How are you? A tribute to emotions.

How are you?

We ask each other this question and reply to it automatically every day without much mental effort. However, it is often no more than an empty phrase.

But if you were to take that question seriously, what information would you consciously or unconsciously access to answer it? What mechanisms are behind all this?

We would like to bring some clarity to this question here:

Emotions are inner sensations that are perceived as pleasant or unpleasant and more or less conscious. Depending on the level of observation, different components can be distinguished:

  1. physical sensations (physiological excitement such as increased blood pressure)
  2. cognitive evaluations (thoughts, images, interpretation, memories, expectations)
  3. action tendencies (e.g. fight or flight, laugh or cry)

But why do we have emotions at all? What function do they have? Wouldn't it be great if we could just feel good all the time?

Among other things, emotions serve to enable us to react as quickly and automatically as possible to dangerous, complex or unmanageable situations and stimuli.

If we just wanted positive emotions, our species would have died out a long time ago.

Martin Seligman

From an evolutionary perspective, so called negative emotions such as fear and anger have developed in order to prepare our organism in the best possible way for a threatening situation. Our attention is narrowed down to the threat creating a tunnel vision and within a short time high energy reserves are being mobilized.

Positive emotions, on the other hand, expand our attention and our repertoire of actions, increase our creativity and openness, facilitate cooperation and make threatening information more digestible.

So emotions organize our behavior, have a motivational character, control our attention and also play a role in the area of memory. In the state of anxiety, for example, we are more likely to remember contents and situations in which we have also felt anxiety in the past. In this way it is possible to assess the current situation based on similar past experiences. However, there is also a risk here: If I have already behaved in a dysfunctional way in response to anxiety in the past, the same behavior is likely to be strengthened in the future due to selective memory and attention.

For example, imagine that your partner tells you that he or she would like to talk about a problem in your partnership.

  1. You feel a tension in your chest, your heartbeat and pulse rate increase (physical sensation).
  2. Memories of past situations come up in which you have experienced a similar tension. It is just like when you were abandoned by your last partner a year ago. This increases the perceived feeling of fear of being abandoned and confirms your assumption that the situation is critical (cognitive assessment).
  3. You would like to escape this situation and get rid of this unpleasant feeling as quickly as possible (action tendency).

If this process takes place largely unconsciously, the feeling of fear controls and narrows your attention, your options for action and your interpretation of reality. This has the advantage that you can react quickly and automatically, but in this case it is not necessarily the best solution.

That is why it is so important to develop a sensitivity for our own emotions and thoughts, to get to know ourselves better. Only in this way can our emotions serve us instead of overwhelming us.

To get to know your emotional world and your needs better, we have developed a simple method in which you do a quick emotional (video) check-in in the morning and in the evening to get in touch with yourself. The exercise is available here as PDF.

It basically contains these simple but very effective steps:

  1. Ask yourself in the morning after getting up how you feel right now. Take note of your physical sensations as well as your thoughts. Try to be as differentiated as possible. To get inspired by the rich repertoire of possible emotions you can take a look at Plutchik´s Wheel of Emotions What's alive inside you right now?
  2. Think about why you feel the way you feel. Which (un)fulfilled needs are behind your feelings? Expand your repertoire of possible explanations here as well: a list of needs can be found here for example.
  3. Ask yourself how you would like to feel and what you could do to get there. How could you consciously make your life more beautiful today?
  4. Ask yourself again in the evening before going to bed how you feel now and review the day. Which things have you done to consciously make your life more beautiful today? And how did you feel before, while and after doing them?

The important thing is that you accept whatever feeling is present for you in this moment. All emotions have their justification and give our lives the wonderful abundance and variety. They can serve us as a compass and give us important clues. They are therefore not your enemy but our friend and guide, if we recognize, accept and feel them and know how to interpret them. To fight against an emotion or deny it only intensifies this unwanted emotion.

Always remember that there are no wrong emotions. Only wrong or negative reactions.