Article: Emotional Awareness

I say it to all of my clients. I've written about it before. I tell anyone who will listen. Anxiety is a natural emotion that we all feel from time to time. What doctors and psychologists call "Anxiety" is basically when our life becomes dominated by that one emotion. David Cain from has written a terrific article about what emotions are and how being aware of them can help us move through life a little bit more smoothly.

David cites the work of psychologist Robert Plutchik who, in the 1980s, identified 8 basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger, and anticipation. According to Plutchik, there are plenty of other emotions, but they are exaggerations of or mixtures of those 8 basic emotions. For example, interest is a softer version of anticipation and terror is a stronger version of fear. Now I don't necessarily agree with those 8 basic emotions, but Plutchik is probably on the right track.

Now as David speaks to, the real trick is not in being able to list basic emotions, but in being able to identify them in your life. Humans are emotional beings; our emotions guide us every day. Our emotions, or our gut, help us tell when our kid is fibbing to us. Our emotional reaction to food labeling or packaging might lead us to pick what we think is a healthier or tastier choice. Our alertness helps us drive to work safer. We experience emotions constantly. (Emotions are fleeting and temporary by nature, just watch your kid and you'll see this to be true). And emotions, in turn, help to shape our opinions, actions, and reactions. And yet, so often, we are completely unaware of what emotional state we are in.

When we are feeling anxious or fearful, we have a strong tendency to see all of the horrible things that may come to pass in the future. When we are sad, we have a harder time seeing the positive and hopeful aspects of the future. When we are angry, we have a hard time seeing the good in people and we blame them for things they didn't do or didn't mean to do. However, as I tell all of my clients, knowledge is power. When we are aware that we are in an anxious or fearful state, it is much easier to recognize that we are seeing the future through some pretty seriously anxiety-tinted glasses. When we realize that, it is a lot easier to gain perspective and not take anxious thoughts so personally. Anxious thoughts (e.g. "I can't handle this.", "What if I never get out of this anxiety hole?", etc.) aren't a reflection of you, they're a reflection of being in an anxious state - that's why you're often able to see the illegitimacy of these scary thoughts in a calm state, when the emotion of anxiety passes, so do the anxious thoughts. 

So enjoy David's article and try to start noticing what emotion you are feeling throughout your day. Then start to see how that emotional state affects your thoughts and feelings about the world around you and the future ahead of you. It's a simple exercise, but a very powerful one that has helped many of my anxious clients (and me!).