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Ask Laura! Negative emotions are rooted in survival of species

Posted Aug 23 2008 3:04pm
I thought this was another interesting post by Laura. I struggle with irritability. I feel like I'm the only one! I get annoyed with people so easily. I haven't gotten to read the articles she references but I hope to soon.

Ask Laura! Negative emotions are rooted in survival of species

Posted : Aug 15th 2008 6:30AM by Laura Lewis

Filed under: Ask Laura!

Life Fitness is a process of continuous growth: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Need motivation and guidance to facilitate positive changes in your life - Ask Life Fit Expert Laura Lewis!

Dear Laura:

I consider myself a pretty together person when it comes to working out and eating healthy food. Yet for some reason my moods are not the best. I find I get angry easily and react when others tick me off. For example, when I am driving I get really impatient and end up being really stressed and agitated when I get to work. I feel better after I work out, but I don't hit the gym until after work. Any ideas?


David S., Rochester, N.Y.

Dear David:

Gosh, your not perfect? David, it is unfortunate that so many of us have the same problem. I really feel a big part of our journey through life has to do with conquering those lower emotions and staying in a "higher" state of being. It's super that you realize it' s not healthy to "go there". To be truly healthy as a "whole", you do need to conquer those negative feelings. Read on for some motivation to kick the anger habit.

Here's a bit of background on how negative and positive emotions have an impact upon you... body, mind and more! Warning: This information may change your mind next time you get yourself worked up when someone cuts you off while driving to work! Negative emotions are correlated to illness such as heart disease and suppressed immune systems. Positive emotions such as joy, happiness and love are are typically correlated to being in a more relaxed and in turn, a healthy state. It's amazing how research indicates our negative emotions are rooted in the survival of our primitive ancestors. As a matter of fact, researchers acknowledge negative emotions directly lead to specific actions, depending upon what we are feeling. And, honestly as humans, if we acted on the urge to "run" every time we felt fear, which originally was intended to help us to survive, what a strange, disconnected and sad existence we would have indeed. But we might be healthier! Here's why:

Experiencing a negative emotion gives a specific directive to your body to react. Originally, these emotions served a very specific purpose: so you would have a good chance of NOT dying. As I indicated before, fear will cause us to want to run. Your brain says, " okay, I am feeling fear, get body ready to run ". And it will cause all sorts of biochemical reactions, getting your body ready to run like hades. If you cannot run, your stress hormone, cortisol, is "hanging out" which as you should know by now, will cause more calories to be stored as fat and blood sugar rises preparing your body to have for quick energy for running. Since you won't be running nor will you be starving anytime soon, more fat stores and higher insulin levels serve zero purpose. Anger will prepare the body to fight. Think about it. Heart rate and blood pressure increase and you actually get "hot headed". What do you do with all that anger now? Instead of pummeling or killing your enemy as your anger fueled you to protect yourself, it seethes inside of you. Heart disease and anger go hand in hand. Dean Ornish, M.D. was a pioneer in the field of treating heart disease not only with an aggressively healthy diet but also with stress reduction techniques.

Disgust, another negative emotions, causes us to want to "expel" or "repel" something. The list goes on and one. Negative emotions are very action oriented, narrowly speaking and for we modern day humans can ironically lead to illness and an early death.

Do positive emotions have the same relationship with action? Not really. But they do cause a change in the way we think, which ultimately may have a beneficial effect upon our lives, not only in the moment but in the long run. I love this research article on cultivating positive emotions. According to the author, feeling joy creates the urge to play. Playing expands our social network, helps us to learn new skills (think of children and play and how it expands their skill sets), pushes us to explore, invent and more. Feeling joyful can distract us from our negative emotions and hence, if we try to stay in that joyful state, can change the way we react to specific circumstances that may typically cause you to go to a more primitive negative emotional state. Interest is another state of mind expansion. The author notes "Although interest may or may not be accompanied by overt physical action, it is nonetheless associated with feeling animated and enlivened". Happiness or contentment takes us to a state of expansion of the view of ourselves as related to the world and creating a feeling a of "oneness" with others.

The point is David, being mindful that being angry in your car doesn't really serve any true purpose... unless you intend upon becoming a "Road Rage" King so you can continue to enjoy your addiction to feeling angry. My recommendation is to do things to help you to feel positive emotions. My trick, if I am feeling down, is to blast music that I love in my car, that I relate to a specific joyful experience. That makes me smile. Or I listen to enlightening podcasts. Or even comedians, causing me to laugh. Tell me, if you are laughing and in a stage of pure joy, if someone cuts you off, is it going to matter as much? What do you think? Give it a try. Stay positive if you can and stash that anger unless you really need it!

Healthfully Yours,

Laura Lewis, Life Fit Expert
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