People who live with mental illness, whether it is themselves or a loved one, love with too much stress and negative emotions. Much has been written about stress and certainly everybody has heard of the dangers of being over stressed.
Most medical professionals and psychotherapists work under the assumption that of you get rid of the negative in your life you will fill up your life with positive. People want to be happy and to flourish so if we remove the obstacles you will seek, find and fill your life with good healthy emotions and activities. Unfortunately, we see that it doesn’t work that way. It would if, for instance, love and fear were opposite ends of a real continuum. But if they were, you couldn’t both love and fear the same person at the same time. I sure you know of that possibility.
Science tells us that negative emotions help us focus on protection. If you are walking down a dark city street and a bunch of rowdy teenage boys come up behind you, you might get anxious or afraid. Your muscles tense, your heart beats harder, you listen more carefully, etc. Your only thought is how to stay safe.
If your kid is beginning to act out, your whole being focuses on what needs to be done to get through this episode. Hypervigilance reigns as you watch for signs that hospitalization might be needed. You ignore other tasks that seemed important just a short while ago. You feel all sorts of negative emotions and they actually can help you (in some ways) keep you and your family safe.
But what about positive emotions? How do they work? How do they effect our thinking and actions?
Positive emotions and positive interactions tend to move us in an opposite direction. When we engage in positivity our minds and hearts open up to new possibilities. Emotions like joy, gratitude, hope, pride and love help us feel expansive and we are able to be more creative. We build stronger relationships and live healthier lives. Not because of the lack of stress but because the positive emotions actually enhance these processes in our brains.
However, people do not automatically move into the positivity mode. If you have been overwhelmed with problems you might be stuck in a negativity rut. The real good news is that we all can train ourselves to cultivate feelings of joy, gratitude, awe, serenity, hope and love. If you can find even a few moments of these feelings then those moments are the seeds of a flourishing life. And there is research to show that for many people nurturing those seeds can be just as effective as antidepressants. With no side effects.
Some people need a personal coach. A positivity trainer. A professional who can teach you to refocus and cherish the good feelings through overwhelming times. I cannot think of a better investment.