We’ve all had moments when we felt extremely overwhelmed. At some point, we may have felt like everything was spiralling out of control. We may have even felt disoriented from all the things going on around us. . In such moments, we may have snapped at a friend or loved one. Once we calmed down a bit though, odds are that we walked up to them and apologized, saying: “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”
The problem is exactly that: we don’t always know what comes over us. We don’t always know or consciously understand what emotions we’re experiencing. That’s why things like mindfulness meditation is so important — it allows us to observe our emotions from a distance and truly comprehend them. Mindfulness meditation lets us keep track of our emotions and thus understand ourselves better.
A general misconception about emotions is that they are hardwired into our brains. We believe that emotions just happen to us and we have no control over them. But this is simply not true: emotions are neither concrete nor hardwired. According to scientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, who has been studying emotions for the past 25 years, emotions are predictions our brains make about the physical sensations we feel.
For instance, let’s say you’re about to take a very important test. Your heart is hammering in your chest before we go in. Your brain searches for a reason for this and says, “I’m very anxious about this test”. Now that you’re convinced you’re anxious, you feel it more and more. You might even have trouble focusing on the exam and may get a low score simply due to these feelings.
But here’s the thing: in this scenario, your brain may have labelled your racing heartbeat as “anxiety,” but it didn’t necessarily have to. You know another time your hearts beat faster? When you’re gearing up for something. When you’re preparing to do battle and take something on — in other words, when you’re determined.
With this in mind, we see that it’s entirely possible to observe the physical sensations that we’re feeling, identify our brain’s label for that sensation and work towards changing that label. In other words, it’s possible to calm ourselves down and allow determination to replace anxiety. We can train our brains to interpret the sensations we feel and create different emotions in time.
Keeping track of our emotions helps us in a number of ways. First, it allows us to observe what kinds of sensations we experience in different situations and how we interpret those sensations. For example, what do you feel physically when you’re rushing to work or school? Is your heart beating fast? Do you feel stressed? Panicked? Or are you more detached? What do you experience when you argue with a friend? Does your breath come in short gasps? Do you sometimes feel angry and indignant, even if you know the other person’s point might be valid? On the other hand, what feelings do you experience when you’re alone? Do you feel lonely, or do you feel comfortable doing things by yourself?
Keeping track of our physical sensations and emotions in these situations help us to understand ourselves in new ways. After a while, we begin to spot the patterns in our emotions and reactions. We might notice, for instance, that maybe we grow too agitated or angry when we get into an argument and feel the need to win, even when we’re wrong. Keeping track of our emotions not only helps us spot these patterns — it also helps us change them. This process helps us remember what we’ve observed about ourselves next time we’re in an argument and take a moment to calm ourselves. Instead of growing angry, we can choose to explore the problem calmly and listen to the other person’s perspective without growing angry and possibly damaging our relationship.
There are a number of ways we can work to keep track of and change our emotions. The first is meditation. By doing mindfulness meditation on topics like anger or loneliness, we can become aware of our emotions and reactions in such situations. We can spot the patterns in our emotions and actively work towards solving them when we discover a problematic pattern.
Taking notes on our observations and journaling about them can also be a very effective way to keep track of our emotions. When we meditate, we become aware of certain things about ourselves. Writing down our newfound realizations is an excellent way to gain more insight into them. By exploring our emotions in a private environment, we can identify the root causes of problems over time and address them ourselves.
This is why journaling is regarded as an excellent tool for therapy by psychologists all over across the globe. According to a study done at the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling is a great way to reduce anxiety, decrease stress, and cope with depression. It’s also very effective in helping us to prioritize our problems, concerns and fears — it allows us to slow down our minds as we’re thinking about our emotions. By taking this time, we’re able to stop our feelings from spiralling out of control. Journaling is a scientifically-proven way of reinforcing positive thoughts and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.
Journaling is also important because our brains are hardwired to forget. Our brains can’t remember everything — otherwise they’d get too crammed and we’d never get anything done.Whatever we “forget” is generally stored in our subconscious. This is why we are prone to forgetting or disregarding what sensations are aroused in us in different situations and how we react to them. But noting down all these things soon after they happen can stop us from forgetting and help us to internalize our observations. It’s only once we do this that we can work towards change.
A last benefit of note taking and journaling is that it enables us to finally see our triggers. Writing down things that happen and how we emotionally respond to them helps us realize which events give rise to which emotions in us. This way when something we know will cause anxiety happens, we’ll know why we’re feeling the way we’re feeling. Instead of spiraling out of control, we’ll be able to take a step back and observe how we’re feeling. We’ll be able to calm ourselves down and consider how we want to emotionally respond to this situation. Could the sensations that this situation is creating be interpreted another way? Can I change my outlook on it? Is it possible to transform this emotional distress? If not, how do I want to respond to the emotion I’m experiencing?
Simply changing how we think about our emotions and writing about them may seem like small steps, but in the end this process can have a big impact.. After all, taking notes on our realizations about our emotions, thoughts and behaviors helps us to explore both our emotions and ourselves. And in the end, it can help us have a better relationship not only with ourselves, but with the people close to us as well.