more influences to consider and control. When my feelings are pushing me around, I can do a little audit:

  • Am I assuming the past will repeat itself?
  • Am I reacting based on being physically run down?
  • Have I considered all aspects of the current situation, including things I can't currently see?

Or should I claim "emotional flu" and just delay my reaction? Or should I try to relax and start asking questions?

BBC Science Focus: How emotions trick your brain, 2018-May by Dr. Lisa Feldman-Barrett

Your brain makes meaning from the identical sensation in different ways, depending on context. That’s how emotions are made. They are not built-in at birth. They are built in the moment.

In a sense, your emotions are constructed unconsciously from three ingredients: your body budget*, your current situation, and predictions from past experience. If you modify any of these ingredients, you can take some control over your emotions. I’m not saying this is easy, but it’s possible....

The third ingredient, your predictions from past experience, is the toughest to alter because it’s impossible to change your past. Yet if you take action in the present, you can modify your brain’s predictions in the future, changing your future emotions. For example, in my family, we came up with an idea we call the ‘emotional flu’.

Have you ever felt wretched, like you’re a horrible person, everybody hates you, and the world is going to end… but in fact, there’s nothing actually wrong with your life? That’s the emotional flu – you’re having an unpleasant physical feeling, probably from a disrupted body budget, and your brain has constructed all sorts of negative explanations that are deeply personal....

By repeatedly reframing the situation from personal to physical, my family and I changed our brains’ future forecasts, making it easier to create the non-personal, non-judgmental, emotional flu. This was challenging to do at first, but it got easier with practice, and we’ve passed the idea along to friends who have also succeeded....

For hundreds of years, people have drawn a boundary between mental and physical illness. Cancer, heart disease and diabetes are seen as disorders of the body, while depression and anxiety are often viewed as ailments of the mind. But we now know that your brain constantly regulates your body budget, and when the budget’s in the red, you feel bad.

*Along with predictions about the world, your brain also makes them about your body so you stay alive and healthy. It forecasts when your heart should speed up or slow down, when your blood pressure should rise and fall, when your breathing should deepen, and when you need more salt, sugar, water or hormones, and attempts to meet those needs before they arise. It’s like running a budget for your body, but instead of money, the currency is biological. This budgeting process continues through your entire life, and most of the time, you aren’t aware of it. But it produces something you know well: your mood.