Palpable predilections stirred the frozen fire of her stagecraft into a raging inferno of histrionic art. Her dynamic creations shot, like the breath of a dragon, across the sweet, idyllic landscape of her love. Peace, happiness, and balance were once again reduced to ashes by the flames of her emotional instability. Her ensuing river of tears momentarily extinguished the drama, flowing capaciously from her indignant eyes to her disbelieving heart. “I can’t believe I did it again!!!” she sobbed mournfully, eyes softening now, in the luminescent glimmer of the dawn.
When negative emotions occur, it is healthiest to recognize them, accept them, and allow them to pass through us like a wave. If we continue thinking about them, then we will keep them alive through this repetitive thought. If they are already happening, then we cannot stop them, so it is wisest to accept them. What we are accepting is a single occurrence of negative emotion, which last for 3-5 minutes. We are not accepting them as a state, a condition, or a lifetime companion. They serve an archaic purpose that is rarely needed in our lives.
The Role of Negative Emotions
A pack of vicious, snarling dogs appears in front of you, you are flooded with fear, and then this fear turns into focused action. You race back to your truck, jump inside, slam the door, and breathe a big sigh of relief. When a threat like this occurs, the brain generates a negative emotion, such as fear, to help us survive. Researchers have long known that negative emotions prompt us to perform specific actions, like running to safety when confronted by our ferocious furry friends. In a predicament like this, nothing else matters. You are focused on the threat, the fear it generates, and how you can escape to safety. Negative emotions precipitate a struggle for survival.Negative emotions narrow your mind in order to limit your options to only those that will help you survive, and focus your attention on making it happen. They block out all other possibilities and courses of action. In that moment you could also phone for help, find a big rock, or play Dog Whisperer; but your brain blocks out such options, allowing only those that will help you survive. Did you know that sustaining life during a time of crisis is the only intended purpose of negative emotions? How often are we really faced with life threatening situations like this one? Yet how often do we feel negative emotions such as depression or anxiety?
Negative Emotions Create the Illusion of Danger
Although invaluable in an emergency, we are rarely faced with such things in our day-to- day lives. Our brain is nonetheless still programmed to respond to negative emotions as if there is an eminent threat before us, limiting our options and calling us to action. For example, imagine that you get into a doozy of an argument with your partner, that you are blinded by rage, and all you can think about is what you can do to hurt them back (fight). Or, that you are in dire financial straits, on the verge of another bankruptcy, and the only thing on your mind is running away (flight). Or, that your job stress is so great you dread going to work, avoid it whenever possible, and feel so paralyzed by fear when you are there that you are unable to function (freeze). Negative emotions trigger the instinctual responses of fight, flight, or freeze; creating the illusion that a life threatening situation is now before us. Although clearly unpleasant, do any of these examples truly represent a threat to life? The negative emotions generated by such situations limit our options and focus our thoughts on survival in the absence of a real threat, and by doing so may create an actual crisis.
When we begin feeling them, our brain shifts into a process that reinforces and intensifies the emotion (on a physiological level, emotionally and instinctually, we believe our life is in crisis when it is not). Within this state of relative urgency, we become unable to access any thoughts, possibilities, or courses of action except those related to escaping danger. Since our brain believes we are under threat, such emotions and instincts as anger, aggression, fear, leaving, and avoidance are intensified; while everything else, like truth, happiness, hope, factual information, and a balanced perspective; is temporarily blocked, until the brain believes that we are safe again.
As stated above, negative emotions typically last 3-5 minutes unless kept alive by repetitive thought. Usually, when struggling to survive, we have either pummeled our attacker or raced to safety within this brief period. Again, such emotions were only intended to occur when we are under threat, and then resolve when the threat is gone. Therefore, when experiencing negative emotions such as anxiety or depression, one way to reset the brain from Survival Mode (stress response) back to Safe Mode (relaxation response) is to do some vigorous exercise for 3-5 minutes (e.g. running on a trampoline), and then focus on one of these 25 curative considerations. The exercise will mimic fighting or running away from the illusory threat (fight or flight), and then a focus on one of these positive activities will show the brain that we are safe and well; restoring balance, health, and happiness.