Thoughts and emotions are interconnected in a perpetual circuitous dynamic. Our emotions contribute to our thoughts which, in turn, perpetuate the state of our emotions.
Our thoughts are more cluttered than ever before in this age of information overload. With the advancement of technology, we have information and connection to others at our fingertips. While this is helpful when you need to buy a car and know which one has the best safety rating or want to read the morning’s news headlines, we become overloaded with choices and get drawn in more directions than we ever knew existed. We feel compelled to stay connected even though it is healthier to “check out” for a while. And television is a perpetual load of fast moving pitches to entice you to buy everything from junk food to prescription drugs and features shows about other people’s lives that have nothing to do with reality. Messages, many of which are negative or geared to make you believe you are not good enough/healthy enough/smart enough/beautiful enough, are coming in faster than the speed of light and your brain has the job of filtering all of them and deciding what to store and what to let go.
This virtual dump truck of information that unloads on your brain each day not only can cause overstimulation of your thought processes but can cause overstimulation of emotions too. The brain has emotion centers located within the limbic system that help regulate emotions. Many things influence how well this regulation process works such as quantity and quality of sleep each night, food, exercise, health, medications, early programming from childhood, your environment and your support systems. It is well researched that exercise affects your emotions by releasing endorphins and other neurotransmitters into the dopamine pathway, or pleasure center in the brain, and literally makes you happier. It is also well documented how sleep impacts your health and most of us have personally experienced nights with a sufficient amount of quality sleep and also nights where we had little sleep and poor sleep and we have felt the effects the entire next day. And you most likely have read about studies that have proven thoughts and emotions control your physical health. Dr. Masaru Emoto conducted scientific research that provided proof that thoughts and words even influence water and wrote about his findings in The Hidden Messages in Water. Similar studies have been done on plants. It, therefore, is safe to say that the thoughts you hold about yourself create your reality- good or bad.
What you may not know is that early programming from childhood is still shaping your thought patterns and impacting your emotions. Childhood experiences good or bad create the filter system that we will use lifelong to filter new thoughts, emotions and experiences. As new experiences occur we will use this filter system unknowingly. For those who had a childhood dominant in love, nurturing, safety and positive experiences, your filter will be more positive. Your glass is half-full and your world looks brighter and rich with opportunities. Adverse experiences and obstacles may happen, but you will deal with them and move on without attaching to them the emotions of a childhood rife with struggles. The adult whose childhood was dominated by emotional, physical, or sexual abuse and neglect will have a completely different, stress-based filter even if she knows better! You may be enlightened and want to be happy but this is your entrenched filter from childhood. Stress events are more stressful to you than they appear to be for others and you can literally feel your fight or flight programming kick in at the slightest sign of potential adversity. You are also more likely to create a problem where none exists because you are programmed to deal with obstacles and chaos. And if your thoughts really do create your reality, this can be bad news for your happiness potential.
So what can be done to improve your emotional fitness?
- Awareness. Being aware that you have a filter system created in childhood (from the ages of zero to three!) that all new information and experiences even in adulthood are being filtered through. If you were fortunate to receive predictable and appropriate nurturing and fulfillment of your needs, love and higher levels of positivity (smiles, higher intonation patterns, hugs, support and encouragement) then this will be your filter. If you were abused or neglected, you will have a fight or flight filter programmed toward dealing with stressful events. You may be somewhere in between in terms of childhood experiences. Whatever your childhood experiences, your filter on the world corresponds.
- Attunement. Get in touch with your perception of the world. Pay attention to how you perceive information and events in your day. Keep track, in a notebook or journal (but write it down) of events and information you experience on a daily basis. Write down your reactions to these events and information. Do this for one week. At the end of the week, reread your notes and see how many of the events triggered even a brief stressful reaction such as anger, worry, anxiety or fear. A number higher than 3 in a 7 day period is a sign that you may have a filter programmed for these emotions or at the very least you need to make changes to your environment and to your response system.
- Self-care. Self-care promotes higher levels of emotional fitness. Self-care is a broad prescription and includes: reading books that encourage you in positive directions toward peacefulness and inner wisdom, exercise in whatever capacity you can even if it’s just deep breathing. Meditation, yoga, hypnosis, acupuncture to release stress from the body, and having a health-focused support system also great self-care activities. Even if it’s a small space, create a sacred space for yourself in your home where you feel peaceful. And don’t underestimate the use on nontraditional techniques such as aromatherapy (perfumes and scents are good for this) and color therapy (even in your wardrobe) as daily portable emotion boosters.
- Guard your thoughts, control your emotions and change your programming. You may not be able to completely get rid of old programming but you can install new powerful positive programming. One of the ways you can update this programming is with new information so read, connect with groups and teachers in the areas you want to focus on whether it be meditation, yoga, spiritual studies or whatever resonates with you. This is critical and will give you opportunities to practice a positive mindset and reinforce control over your thoughts. Have a mental delete button or picture of a stop sign in your mind to focus on when negative or stressful thoughts come in. Hit that delete button or hold up your stop sign and let your brain know these thoughts are not acceptable. Then, create or a positive message to you. This can be your own statement to yourself about how amazing and happy you are, or you can use a favorite quote such as “Happiness depends on ourselves” by Aristotle .The one I’m currently using is simple- “Bright, Cheery, Happy” but is enough to remind me the state of mind I want to maintain. Keep it very brief and follow up your “delete” of negative thoughts with your quote to reinforce the positive emotion state you are choosing. Be sure to let those closest to you know that you are updating your programming so they can support the more positive new you. You choose to see the positive or the negative in situations. You control your emotions. So rather than holding on to anger, guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, sadness, and self-doubt- let it go!
- Practice. Emotional fitness, like physical fitness, requires exercise and practice. You have to continue to surround yourself with positive messages, people, and love. Continue to do your self-care activities even when you feel good. Continue to update your programming with new information that propels you forward toward peace and fulfillment. Share what you know with others.
Note: This is not intended to replace mental health counseling or therapy. There are conditions involving emotions which may only improve through therapeutic approaches.
About the author
Lisa is a writer, blogger, life coach, entrepreneur, owner of Small Steps 2 Big Change (www.smallsteps2bigchange.com), author of "Midlife Uncrisis-How to Turn Crisis into Positive Change" and a certified Strategic Intervention coach.
You can find Lisa's work on Huffington Post in addition to writing regularly for Smart Healthy Women magazine.
y you would like to share please contact Ms. Zawistowski at smallsteps2bigchange.com.