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Human emotions are an ecosystem. To stay healthy you need emotional diversity. In other words, you need an authentic life that is rich in various emotions. The ability to experience a variety of emotions strengthens your resilience and helps you to cope with difficulties, says Dr. Mateusz Banaszkiewicz.

When you experience positive emotions, there are changes in your brain. You become more alert and more creative. You are able to comprehend more information at a time and it is easier for you to look at things from a broader perspective. If it happens often, you acquire a variety of resources. For example, it is easier for you to build relationships with other people. Your friends and relatives may offer support, when you find yourself in a difficult situation.

Positive emotions have a good impact on your health. For example they can prevent the overstimulation of your cardiovascular system or they may restore its proper functioning. The state of experiencing positive emotions can be described as “laughter through tears”. By experiencing positive emotions on a regular basis, you improve your physical health.

Studies conducted by Professor Sheldon Cohen, psychologist, who researchers the relation between stress, the immune system and illnesses, have shown that experiencing positive emotional states on a regular basis helps to prevent upper respiratory tract infections. Research has also confirmed that positive emotions decrease the risk of a stroke, are positively correlated with less frequent hospitalizations due to heart disease and even with longer life.

Does it mean that we do not need negative emotions and, as intelligent beings, we should avoid them and above all we should cultivate ubiquitous “positivity”? Luckily it is not the case. Because positive emotions are not adequate to every situation in life.

Negative Does not Equal Bad

Fear, loneliness, guilt, anger, and disappointment. These are only a few of the negative emotions that you may experience. Negative emotions narrow your comprehension and focus your attention on the perceived threat or the important aspects of the situation. When you experience negative emotions, other people notice that “Something important is going on!”. Negative emotions can add gravity and depth to events. They enable you to face complicated challenges and be brave in face of difficulties. Research conducted by an Australian psychologist, Joseph Forgas, have shown that people who experience sadness are more effective in expressing requests. People who experience negative emotions make less mistakes when judging others and are more sensitive to social norms. Anger activates energy and motivates you to change the troublesome situation. People who express this emotion may be perceived as dangerous in some situations. In other instances, they may be seen as strong and able to solve a problem at hand thanks to their strong engagement in the matter.

When you do something that is against social norms, your guilt may motivate you to atone for your actions. If there are real grounds for jealousy in a romantic relationship, it may spur the partners to work on the relationship. If you are jealous of someone else’s success, it may motivate you to work towards your own goals, if you have an opportunity to do so.

When negative emotions are adequate to the difficulties and you are able to talk about them, they help you to get to the bottom of the problem and they motivate you to deal with the situation.

To ensure that reactions are adequate to situations and to safeguard physical health, the human brain has developed a capability for emotional self-regulation, i.e. for influencing the way people experience emotions. Failure to effectively self-regulate emotions may lead to anxiety and mood disorders or even addictions.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Relationships with others and the ability to talk about your emotions support the proper functioning of the immune system, ensure better mental health and help to cope with difficult situations. People who know how to talk about their emotions, report less illness-related symptoms.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of negative emotions, it is not only hard for people to go through them, but it is also difficult to observe others who are experiencing negative emotions. In some situations, you have probably found yourself on the receiving end of a good advice, such as: “Don’t worry, be happy” or “Be calm”. Don’t take it to heart. Although constant and very intensive emotions put you in danger of experiencing physical and mental health problems, such as depression or addictions, suppressing these emotions does not mean that you are dealing with them and it may harm your health.

Attempts to completely block all emotions also leads to many health problems or to the exacerbation of the existing conditions. Suppressing sadness and crying is conducive to asthma, while suppressing anger leads to cardiovascular disease. Failure to effectively self-regulate emotions may lead to anxiety and mood disorders or even addictions.To ensure that reactions are adequate to situations and to safeguard physical health, the human brain has developed a capability for emotional self-regulation, i.e. for influencing the way people experience emotions. For example, you can self-regulate emotions by changing the way you thinks about them or about the situation that have caused them. If you are going through a difficult time, someone’s declaration “I am here for you”, may decrease the severity of your anxiety or may help you to accept the situation. A different approach to a problem, for example initiated by a professional during psychotherapy, can be helpful in the treatment of even very serious disorders, such as depression.

Usually in life you are guided no only by your emotions, but also by logic. So called emotional intelligence is the ability to utilize the interaction between emotions and rational thinking, which helps to make decisions and cope in life. Emotional intelligence helps you notice and understand your own emotions and the emotions of others. It facilitates self-regulation and allows you to express emotions. It is conducive to contentment, happiness, positive relationships with other people and to good physical health.

People with high emotional intelligence tend to avoid behaviors that carry health risks, such as smoking. They are less prone to mood disorders and they cope better with potential problems.

Sometimes Sunshine, Sometimes Rain

Given a choice of emotions that one could experience during the day, such as: joy, satisfaction, and joy again OR joy, anxiety, and joy again, most people would probably opt for the first set. To maintain a proper affective balance, people should experience positive emotions three times more often than negative emotions. People who experience more positive emotions are less prone to engaging in behaviors that carry health risks. Positive emotions are also correlated with a smaller number of allergies and hospitalizations as well as a lower rate of job absenteeism. In a stressful situation, positive emotions help to maintain or to restore cardiovascular balance. Positive emotions stimulate creativity and flexibility in problem solving. They strengthen relations with other people and improve self-confidence.

Human emotions are an ecosystem. To stay healthy people need emotional diversity. In other words, you need an authentic life that is rich in various emotions. People who experience a wide emotional spectrum, enjoy better health, consult a physician or are hospitalized less frequently. Experiencing many different emotions provides precise information about what is going on in your life and how you should behave. People who are in mourning for a long time, after the death of a loved one, may withdraw from life and from other people, but if they allow themselves to experience not only sadness, but also other emotions, such as anger and joy, may stay better connected with their environment and avoid depression.

Emotional Mix is Like a Band Aid

Emotions may take on different hues. For example, reminiscing on your relationship with an ex-partner, may put you in an emotional state that is far from normal. But is this state always unequivocally positive or negative? Your past relationship is mostly likely a source of both, positive and negative emotions. In this type of situations, you can experience mixed feelings. For example, you may experience the feeling of hope and gratitude. You may also become sentimental and feel nostalgic about the past, which usually carries both emotions, joy and sadness. If you are nostalgic about a loved one, it may improve your mood, increase the feeling of belonging and decrease the feeling of loneliness.

Life is full of ambiguity and the ability to experience mixed emotions helps you to cope with difficulties. Mixed emotions allow you to broaden your perspective and help you see more than just your current problems. Mixed feelings are conducive to better understanding of various situations. They help you to face challenges and find meaning in difficult circumstances. It is a skill that improves quality of life and it is a skill that can be continuously developed. For example, a team of researchers, lead by Doctor Charlotte Vanoyen-Witvliet, psychologist known for research on forgiveness, conducted a study involving people, who had been hurt by others. The research showed that a mere recollection of the hurtful situation caused physiological agitation and negative emotions. When the participants had tried to look at the perpetrators from a compassionate point of view, they experienced the feeling of forgiveness. When they had thought about the hurtful situation in terms of an opportunity for growth and strength-building, they experienced the feeling of gratitude, which in turn helped to restore the proper functioning of their cardiovascular systems.

Other studies, conducted by clinical psychologists Dr. Sarah Bowen and Dr. Alan Marlatt among smokers, indicated that although the acceptance of negative emotions did not lower nicotine cravings, it allowed the smokers to better control their behavior and decreased the number of cigarettes they smoked. The acceptance training included focusing on thoughts, feelings and impulses, without the attempt to repress or change them. The participants were also asked to imagine their cravings as waves, which they were surfing. The acceptance of negative emotions may be useful not only when you are pursuing a goal, but also when you are trying to avoid something. For example when you delays an important medical exam, because you are embarrassed.

It is impossible to avoid feelings and emotions. Therefore, it is better to accept them and to remember that we need these feelings and emotions to better understand ourselves and others. Even small things in life may bring you joy. Difficult events and life changes may not only be the source of suffering, but also the source of a new opportunity or a valuable experience. A rich and diverse emotional life prepares you better for coping with difficulties and increases your resilience.

 

The article was first published in the Polish edition of "Newsweek Psychologia 2/17”

258 mateusz banaszkiewicz

About the Author

Dr Mateusz Banaszkiewicz - health psychologist, university lecturer. Doctoral student at SWPS University, participant of Studium Dialogu Motywującego (Motivational Dialogue Training), organized by the Polish Association of Motivational Therapy (PTTM). Member of the LOT Polish Airline Emergency Response Team (ZPP). Responsible for psychosocial diagnoses of post-trauma patients at the Gamma Medical Center in Warsaw. Conducts stress management training and workshops for business clients.

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