Have you ever been told you see the world through “rose colored glasses” or perhaps you’re more of a “glass half empty” sort of person? Our emotions have a powerful ability to shape our perception of the world around us. Have you ever noticed how the start of the day tends to set the tone for the rest of our day? If we wake up to a message from our spouse letting us know that the cat has peed on our favorite pair of shoes (rude) or we start our day off by fighting with a loved one, our brains are then primed to be more aware of the negative events that happen within our day.
Even in neutral situations, our emotions have a large influence on how we perceive information. In a study conducted in 2018, two groups of participants were shown affective images outside of the participants’ conscious awareness. The group exposed to positive affect images interpreted the neutral facial images as “smiling” whereas the second group that was exposed to negative unconscious stimuli perceived the exact same faces as “scowling.”
Certain emotions hold greater value and consequences for us than others, which is why it becomes so important to understand what the emotions are in the first place. The emotional state of anger or anxiety may put us into fight or flight, which means our logical thinking parts in our brain are less functional and most of our energy goes into our primal brain parts used for fighting, freezing or fleeing in a situation.
High intensity emotions also influence the choices we make- have you ever been in an intense argument and said something you have later regretted? You can blame that on the shutting down of the frontal lobe and acting on the emotional impulse of our primal brain. When we are angered, our body sends out signals to release stress inducing hormones that then lead us to react based on our primitive “reptilian brain” rather than our rational longer-term decision-making part of the brain.
So how can we address these high stakes emotions? We can start by knowing and acknowledging what the emotion is so we understand what it is we are reacting to. If we know we tend to shut down when angered, then we can better understand how we might respond to decision making skills when we are presented with an angering situation. If you know you shut down while angry or become impulsive, then making big decisions while angry is not the most productive place to be when making life altering choices.
We can also become mindful of how we can transition our thoughts into more productive ways of thinking- we can do this by changing our own language ( from victim to survivor, from “I am unable to do this” to “I can tolerate this”) each time we reengage out brains in new patterns, we are helping our brains create new thinking patterns that help expand our internal perceptional lens. If we can change out our cognitive filters, then we will be able to see the world and its situations more clearly while better understanding the impact of our own choices as they relate to our emotions.
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: