In Part 1 we identified the increased referrals for stress and anxiety we at Regesh Family and Child Services have seen over the past year and emphasised the importance of knowing what these emotions are all about. Always remember, the more we understand something, the more control we have over it. By understanding the meaning of stress, its symptoms and the effects of stress to both the body and psyche we can start modifying the negative effects. We spoke of the stressors, or triggers, leading to stress and anxiety as a means of being one step ahead of such situations. Finally, we discussed that the effects of stress are identified by one’s cognitive functioning, behaviour, emotionality and by physical pain.
To understand how stressors influence us, we need to understand emotional self-awareness. Being emotionally self-aware means:
(1) Understanding what emotion you are experiencing,
(2) Being aware of your emotion in the moment rather than minutes, hours or days later,
(3) Knowing what triggers different emotions in you, and
(4) Understanding the impact of your emotions on others.
I am often asked if someone could have too much self-awareness. Interestingly, sometimes people who have a very high self-awareness may experience intense reactions to circumstances that others might respond to more mildly. Such a person could more easily overwhelm other people or leave them person feeling somewhat drained. On the other hand, those with underdeveloped emotional self-awareness tend to be more held captive to their emotions and subsequent behaviors without having a clear understanding of why.
Over the years I have realized how little people really understand their emotions. When asked to name five emotions, many people get stuck after happy, sad and angry. In fact, many people react to their emotions but have very little understanding of the connection between thoughts, emotions and behaviors.
When we ran residential treatment group homes for children ages eight to thirteen, we would often have to teach the children to identify and understand a variety of feelings. There would a “feeling of the week” where we would identify a major emotion the child was experiencing and needed to learn more about. On the first day, we would define and give an example. The next day we would review that feeling and then leave the home to go on a “emotional scavenger hunt.” For example, if the emotion was frustration, after defining what frustration was and agreeing how a person might look when he or she is frustrated, the child and his social worker would go looking for people who looked like they were experiencing that emotion, discuss a possible trigger those people might be having and create a scenario in which they could resolve the issue. The next day, they would go out again and have a contest to see who could identify more people they thought were experiencing the “emotion of the week” and explain why those people might be having the issue and what they might do to resolve it. The winner would get a special treat from the other person. Of course, the hope was always that the child would win. After that, the child and the staff in the home would identify the occasions when the child was experiencing the emotion and how issues could be solved. The same sequence of learning various emotions would go on for several weeks, allowing the child to develop a clear understanding of the emotions and the pursuing behaviours, while having fun.
Stress and anxiety is often caused by what we call irrational thinking. The way we think about a person or event leads to the way we feel about that person or event. That is, there is no feeling about the person or event until our brain causes us to think. Further, the way we feel about a person or event determines our reactions, responses and behaviours related to the person and event. Negative thoughts can only lead to negative feelings which, inevitably, lead to negative behaviors.