So what is a good psychological regulation process in response to something that happens in the reality?
Well, we say that normally:
(a) when something happens in the reality, then
(b) we feel emotional response which contains personally meaningful information (e.g. Do I prefer apple or orange), then
(c) using that personal information together with our knowledge about how the world works and our experiences, about our desired outcome and corresponding to this goal action, as well as about the consequences of our actions (which is sign of psychological maturity) we make a decision about the course of action, and then
(d) we act in a way that we consider to be the most appropriate for us in the current circumstances.
There is a few things that can happen on this way, which can complicate our lives and health. One of the common difficulties that we see is that it is hard for many people to interpret their feelings which are often get mixed up with anxiety.
Imagine that our higher mind is like an engine which is being fueled by our feelings or by our deeper reactions to our own feelings (look at our previous post on anxiety for more understanding). Depending which information fuels our mind – our decisions and actions will be determined by either what is happening in the reality, or by our fear to see the reality for whatever it is. In our previous post we explained the basic mechanism of anxiety and in our next post we will explain how our past experiences may influence our perception of and our reactions to reality in the present moment.
Now, how effective for us our thinking and acting it will depend on which extent our decisions and actions were fueled by our feelings (the actual information about what the event means to us personally) or anxiety (the fear that got triggered by our feelings).
So how do we know which experience is anxiety and which one is an emotion?
Our feeling and anxiety have different pathways of experience, which in therapy sessions psychologist can help you to learn about. Most of us also have some internal mechanisms of avoidance of internal experiences (such as detachment), which can prevent us from seeing either feeling or anxiety, which might also need to be addressed before you can start looking at your anxiety and the feelings that underlay it.
It is good remember, that for most if not all people, feelings trigger anxiety and that many people confuse experience of feelings and anxiety, which causes confusion, as those are processes with the opposite directions – our feelings are there to connect to the world, and anxiety is a fear of those emotional connections. It is not uncommon for the client when they get asked about how they experience their identified emotion to report tension, which in fact comes with the feeling, but is a sign of anxiety.
Knowing and being aware of what your bodily processes mean is critical for your psychological and physical health and for your ability to live a happy life, as being able to experience your feelings helps you to know about the real you.
In our other posts we spoke about the role of anxiety in development and maintenance of psychological and health problems, and on what is important to know about anxiety to successfully treat it. Click here to read more on anxiety and here to read more on things to consider when getting treatment for anxiety.
Valeria Zoteyeva, Health Psychologist (c) 2019