“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” – Daniel Goleman
We are very emotional creatures. Without emotion, life is flat and uninteresting. Emotions provide the spice of life. We are constantly having or reacting to emotions. We often go to great lengths in an attempt to create or keep positive emotions and conversely to avoid, mitigate, or get rid of negative emotions. They are so important to us that they affect mostly everything that we do and say and can even be determinants of life or death. Anger, fear, and hate can lead to murderous consequences. Anxiety and depression can lead to suicide. At the same time love, joy, and happiness can make life worth living. Our emotions also affect us physically with positive emotions associated with health, well-being, and longevity and negative emotions associated with stress, disease, and shorter life spans.
The importance of emotions is only surpassed by our ignorance of them. Our rational side tries to downplay their significance and as a result research studies of emotions are fairly sparse and often ridiculed by politicians. So there is a great need for research on the nature of emotions, their effects, how they are regulated or not, and what factors affect them. One important factor is mindfulness. It has been shown to affect our ability to regulate emotions (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/category/research-news/emotions/). Research has demonstrated that people either spontaneously high in mindfulness or trained in mindfulness are better able to be completely in touch with their emotions and feel them completely, while being able to respond to them more appropriately and adaptively. In other words, mindful people are better able to experience yet control emotions.
In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness and emotion regulation in older and young adults.”
Prakash and colleagues delve into mindfulness, emotion regulation and dysregulation, and overall well-being in younger (mean 23 years of age) and older (mean 65 years of age) adults. They found that older adults were significantly higher in mindfulness and lower in emotional difficulties (dysregulation). They further found that people who were high in mindfulness were lower in emotional difficulties (dysregulation). This may have been due to the fact that people high in mindfulness were less likely to use suppression or thought avoidance to regulate emotions. As a result, mindful people tended to regulate emotions by confronting them rather than avoiding them. This was substantiated by the finding that high mindfulness was associated with higher emotional clarity. Finally, they found that age made a difference. The younger group had a much stronger tendency to use suppression and thought avoidance than the older group and the influence of these strategies on emotion dysregulation was stronger in the younger group.
These results help to clarify how mindfulness may help us avoid emotional difficulties and why older adults appear to have less emotional troubles. The key appears to be the type of strategy used to deal with emotions. Younger people tend to try to suppress the emotion or avoid thinking about it and as a result don’t experience fully, confront, or regulate emotions as well as older adults. But, younger people benefit greatly from mindfulness, reducing the maladaptive suppression and avoidance strategies, and thereby reducing the dysregulation of emotions. Older adults, on the other hand are more mindful and tend not to avoid emotions but to confront them with clarity and thereby are better able to deal with them.
So, regulate emotions with mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” – Sylvia Boorstein
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies