Mentally Hijacked: How to Recognize Constructive and Destructive Emotions

Emotions are a natural and basic part of life. They signal how we feel about a certain situation or occurrence, so we can take the necessary action to deal with the situation. Emotions in this sense aren’t positive or negative, but are more along the lines of constructive or destructive, depending on how they are utilized. Emotions can become destructive and cause serious distress when they become overwhelming and take over how we act, what we say, and what we do. This emotional high-jacking is where many problems emerge.

The high-road and low-road

Taking a closer look at the human brain and how it relates to emotions, we can examine two overall parts of the brain; the high-road and low-road. Both parts communicate with each other and help us navigate through the world. The low-road is the primitive part of the brain, where our emotions immediately come from, and signals when we feel sad, mad, or fearful. This can be helpful when it’s necessary to act quickly for our safety, or to remind us how we felt in a previous similar situation.

But, this low-road route is where emotional high-jacking occurs. It can lead to rash decision making, not thinking before acting, and ultimately hurting ourselves or others.

Your low-road sends the immediate signal of an emotion, and the high-road then assesses the situation to see what needs to be done to deal with the threat. The high-road is there so we can think about things before acting, and find the best options to solve our problem.

If you’ve ever been emotional distraught, you know it can be tough to think straight.

Using emotions advantageously comes from thinking before acting, and can help to prevent causing harm to yourself and others.

Can destructive emotions be avoided?

Emotions are very powerful and it can be tough to stay mindful and aware of all our feelings. Take fear for instance. Fear can be a very adaptive emotion. It helps signal to us when something isn’t safe, so we can deal with the situation and prepared to either protect ourselves or flee to safety.

What would the emotion of fear signal if a bear were next to you right now!?

You would probably want to run to safety, and of course, this would be a natural and healthy decision to make.

Though, on the other hand, more generalized fear can be debilitating and prevent you from doing important things in life. It can become destructive by taking over all the decisions you make, leading to missed opportunities.

This is the same with anger, humor, or sadness. They all can be either constructive or destructive, depending on how the emotion plays a role in your life.

How will you know the difference between constructive and destructive emotions?

A simple way to recognize this idea is connecting with how you feel. Constructive emotions make us feel good, and destructive emotions make us feel bad. More specifically, constructive emotions help to improve a situation, and destructive emotions tend to make a situation worse.

For instance, let’s look at humor. Humor helps us feel good and provides a funny joke to laugh at. Though, at the same time, it may hurt someone else if they are the butt of the joke. Also, sadness and grief can be healthy, and help us get support from others in times of need. Though, if the melancholy persists it can lead to depression, thus becoming a destructive emotion.

It’s as simple as that. All emotions are a normal part of life, and you will experience emotions in either a constructive or destructive way, but learning why you feel a certain way and what caused it can help you start to feel better and improve your situation.

How to deal with emotions – Learn to self-monitor

Self-monitoring involves self-awareness and self-management. Or more specifically, it involves learning to recognize your emotions when they’re emerging, and developing the skills to manage this emotional state.

Recognize emotions

  1. Know triggers – Gain knowledge and understanding about what sets you off. Learn to recognize the signals in life that seem to elicit a strong emotional response, and which tend to be difficult to deal with.
  1. Understand bodily reactions – Emotions come on very quickly. One way to try and recognize emotions and prevent a high-jacking is to notice the automatic, quick impulse that emotions produce. Develop awareness of the body to better recognize emotions coming on, as well as awareness of when they are present. For instance, notice changes in your body temperature, heart rate, and breathing pattern.

Manage emotions

  1. Develop meditative skills – Focus on breathing and mindfulness to counteract the emotional arousal that occurs when feeling upset. Take a deep breath, calm down, and think through the situation before immediately acting. This provides a chance to process emotions before making any hasty decisions.
  1. Work through the emotion – It can be helpful to express your feelings in order to work through emotions. In order to make this a productive experience, talk to someone you feel safe expressing personal feelings to, or journal and write about the way you feel to process through emotions.

All in all, managing emotions is the ability to better deal with our emotions so we don’t act out of line and make things worse.

Managing emotions involves learning to recognize our feelings and deciding the best response to deal with how we feel. Sometimes we must work through the way we feel and not let our emotions take control of our behavior and actions. We may need to accept our emotions for what they are, and begin dealing with them by talking with someone else or taking action to solve the problem.

You can start to think before you act, recognize how you’re response will impact others, and recognize what the consequences will be. We cannot move forward and reach toward better things until we take control of our life and start to manage our emotions.

Bio: Joe is an personal development and career coach who manages the blog Shake off the Grind, where he helps people find success through the up’s and downs of life. You can also find Joe on Twitter.

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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