A favorite strategy to feel better, feel happier is backed by neuroscience, requires no Rx, practically no time nor physical energy.
When feeling angry, stressed, sad, lonely all you need to do is give your feeling a name to defuse it.
David Rock* explains:
“To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here’s the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.”
“fMRI studies support this idea. Participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Each participant’s amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.”
Here are some Peggyjudy ways you can NAME IT-BLAME IT and feel HAPPIER:
Call your emotion a Silly Name
- Fantastically futile funk
- Silly Sally Sad
- Fangry Angry
- Mumifiably Mad
- Fraiday-Cat Fear
Draw a stick figure or an “emoji”
Metrics – Washed over by Emotion
- Give your emotion a number from 1 – 10 points.
- 1 = Ripple 5=Body-surfing wave 10=Tzunami
- Each minute after assigning a number to your emotion subtract 1 point until you are down to a ripple.
Pick a Mad Metaphor
Fit to be Tired by Peggy
- I’m fit to be tied
- Foaming at the mouth
- Fly off the handle
- Blow a gasket, blow a fuse
- Up in arms
- In a black mood
- Go ballistic
Pick a Fear Metaphor
- Trembling like a leaf
- Like a deer (or a mouse) in headlights
- A shivering wreck.
- Paralysed with terror.
- Scared silly
Pick a Sad Metaphor
Woofer’s Sinking Heart by Peggy
- Down in the mouth
- Feeling low
- Feeling blue
- In a black mood
- Gloomy Gus
- My heart sank.
- In the depths of despair.
You are hereby notified that the stunts and tricks displayed in this post are performed by professional animals and stick figures in controlled environments, such as closed circuit dark roads at midnight. Do not attempt to duplicate, re-create, or perform the same or similar stunts and tricks at home, as personal injury or property damage may result. All animals were paid scale-wage treats and none were harmed in the production of this post. The authors of this post are not responsible for any such injury or damage.
*David Rock, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long
Compassion makes you feel better. I saw this first hand when I worked in an outpatient program with people diagnosed with severe psychiatric disorders – schizophrenia, manic depressive disorder and major depression. Many had been hospitalized more than once.
My goal was to help patients manage their illness, so they could stay out of the hospital and live a more normal life. Besides many of the things the program offered to help them, including medication, I believed if I could help them be happier, have more positives in their lives, some of the stressors they felt would be offset and help them stay well.
Acts of Kindness by Peggy
I had read a research project using compassion exercises and decided to try it. It worked well in the research and I hoped it worked for the patients. Here’s what I did:
Week 1: I asked the patients to spend an hour being really good to themselves, something to pamper themselves. It didn’t matter what they chose as long as they personally enjoyed it. When they shared everyone expressed liking their experiences and felt happy they participated.
Week 2: The patients were to take the same amount of time – an hour – and do something nice for somebody else, something to brighten someone else’s day. It didn’t matter who they chose or what they did as long as it was something kind and giving. When they shared this experience they were even happier! All reported they felt better doing something nice for somebody else for an hour than doing something for themselves.
Caring for others, having compassion, can make you happier. You don’t have to wait weeks between. Do something nice for yourself for an hour one day. The next day do something nice for another person. It doesn’t even have to be for an hour. Try it and see for yourself. And let us know how it goes.
According to brain science Buddhist monks are some of the happiest people in the world. They are don’t leave their monasteries and do things for others, but meditate on compassion. Research shows compassion meditation changes the brain and makes it happier!
Don’t have an hour to do something nice for someone else? Spend 10 – 20 minutes and meditate on compassion . . . Remember – It’s a hack NOT a substitution for the real thing.
“Stress-related disorders and diseases have been on the rise in the whole population for decades, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including those leading to . . . deaths of despair, but also to heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.”
“National surveys by the American Psychological Association that also capture how stressed, anxious and overwhelmed we feel show a similar increasing pattern. And it shows up in our bodies, even before we get sick or start down the many roads to self-harm.”
a judy collage
I personally have experienced just that. My fibromyalgia flared for the first time during a particularly stressful time in my life. The truth is I didn’t realize how stressed I was at the time. Years later, it dawned on me that I had been in the center of “the perfect” storm of stressful circumstances: My aging parents and in-laws were dying; my work focused on anger, anxiety, depression – any and all forms of psychological tension or stress; and my own hormonal changes.
I’ve seen similar circumstances with many clients and colleagues who, like me, coped with and habituated to the level of stress they were under and often didn’t know the magnitude of impact until much later when they became ill.
All of us experience stress from work, money worries, traffic, political news, deadline pressure, relationship difficulties etc. and an even more basic cause which lies hidden at the intersection of psychology and biology:
“A central biological pathway is from excess cortisol — the fight-or-flight hormone — that characterizes being over-stressed for long periods of time. This “stress dysregulation” leads to risky health decisions, like addiction or overeating, and directly to many health problems linked to excess cortisol.”
- How we THINK triggers the stress response. We don’t have to actually be in a stressful situation – it’s our perception of it that alone can trigger a neuro-biological stress response.
- Slow-moving and cumulative social forces “get under the skin” early in life and can show up decades later in morbidity and mortality.
- Losing a sense of control that you believed you had, whether real or not, justified or not, creates stressful dislocations.
There are many things that can be done to “de-stress”. Most require time, money, effort or all three. Basically, we like what is quick and easy. To that end we’ve accumulated information and exercises over the 30 decades each of us was in practice and have now compiled some of it into a 19 page FREE PDF.
Click here for your free copy:
You can always access the PDF by the “Free or Cheep Page” which is located in the masthead above the CATNIP banner on every page.
Please let us know what worked for you or how you modified any of the activities.
Daniel Keating is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and author of “Born Anxious: The Lifelong Impact of Early Life Adversity — and How to Break the Cycle
The Hamilton Project looked at the “physiological stress load” in the US using biological markers tied to cardiovascular, kidney and liver function to create a stress load index. This physical stress load, a precursor to many diseases, has increased in striking fashion since the late 1970s, and it is getting worse as each new age group enters adulthood.