How to Master Your Emotions

I found this to be s very informational, innovative, instructional article in my quest to tame my emotions and anxiety. Hope it helps others as well.

As architects of our experiences, we need not be at the mercy of our emotions.

In her new book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain,  psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett makes a compelling case about the constructed theory of emotions. Unlike the classical theory positing that emotions are built-in reactions triggered by the environment, Barrett claims that emotions do not happen to us without our volition. Rather, we construct our emotions by making meaning of sensations, and making predictions using our past experiences and our collection of concepts. Thus, as “architects of our experiences,” we need not be at the mercy of our emotions — rather, we can learn to master them. 

Here are 7 suggestions from Barrett to help you do just that:

1. Keep your body budget in good shape.

Mastering your emotions begins with maintaining a balanced body budget. It’s advice we have all heard before — eat healthfully, exercise regularly, get enough sleep — but science is consistent about it being a pre-requisite for a healthy emotional life. The simplest way to master your emotions in the moment is to move your body, Barrett writes. Animals, for instance, regularly get back into balance through movement. A simple walk (in nature) can decrease rumination and reduce neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, thus improving mental well-being. “Moving your body can change your predictions and therefore your experience,” Barrett writes (p. 187).
In addition to the basics of nutrition, sleep, and exercise, building a healthy body budget is possible through many other means. These include massages, yoga, spending time in nature, reading. Literature invites us to get involved in someone else’s narrative, temporarily getting us out of our own ruminations. Meditation offers a chance to practice observing and experiencing emotions and then, without judgment, releasing them. Gratitude, positive social contact, and giving are also considered body budget-boosting exercises. Barrett suggests making use of them all by setting up regular lunch dates with a friend and taking turns treating each other.

2. Cultivate emotional intelligence. 

The term Emotional Intelligence may evoke different images, but Barrett refers to “getting your brain to construct the most useful instance of the most useful emotion concept in a given situation” (p.179). This will require you to fine-tune your emotion concepts: instead of piling all affectively similar emotions under one umbrella term (Barrett uses the example of “Awesome” for positive feelings and “Crappy” for negative ones), try to learn the nuanced meanings of different emotions (misery comes in many flavors — bitter, enraged, irritated, mortified — just as there are plenty of ways to feel great, like being ecstatic, jubilant, grateful, or serene). The skill to distinguish between the fine nuances of different emotions will not only make you an emotion expert (a “sommelier of emotion” p. 106), but will give your brain more options to “predict and categorize your sensations more efficiently, and better tailor your actions to your environment” (p. 180).

3. Gain new concepts.

“Be a collector of experiences,” Barrett writes (p. 180). New experiences that you accumulate by taking trips, reading books, watching movies, acquiring new perspectives, trying new foods, studying foreign languages, even learning new words in your native tongue, offer opportunities to construct your experience in new ways. How does all this novelty help you to master your emotions? By stimulating your brain to form new concepts and bind old ones in new ways, thus affecting your future predictions and behaviors. For instance, enlarging your vocabulary can lead to a greater emotional health by providing new concepts, which in turn can not only help you become better equipped to deal with different circumstances, but potentially increase your empathy and improve your negotiation skills.

4. Learn to distinguish your emotions more finely.

When therapists help clients to reframe situations, they are in part “finding the most useful categorization in the service of action,” Barrett writes (p. 182). Learning to distinguish emotions with finer granularity can help people to better regulate their emotions, because it provides them with more information about how to adjust their behavior and to deal with circumstances (Barrett et al., 2001). Studies have even shown that people who can distinguish finely between emotions were less likely to resort to binge-drinking or feel overwhelmed under stress. In one study, when people with a fear of spiders labeled their emotions using various anxiety and fear words (i.e., fine-grained categorization), they became less anxious around spiders. Moreover, when 5th and 6th graders enriched their vocabulary of emotion words, they were able to improve their academic performance and social behavior in school. Conversely, individuals with social anxiety and depressive disorders tend to exhibit and experience less differentiated negative emotions in daily life (i.e., low-grained categorization).

5. Keep track of positive experiences.

Concepts become reinforced and entrenched in our model of the world whenever we direct our attention to them. Savoring and attending to positive concepts will make them more salient, in turn helping you predict and cultivate future instances of positivity. One easy way to remember positive experiences is by writing them down. On the other hand, ruminating on negative events makes it easier for your brain’s neural networks to re-create those concepts in the future. “Every experience you construct is an investment, so invest wisely,” Barrett writes. “Cultivate the experiences you want to construct again in the future” (p. 183).

6. Deconstruct and recategorize your emotions.

“Learn to deconstruct a feeling into its mere physical sensations, rather than letting those sensations be a filter through which you view the world,”  Barrett writes (p. 188). Deconstructing your feelings (e.g., anxiety) down to their physical sensations (e.g., a racing heart) can have surprising benefits. To begin, physical sensations are not personal and are easier to let go of than thoughts and emotions. Further, recategorization is useful for regulating behavior. For example, people have shown improved public speaking and test performance after recategorizing anxiety into a body’s natural way of coping. Learning to separate physical sensations from the negative emotions that accompany them can even help sufferers of chronic pain crave fewer painkillers and view pain as a merely physical sensation, rather than “a personal catastrophe” (Barrett, 2012). In short, the way we interpret our internal states can influence our emotions and behavior. “When you feel bad, treat yourself like you have a virus, rather than assuming that your unpleasant feelings mean something personal. Your feelings might just be noise,” writes Barrett (p. 194).

7. Cultivate awe.

Awe — the feeling that dwells “in the upper reaches of pleasure and on the boundary of fear” (Keltner & Haidt, 2003, p. 297) — can boost our body budgets in different ways. Experiencing awe has been shown to be a strong predictor of lower levels of proinflammatory cytokines (molecules that in elevated levels have been associated with a number of illnesses). Awe rouses curiosity, interconnectedness, and a desire to explore (Stellar et al, 2015). Nature, in particular, offers countless occasions to experience awe. From the still of freshly fallen snow on a mountain peak to the wilderness of a turbulent ocean or a faultless rainbow, awe evokes the sweeping presence of vastness. As we cultivate awe, we can come back to it over and over again, offering the gift of a new perspective, and at times, a much-needed distance from ourselves.

Storms in my mind

How do I calm the storms in my mind?

The flashes of lightening, the bolts of thunder. The tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards. 

The hammering of my heart, the sickening rush of adrenaline in my veins. The terror of catastrophes. 

Do I fight? Do I flee? And who do I fight, where do I take flight?

How can I leave behind the brain that tortures me? It comes with me wherever I go to escape it. 

It doesn’t leave me alone. 

Today it was brought to my attention in the starkest possible way, that I do indeed have an anxiety disorder. A major one. 

Bipolar 1 disorder wasn’t enough, now major anxiety. Uncontrollable, unmanageable, for now. 

I also felt relief, that I know. And knowledge is truly power. Abandonment: pretty well handled. Bipolar: managing, living. Anxiety? I will learn to manage, live with and eventually defeat it as well. 

Strength is my middle name. 

Playing Tetris Can Help Reduce The Impact of Emotional Trauma, Study Finds

Amazing! Downloading it now 😊

Even though the game itself is kind of nerve-wracking…
There’s nothing quite as intensely manic as reaching the final levels of Tetris and struggling to control those high-speed tetrominoes that plummet to the bottom of your screen like hell-bent comets from the sky. But despite the high-pressure nature of the famous arcade game – or perhaps even because of it – research suggests that playing Tetris and other games like it can help reduce the intrusiveness of emotional memories associated with trauma-related clinical disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“This work is the first to our knowledge to show that a ‘simple cognitive blockade’ could reduce intrusive memories of experimental trauma via memory reconsolidation processes,” said Emily Holmes, senior author of the study. “This is particularly interesting because intrusive memories are the hallmark symptom of PTSD.”
There’s nothing quite as intensely manic as reaching the final levels of Tetris and struggling to control those high-speed tetrominoes that plummet to the bottom of your screen like hell-bent comets from the sky. But despite the high-pressure nature of the famous arcade game – or perhaps even because of it – research suggests that playing Tetris and other games like it can help reduce the intrusiveness of emotional memories associated with trauma-related clinical disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“This work is the first to our knowledge to show that a ‘simple cognitive blockade’ could reduce intrusive memories of experimental trauma via memory reconsolidation processes,” said Emily Holmes, senior author of the study. “This is particularly interesting because intrusive memories are the hallmark symptom of PTSD.”
Researchers from the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in the UK wanted to investigate whether it was possible to improve upon conventional recommended treatments for PTSD, including various forms of psychotherapy, which often commence at least one month after the patient has experienced a traumatic episode.
A previous study by some of the same researchers had already shown that playing Tetris within four hours of viewing traumatic material could reduce involuntary memory flashbacks to the disturbing content, but the practical applications of these findings were limited.
Obviously, it’s not very likely that victims of traumatic personal episodes such as assaults or serious car accidents will be agreeable to playing video games in the hours directly following the incident. So Holmes and her team increased the timeframe to see if traumatic memories could be disrupted 24 hours after having been experienced. In the experiment, volunteers were shown films that contained scenes of traumatic content as a way of “experimentally inducing intrusive memories”.
Twenty-four hours later, the volunteers returned and had their memories of the traumatic film reactivated by watching a series of still images from the film. After the trauma refresher, half the group got to play Tetris, while the other half were asked to simply sit quietly. The volunteers then completed a personal diary over the course of the next week, where they referenced any memories of the traumatic content to which they had been exposed.
The findings, published in Psychological Science, show that the volunteers who played Tetris experienced significantly fewer intrusive memories than those who hadn’t been similarly distracted.
Importantly, the ‘reactivation’ of the traumatic memories (in this case induced by watching stills from the film) alongside the video game session appears to have been a crucial pairing in disrupting the future involuntary recall of negative experiences. Other experiments conducted by the group ran the reactivation and Tetris sessions in isolation, but it was only when they were combined that the volunteers experienced fewer intrusive memories over time.
The researchers theorise that games like Tetris constitute an engaging visuospatial task capable of creating a ‘cognitive blockade’ that can disrupt the subsequent reconsolidation of visual intrusive memories. Consequently, the recall and impact of negative emotional memories associated with the trauma is lessened in the future.
“Our findings suggest that, although people may wish to forget traumatic memories, they may benefit from bringing them back to mind, at least under certain conditions – those which render them less intrusive,” said co-author Ella James.

Scientists Find The “Physical Source” Of Depression

Scans of people suffering from depression and healthy controls show that the disease is associated with the lateral orbitofrontal cortex of the brain. This part of the brain becomes active when receiving punishment, not receiving reward and is also associated with the sense of one self. One can see how in depression, this part of the brain could be activated. This will allow researchers to develop new therapies. Interesting!

A recent breakthrough may have found the physical source of depression in the brain. The discovery could lead to some game-changing developments in the way we treat and perceive the mental illness, while also taking a bold step in understanding the physical root cause of depression.

Research by the University of Warwick in the UK and Fudan University in China has shown that depression affects the lateral orbitofrontal cortex. This part of the brain becomes active when suffering punishment or when rewards are not received, suggesting depression could be associated with the sensation of not receiving reward.

“More than one in ten people in their life time suffer from depression, a disease which is so common in modern society and we can even find the remains of Prozac (a depression drug) in the tap water in London,” study author Professor Jianfeng Feng said in a statement. “Our finding, with the combination of big data we collected around the world and our novel methods, enables us to locate the roots of depression which should open up new avenues for better therapeutic treatments in the near future for this horrible disease.”

“The human medial (reward-related, OFC13) and lateral (non-reward-related, OFC47/12) orbitofrontal cortex networks that show different functional connectivity in patients with depression.” University of Warwick

The study was recently published in the neurology journal Brain.

The researchers reached this conclusion after scanning the brains of 909 people in China with a high-precision MRI. Of these patients, 421 were diagnosed with major depression, while the remaining 488 were control subjects.

This imaging technique was able to show activity in the connections between different parts of the human brain affected by depression, namely the medial and lateral orbitofrontal cortex. The lateral orbitofrontal cortex, associated with non-reward, showed considerably stronger connectivity in those in the depressive group.

As the team notes, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex is also connected with the area that is associated with one’s sense of self. Stronger connections were found between these two areas in those suffering from depression, perhaps explaining why people with depression often have thoughts of personal loss and low self-esteem.

“The new findings on how depression is related to different functional connectivities of the orbitofrontal cortex have implications for treatments in the light of a recent non-reward attractor theory of depression,” computational neuroscientist Professor Edmund Rolls said in a statement.

Updated 24/10/16: Top main image has been changed to show a more typical MRI scan 


IMG_4140Are some people simply more unlucky than others? Are their burdens of negative things more heavy than those who fly light as a feather? Or are we all equally likely to be blessed/cursed? Do some people simply handle adversity better than others and therefore seem never to have anything bad happen to them? While, do others fall apart and constantly tell the whole world about any and all negative things that may have befallen them?

I have bipolar disorder, so it is more difficult at times to regulate my emotions, specifically the DEPTH of my emotions. But, if you’ve been reading my blog, quite a few negative things have happened to me. That is the truth. I have coped with them as well as I could have done. Still coping. Still trying. Still standing.

Just some thought.


Good, good, good! Toning down the intensity of negative emotions, going from describing your emotional state as severely depressed to, let’s say, feeling bad, this will make you feel better. And feeling better means better at coping with the negative emotions. Feeling better means not having to deal with the catastrophic effects of your highly negative emotions, not on you, not on your body or your mind! All good. by Tony Robbins. 
“Without language, we find ourselves living in a state of emotional chaos. Our brain has given us the potential to communicate in extraordinary ways and the way we choose to do so can improve the neural functioning of the brain. In fact, a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress. If we do not continually exercise the brain’s language centers, we cripple our neurological ability to deal with the problems we encounter with each other.”

– Dr. Andrew Newberg, Words Can Change Your Brain

In a previous blog post, Change your words, change your life, we talked about how our habitual emotional vocabulary shapes and controls much of our emotional experiences in life – how the labels we put upon our experience become our experience.
Today, let’s take a look at how you can transform the quality of your entire life simply by becoming conscious of what habitual vocabulary you use for negative emotions, and shifting them with words that break your patterns and provide you with new and better emotional choices.
Your assignment is very simple: Below you’ll see my 10-day challenge. I call it “Watch Your TV,” watch your “Transformational Vocabulary.” The labels you attach to your experience can transform the way you feel. Again, it’s not hard to realize that if you habitually take any intense emotion and say it’s “depressing,” it’s going to feel very different than if you say you’re feeling a little “down.” Being enraged by somebody’s reaction is very different than being a bit frustrated by their response. Saying to yourself they utterly rejected you, is quite different than they didn’t agree with your suggestion.

The real secret to transforming your life is to wake up and become conscious of the patterns that are currently unconscious and shaping the way you feel.
Ultimately the way we feel determines the quality of your life. You could have whatever you think life’s dream is—building a billion dollar enterprise or a family that totally loves and adores you—but if every single day you live with the emotions of feeling frustrated and angry, then the quality of your life is called frustration and anger—it has nothing to do with the economic opportunities you have, much less the love you are surrounded by.
The quality of our lives is the quality of our emotions.
The power of Transformational Vocabulary is its simplicity. It provides you with an immediate tool to increase the quality of your life. So here are the four steps to your 10-day challenge:

Become conscious of the habitual words you use to describe your unhappy or distressing feelings. Begin to notice the labels you are putting on things.
If you say something like, “I’m so worried about this,” stop yourself and acknowledge that “worry” might be too strong a word. Maybe what you really are is “a little bit concerned.” Monitor your language and make sure your language isn’t exaggerating the intensity of emotions. Or better yet, consciously pick a word that would lower the negative intensity (instead of saying that you are “furious” with someone, describe yourself as being a little “irritated” or “disappointed with their reaction”).
If somebody asks you, “How’s it going?” instead of saying, “Okay,” what would be a word that might put a smile on your face to even say, that would break your own pattern? Like, “You wouldn’t even believe how I’m feeling!” with a smile, to be playful with yourself. Or a simple response like “I’m committed” or “I’m lucky” or “I’m grateful.” And then take a moment to think about what you are grateful for. We often lose sight of what’s beautiful in our life because of a few things that are out of line with our expectations.
My wife Sage is truly a master of this. Her favorite language pattern is when most people would say “S**t” she says, “Sugar doodle,” or when something really brutal happens, she’ll often say “Ooooh Boy.” Her response seems so ridiculous. It’s not that she doesn’t know how difficult things are, but her state of joy is infectious – her language patterns don’t just break her patterns, but mine and everyone’s around her as well. She truly expresses more joy and happiness than anyone I know.
Write down three words you currently use on a regular basis that intensify your negative feelings or emotions. Maybe you use words like “I’m frustrated,” “I’m depressed,” or “I’m humiliated.” Come up with alternative words that will lower the intensity of those negative emotions. Maybe instead of “depressed” you say you are “a little bit down.”
What would happen if instead of saying you feel “humiliated” you say you are “uncomfortable” with how the situation was dealt with? You can soften emotional intensity even further by using modifiers like “I’m just a bit peeved,” or, “I’m feeling a tad out of sorts.”
Write down three words that you use to describe your experience that is somewhat positive. When someone says, “how’s it going?” come up with three alternative words that will amplify and intensify the positive feelings and inspire you. Instead of talking about how things are “all right,” replace those words with “incredible,” “outrageous,” and “spectacular.” What’s a positive word that if you really thought about your whole life, you could say and own congruently?
Get leverage so you follow through. Pick two key people in your life – a close friend and ideally someone you respect that you would not want to disappoint. Pull them aside and explain to them your commitment to replace two or three key words in your vocabulary.
Most importantly, give them permission if they hear you using the old word to ask you if that’s really the word you want to use to explain how you feel. For example: Let them know if you start to say, “John f’n pisses me off,” that you want them to intervene and ask you, “Do you mean John’s behavior frustrates you a bit J?”
I know this sounds ridiculous, but if you are committed, a simple reminder will get you to catch yourself and lower the intensity immediately. It will help you recognize that you have control of your own space in this moment and by simply selecting a different word, you can change the meaning completely. If you do this well, you’ll find yourself smiling while you do it, like an inside joke. But it’s impact is no laughing matter.
Or if you use a phrase like “I’m depressed,” you may want them to ask you, “Hey are you depressed about this, or are you feeling a little bit down?” Are you frustrated or fascinated by how people often respond to things? Making a commitment to make these changes to a dear friend or an important and respected colleague will give you the additional support and incentive to actually follow through and break your own patterns.
By carefully and consciously selecting the words you are attaching to your experiences and doing it for a ten-day period, you’ll find an immediate change in how you feel and this becomes positively addictive. I can tell you for those who have lived this ten-day plan, the experience can be life-changing.
Again, I know it sounds overly simplistic, but if you test it out and are diligent with it for 10 days, you’ll experience a transformation in your emotional patterns – and the emotional patterns we live are what control the quality of our life. You’ll even feel the difference in your body – a lot less pain and a lot more pleasure. Don’t you deserve to have a better quality of life? Plus when you’re in a great state, how do you treat others? The better your state, the more powerful the impact on everyone around you – your businesses, your friends, and your family.
© 2017 Robbins Research International, Inc. All rights reserved.