What are emotions?

Put simply, emotions are feelings. You can feel happy, sad, scared, lonely, and you can feel them on a spectrum. For example, if you felt happy, you could be content, which is quite mild, or ecstatic, which is more extreme. If you felt sad, you might feel slightly melancholic, or you might feel extremely depressed.

Everyone varies with how they experience emotions. Sometimes in life you might come across individuals who just seem to get on with life, whether they’ve just been made redundant or moved houses. Others may find these experiences incredibly stressful. Emotions are very personal, and it is important to understand that you are never in the wrong for how you feel.

Emotions often come from external sources (e.g. an event that just happened) but our response to the emotion we feel can make all the difference. Sometimes people with mental health conditions may find this difficult. For example, if a person is depressed, they may experience hardships with greater difficulty.

Why are emotions important?

Emotions are incredibly important because they offer a window to our thoughts. You might sometimes feel quite nettled, and not be able to pinpoint why this is. With a bit of reflection, you may work backwards and remember a comment someone made off-handedly that unconsciously reminded you of an unpleasant experience a few years ago. Emotions work in very strange ways and require self-awareness to interpret them accurately.

Sometimes your emotions might simply be telling you you have taken on too much. For example, if you find yourself feeling irritable for no reason, this could be your brain’s way of telling you you have reached your limit and need to check in with yourself to help manage your emotions.

Mismanaged emotions can contribute to the development of mental health problems. Someone who feels low might be tempted to isolate themselves, and in turn can be trapped in a cycle of feeling lonely because they feel low because they have isolated themselves from others. When this loop goes around and around, it can get stuck on repeat and cause other unhealthy behaviours, which might make an individual vulnerable to developing a mental health problem.

Of course, it’s not as simple as this. Other factors contribute to the development of mental health problems, such as genetics, chemicals in the brain, social and economic factors, and more. But research largely suggests that understanding and attending to emotions can help manage symptoms of mental health problems.

Short exercise

Close your eyes and try to listen to your internal monologue for a few minutes. What is it saying – remind you of all the things you have to, flitting back to something that irritated you last week? If your brain is stuck in busy mode, this in itself can explain why you might feel so exhausted. If your brain is ticking off all the unjust things that have happened to you this month, this can explain why you might feel so irritable.

Try to be aware of these thoughts without being angry or trying to change them. If we try to change our thoughts, we might find ourselves failing and being more cross. Instead, just understand that they are there, and when they’ve had their five minutes of fame, try and wave goodbye to them.

If the content of this post has caused you any distress, please call the Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected]

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