* Book preview: Unedited and subject to change.
The Art of Managing Reactions.
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! What an interesting expression. You might have even tried it. Possibly cursed at it because it doesn’t work! Life problems don’t literally give you lemons.
While it doesn’t give you lemons, it sure makes people share lemonades. As in, you allow your lemonade to sprinkle from the sky, burning the eyes of everyone around you. Or another way to put it; when life gives you shit, you shit on everyone’s day.
I am intimately close to grudge-holding champions and have shared my anger on multiple occasions. But when the storm blows over, I wondered what good did it do to snap?
How about we take a moment before we share that resentment, anger, sadness, etc. that life has brought on our doorstep and ask ourselves a couple of questions.
Who is at fault?
Is it your parent’s? Your kid’s? Your partner’s? Your sibling’s? Your boss’s? Your coworkers? Your friends? Societies? The dogs? Etc.
Even if it is completely or partially their fault, is staying angry at everyone, and more importantly sharing that anger, going to solve anything? Did you really not play a role, even subconsciously, in the problem?
And when it’s no one’s fault, did life drop this bomb on you just in spite?
Those are all interesting questions and we’ll look deeper into them in the following chapters. But before we answer the fault question, how about we look at what emotional reactions do.
What does that reaction do to you?
Did you know that reactions can have a long-term effect on your emotional, mental and physical health? We’ll look into this in the subsequent chapter, but here are a couple of examples.
Anger can be a healthy reaction when used to stop someone from taking advantage or walking all over you. The adrenaline spike might help you to defend yourself or move faster in dangerous situations. Anger might even clue you on a situation that is not acceptable to you, even if it seems trivial to others because it clashes with your core values or beliefs. It can be a very insightful reaction when you take the time to look deeper.
However, a constant state of anger can cause headaches, insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, and digestive problems. Some studies even show the link between anger and heart attacks, even peptic ulcers.
Feeling fear or anxiety for an extended period has damaging effects. Not only does it weaken the immune system, but it can also damage your digestive and cardiovascular systems, and cause premature death.
Long-term stress has effects on your mood, behavior, and body too! Imagine this vicious cocktail. Your workload causes you to feel overwhelmed, thus you snap at everyone, most often your loved ones, which then brings insomnia due to guilt and sadness that leads to depression. And the cycle continues until you reach the burnout point or worst.
I’ve been in a similar relationship with stress. It damaged not only my digestive system but caused more burnouts than I care to admit. But I’ll share this story in the following chapter, as well as how to look for signs before your reactions damage your wellbeing.
So what do reactions do to you? In the short term, they can help you tackle a situation if you make the conscious decision to tackle it. But the more resentful, angry, stressed, etc. you feel in the long run, the more negative impacts it will have on your physical health, on top of the effects on your overall state of mind and how you respond to others.
What does that reaction do for you?
It certainly doesn’t fix the situation. It often doesn’t help you figure out how to solve the problem. Because you’re completely focused on how frustrated you are, or how shitty the problem is, that there’s no room or energy left to deal with the obstacle.
It also often puts you in a vicious cycle. You know the one that’s called getting up on the wrong foot. Or Friday, the 13th. Or when something bad happens, it always comes in three! Or hell just broke loose!
Personally, I love Friday the 13th! They are the most unexpected and amusing days of the year.
I remember one in particular where I worked with a very superstitious elder lady at a hardware store. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Displays fell and broke. Ladders knocked into things. When a vase slipped and fell, she screamed while I caught it. And of course, I burst into laughter from amusement.
She stared at me like I was crazy; asked how could I laugh when everything was going wrong. Truth was that I could stress about it. I could cry about it. I could just as easily complain about it just like her. But, what would that solve?
Instead, I asked her how did her frustration help her? She claimed it helped her be more vigilant. Which it didn’t! Because she was so preoccupied with being vigilant, that she wasn’t paying attention to everything going on around her.
Therefore, I challenged her to laugh about it. And you know what? Yes, there were a bunch of weird accidents that happened that day, but tackling them had become a game! She went from being a shaking ball of nerves, to regaining her smile and usual calm self in a matter of hours. All because she chose to change her reaction to the situation. And with that change of reaction, she was able to find faster solutions to all the “surprises” the day generously bestowed on her.
So your reactions have a direct impact on how you’ll tackle any given problem and we’ll look deeper into this a little further in the book.
But reactions also have another direct impact. And that is the impact on how you communicate. As mentioned in the communication chapter, listening is just as critical as articulating. And when your emotions let loose, your brain functions differently. While stress will focus your energy on the solving and analyzing parts of your brain, anger will send the adrenaline to muscles away from the brain to react faster. Fear can shut down a person. Your reactions will have a direct effect on your communication skills, which might determine how easily the situation is solved.
What does that reaction give you?
When you don’t have any control over the problems (lemons or shit) life or people drop at your feet, you need to feel in control over something. Your emotional reaction might satisfy that need. However, are anger, frustration, anxiety, stress, and resentment fulfilling that need? Aren’t all those emotions linked to loss of control?
Doesn’t giving the situation or the people a reaction, give them control over the outcome, and basically, you?
It is healthy, and absolutely necessary, to go through the emotional process because suppressing it leads to long-term psychological problems. But just allowing your reactions to rule you doesn’t help you deal with a problematic situation. You’re allowing your emotions to rule over you.
In the subsequent chapter, we’ll look over the healthy and unhealthy ways to process your emotions. Because it might not be the control you need, but learning how to let go. Or something else entirely.
So, if reactions affect your health, your capacity to solve problems, and your relationships, how do we tackle them? Why weren’t we taught as children how to deal with or process emotions? Why do we have such a hard time dealing with certain situations and others, not?
Simply put, there is no elementary class called Emotional Wellbeing 101. You usually get this knowledge in a University Psychology class. Otherwise, learning how to deal with emotions is taught by parents. And let’s be honest here, how many of our parents had positive teachers and are emotionally balanced good examples?
For my part, my family comes from Poland. The kind of environment my family grew up in was that you suppressed emotions because survival demanded it. After all, you had to deal with Two World Wars, work camps, after-effects of war, then communism. To top of it, my family dealt with mental and social problems, with often alcoholism added to the blend.
My parents, as a result of their family circumstances, were the prime example of NOT dealing with emotions; ignoring or suppressing them instead. That made them real crappy emotional teachers. Not because they were bad people, but because they hadn’t been taught to deal with it for generations.
It doesn’t matter if you are fifteen or fifty. You can still learn how to process emotions beneficially, learn how to channel them constructively, and allow them to support your health. That’s exactly what we’ll do in this part of the book.
So, before life gives you more lemons, and you feel like sharing them, let’s figure out how to make the best kinds of lemonades!
A Dreamer’s Focus – The Road of Self-Discovery with the Support of Emotional and Mental Health Basics by Aleksandra Horodyska © 2022