How external events affect our emotions – and how we can take back control
Wirral transformational mind coach and therapist Alison Blackler of 2MindsNLP explains how national tragedies, and everyday ups and downs, can impact on our wellbeing
Traumatic events such as the awful Grenfell tower block fire in London and terrorist attacks in Manchester and the capital can trigger an evocative and emotional response.
That is not just true for people directly involved but also for many of us who are not.
Emotions are present in our daily lives and play a role in how we behave individually and socially.
How it works
Many of the functions of the brain have evolved over thousands of years and they are what keep us safe and thriving.
A part of our brain called the limbic system is thought to control emotion and other brain functions related to our instincts and memories.
This part of the brain is responsible for detecting and relaying information from our senses, such as smell and vision.
This can be something that is happening to us in the moment or come from another stimulus which isn’t actually related to us.
This kind of situation can cause us challenges as the mind doesn’t distinguish between oneself and others. It actually thinks we are all one.
Range of emotions
When we see a situation happen to someone else we can respond as if the event was happening to us.
This explains our range of emotions in response to those recent tragic events – fear, anxiety, anger, sorrow.
It is normal to be moved by another person’s plight although for some this becomes a huge trauma, even though they weren’t directly involved.
In these situations the brain switches to auto pilot and places the body into an emergency state.
These responses can also be triggered by more mundane, everyday events and situations that don’t actually pose a physical threat to our wellbeing.
Fight or flight
Even though daily physical threats to our environment are much less common these days, we now have social and emotional threats linked to our status and what others will think of us.
In such scenarios the brain releases adrenaline into the body, the heart rate increases, and the mouth can get dry and there is a desire to either fight, flight or freeze.
This system is triggered if we are insulted, demoted, fired or come in second which can create a threat status.
These responses are automatic and can quite simply happen at any time during normal day-to-day experiences.
Manage the response
It is this response which prevents using our rational mind and our behaviours can appear to be erratic, sometimes out of character and even crazy.
The trick is to try to manage this response by settling our minds so that we can keep these responses in perspective and react appropriately.
Here are four easy steps to manage these responses:
- Realise: Stop yourself and realise (become aware) that your mind is being hijacked into a fight or flight response. Recognise the emotions that are flooding you and name them.
- Breathe: Taking four or five deep, cleansing breaths will oxygenate the brain.
- Give thanks: This one is a challenge – but do it anyway. Say to yourself what you are grateful about related to the person, event or situation you are experiencing. Have faith that even though you may not yet feel grateful, the act of moving toward gratitude is helping shift the neuro-chemical landscape in your brain.
- Rethink: Once your emotions have calmed and you can think rationally, re-evaluate the situation and pinpoint the triggers. Becoming aware of your triggers helps your brain to shift you to activate some rational thinking about this event and how your mind/body responded to it.