During a classic scene from the movie, “Star Wars”, Obi Wan Kenobe instructs Luke to, “trust your feelings,” so that Luke can focus, reduce his anxiety and save the Empire. Psychologists have long believed that people who talk about their feelings have more control over them, and less anxiety but they haven’t known how that works.
Name It–Find The Source Of The Problem
Often we are like the man who hears the fire alarm go off because he is smoking in bed. The man, only partially awake, thinks he is hearing his alarm clock. Because he is not thinking clearly, the man takes out his shotgun and blows the clock away, then goes back to sleep while his house burns down.
This example is similar to using drugs or other addictions to numb out feelings of pain, inadequacy or social anxiety instead of solving the problem. To find a lasting solution, you must address the source other wise you could be making things worse.
You may think you have gotten rid the dandelions when you mow the field, but in reality, you just spread the seeds. The seeds will multiply and your problem is now worse than before you applied your solution. Solutions are found in understanding the root of our anxiety through our feelings.
Our Needs Govern Our Emotions
Have you noticed the vagrant on the side of the road holding the sign that says, “Will work for food?” In a sense, we all carry around signs that say, “Will work for needs.” Our emotions are the expression of our emotional needs. They are very important to our mental well-being. The clearer we are about our needs and feelings, the better we understand the better we are able to cope. If we name our emotions or needs, we can tame them.
How Does Name it and Tame it Work?
Brain scans show that putting negative emotions into words calms the brain’s emotion center and people are able to “let the feelings go.” Here is a quote an article from a the 2007 issue of Live Science on Psychological Science: UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman and his colleagues hooked 30 people
up to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machines, which scan the
brain to reveal which parts are active and inactive at any given moment.
They asked the subjects to look at pictures of male or female faces making emotional expressions. Below some of the photos was a choice of words describing the emotion—such as “angry” or “fearful”—or two possible names for the people in the pictures, one male name and one female name.
When presented with these choices, the subjects were asked to pick the most appropriate emotion or gender-appropriate name to fit the face they saw. When the participants chose labels for the negative emotions, activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex region—an area associated with thinking in words about emotional experiences—became more active, whereas activity in the amygdala brain region involved in emotional processing, was calmed.
By contrast, when the subjects picked appropriate names for the faces, the brain scans revealed none of these changes—indicating that only emotional labeling makes a difference. “In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses,”
Lieberman said of his study, which is detailed in the current issue of Psychological Science. Understanding our emotions helps us overcome the power they hold over us and the anxiety they create. We can name them and tame them.
Practice Listening To Others
Try listening for the emotions behind the stories family and friends tell you. It is the most validating way we can support others and ourselves. It takes time and practice to learn how to identify our feelings underneath the anxiety in others and ourselves.
Remember the scenes in “Star Wars” where Luke was practicing over and over again with the light saber? Many times we may feel like we have missed the emotion as clearly as the man who shot his alarm clock instead of the fire alarm, but if you are sincerely trying to listen and understand, people are usually patient with you.
We all want to be understood. It is a skill well worth learning and it reduces anxiety.
Contact me/ Camille Curtis Foster
801.472.7134/ firstname.lastname@example.org https://www.facebook.com/UtahMentalHealthServices
Another tip—-Exercise helps: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/03/how-exercise-can-calm-anxiety/?_r=0
Sources: Wenner, Melissa. “Live Science.com”, June 30, 2007