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If you’ve ever been told you’re too emotional, it might have left you wondering what emotions are, where they come from and if you can get rid of them. Turns out, it’s not always easy to define what an emotion is. Is it a mood, a feeling, an impulse or something that happens in our brains or all of these? Are there good and bad emotions? The Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary suggests that if we are “emotional” we are conscious, perceptive, passionate, responsive, sensitive and sensible. 

The ABCs of mental health begin with an event, followed by thoughts about the experience and ultimately an “emotional response.”

    • You have an experience that is activating. This is a distressing or exciting event(s) from our past or present.
    • The next step is what we think about the activating event—over time, these thoughts become our beliefs about the experience. A belief might be that “things never work out” for you or that you are “not good enough” compared to others. 
    • The consequence of these beliefs is that feelings happen in response to beliefs. If you make a mistake at work and think, “I can’t do anything right,” the feeling might be anger with yourself and sadness might follow.

The following are examples of patterns of thinking that might lead to an emotional response:

    • Jumping to conclusions or predicting the future
    • Exaggerating or minimizing
    • Ignoring the important parts of a situation
    • Oversimplifying things as “good/bad” or “right/wrong”
    • Mind reading—assuming that people are thinking negatively about you

The next time you jump to a conclusion or predict a future disaster, you might try asking yourself if you need to change your beliefs to change your emotions. You can ask yourself, “Is this true?” and “Is this thought helpful for me?”

Emotions Check ListWhen emotions appear, listening to the “language of emotions” could be telling us something important. I have experienced the great power of emotions during many years of work as a mental health professional. What I’ve observed is that we either treat our emotions as something to release or something to bury. Neither option is a good solution. An alternative response might be to actually listen to and accept our emotions in order to understand the messages they carry and use the instincts they contain. With the understanding of our emotions, it is possible to discover that they contain vital skills and abilities to help us thrive and survive.

I was reminded of the advantages of accepting my feelings of fear during a recent trip to New Jersey in some of the worst traffic I have ever experienced. As drivers cut in front of me on the busy freeway, I was aware that I could focus on my anger and hit my horn in rage or I could try to bury my reaction to avoid scaring my family. Instead, I found that I could use my reactions to be a more alert, focused and effective driver. As I acknowledged my fear of what could happen, I was able to maneuver my way safely to our destination. I discovered that my fear helped me to connect with the driving skills that I needed to deal with my situation. 

Understanding our thoughts and beliefs and listening to all our emotions can create stepping stones to improving our daily experiences as we face the challenges of family, relationships, workplace and managing our (sometimes crazy) world!


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Hudson Headwaters Health Network

Hudson Headwaters Health Network is a nonprofit system of 21 community health centers providing primary care to more than 7,400 square miles of the Adirondack North Country and Glens Falls region. The network serves all of Warren County and parts of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Saratoga and Washington counties.