Are you feeling overwhelmed? Struggling to manage the emotional storm that can often overtake you during the day? It’s common to feel stressed from time to time, but sometimes our stress and anxiety can be a problem all on its own.
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Theology of The Body reminds us that just like the rest of our bodies, emotions and feelings can only do what they were designed to do–that is, help us recognize what is happening in and around us and respond to it in godly, effective ways–if we learn to bring our emotions and feelings to God and ask him to teach us how to use them. It helps to start with realizing that emotions and feelings are two different but related things.
Brain scientists tell us that emotions are the body’s monitoring station. Emotions represent the primitive brain’s general, collective sense of both our overall state of our well being and the circumstances in our environment. Feelings, on the other hand, are what happens when our cortex, our higher brain, gathers all these general impressions and creates a story about what these impressions mean and how we are to respond to them and that’s where things tend to get complicated. Because of sin, we often do a poor job of evaluating emotional impressions well, understanding what those impressions mean, and developing responses to those impressions that work both for our good and the good of others. When we bring our emotions, the stories they tell us, and the responses we want to make to them to God first, he can teach us how to let our feelings serve our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual wellbeing and help us work for the ultimate good of the people around us as well.
Here are three practical tips for calming your emotional storm:
Pause and Pray–Get in the habit of briefly pausing and praying before you act on an emotion–especially a negative emotion like anger, sadness, or anxiety. When you notice yourself having a strong emotional reaction, pause–even for a second–and say something like, “Lord, help me correctly identify the specific thing I am reacting to and respond to it in a way that will glorify you.” Brain scientists tell us that pausing even a second or two allows the higher brain to catch up with the emotional reactions generated by our more primitive parts of our brain. This allows us to make better, and more complete, responses to the situations that provoked our emotional reaction in the first place. On top of this, bringing our emotional reactions to God reminds us our feelings aren’t God. God is. And everything we do–including acting on our feelings–has to be motivated by a desire to serve him. If we can get in the habit of doing this, we give both God, and the natural talents for emotional management God built into our body–the opportunity to teach us to handle even the most provocative situations gracefully.
Add Feathers–Do you know how people can be really good at telling others how to manage their emotions but really bad at managing their own? A new study by the University of Waterloo found that practicing one simple habit can allow people to manage their own responses as well as they can help others manage theirs. The trick? Add feathers. Just like an arrow that has feathers flies straighter than an arrow without them, people who ask themselves what virtues they need to express their emotions well are much better at identifying and hitting the right emotional targets than people who just act on feeling. If you want to be as good at taking your own advice as giving it, before you act on an emotion, ask yourself, “What virtue would help me express this emotion well?” The study found that asking simple virtue-based questions like this helps people both avoid the temptation to repress negative emotions and also helps people make better emotional choices by reminding them to keep the big picture in mind. Next time you feel a strong emotional reaction welling up, don’t just let fly with your feelings. Add feathers, and let virtue guide the path toward the right response.
Get a Boost–Sometimes it can be too hard to learn to handle our feelings on our own. If your emotional reactions are consistently complicating your life or relationships, seek professional help. Psychotherapy is like physical therapy for the brain. New research shows that modern therapy techniques help boost the brain’s ability to process emotional reactions more efficiently and identify healthy responses to emotions more effectively. You don’t have to be a victim of your emotional reactions. If you aren’t happy with the way your feelings are causing you to respond to the people or situations in your life, getting professional help sooner than later can help you get the skills you need to have a healthier emotional life.
Explore more resources to overcome the stress and anxiety in your life at CatholicCounselors.com!