Be Smart about Emotions

Emotions are powerful forces in our lives. They supply the richness and texture to life experiences, producing joy, surprise, love, happiness, elation, and satisfaction. But, they can also be troubling, associated with fear, hate, stress, anxiety, and anger. We are highly motivated by these emotions and in general seek the experience of positive emotions and try to avoid the experiencing the negative ones.

We should not view emotions as a problem and that our lives would be better without them. To the contrary, eliminating or blunting emotions is itself a problem. This is termed by psychologists as flat affect. People who experience this often comment that they have lost the “juice” in life and desire to return to the emotional ups and downs that seem to supply life’s richness. So, the emotions appear to be essential for humans to lead a rich full life.

On the other hand, when emotions become too strong they can overwhelm the individual and lead to maladaptive behavior. For example thrill seeking can lead to dangerous activities. Also, many mental illnesses are characterized by extremes of emotions. These include phobias, panic disorders, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders, etc. In addition, strong negative emotions can lead to violence and aggression.

We need to be emotional, but not too much so. We need to be able to have emotions, but not in the extremes and we need to not overreact or overly seek emotions. In other words we need to be able to be smart with our emotions and develop the ability to regulate our emotional lives. This is termed by psychologists as emotional regulation and the ability to do so is termed as emotional intelligence.

Mindfulness has been shown to increase positive emotional states and decrease negative ones. This is one of the reasons that many people practice techniques to develop mindfulness. It seems to make their live better by assisting them in dealing with emotions. It appears to increase emotional regulation and thus mindful people can be said to have higher emotional intelligence.

How this might work to improve an individual’s ability to cope with life is explored in today’s Research News article “Dispositional mindfulness and perceived stress: The role of emotional intelligence.”

In this article Bao, Xue, & Kong explore how mindfulness might reduce perceived stress in life. They document that mindfulness is associated with lower levels of perceived stress and can do so directly. It appears to improve the individual’s ability to cope with life and be less stressed by the events in life. It is also demonstrated that mindfulness may reduce perceived stress by improving emotional intelligence, improving the individual’s ability to regulate and use emotions to their benefit and thereby reduce perceived stress.

Hence, the well documented ability of mindfulness to lower the individual’s feelings of stress in response to life appears, at least in part, to result from its ability to improve how well the individual can regulate their emotions. In other words, it appears to make people emotionally intelligent.

So, practice mindfulness and be smarter with your emotions; letting them enhance the experience of life while blunting their destructive side.


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