In Defence of Negative Emotions

Did you know that acute stress is good for you? Yes, you read that right.

We generally flinch at the sheer mention of stress – gasping at the thought of the frightful concepts we associate with it: high blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain and obesity, depression, weak immune system… frightful indeed. Yet, these are consequences of *chronic* stress, the type that won’t ease up.

Stress, like a gallant knight, is supposed to whisk you off your feet, save your life, then quietly retreat until needed again. Think of gazelles grazing placidly in the savanna – then suddenly spotting a lioness, fleeing for their lives… and once the danger has been averted, returning to their meals, as if nothing ever happened.

Now, *this* kind of stress produces new brain cells out of stem cells. It helps your brain grow. It keeps you on your toes while you’re giving that presentation at the meeting, and it’s the reason why, in the flow of it, you can think with sharp clarity. And once the meeting is over, it’s time for a cuppa with your colleagues – perfectly channelling your inner grazing gazelle.

We are scared of anger, anxiety, fear – and yet, much like anything else, ‘negative emotions’ are ultimately what we make of them. Consider this: one in five people living through trauma will develop PTSD, a severe anxiety disorder which will heavily affect that individual’s life. Now flip that statistic around – the other four people will endure the trigger event and the resulting shock, and move on with their lives, relatively unscathed. Why is that? How do they do it?

The variable seems to be where we put our attention. Focus on what happened, and moving on will prove difficult. But if you focus on what you can control, you can keep on moving, one step at a time, gradually navigating your way out of the worst consequences.

Connected to that, another interesting observation is that most of us, when looking back at difficult times in our past, can give them meaning – we can list ways in which the hardship made us stronger, wiser, more compassionate, better people. Or even how it all worked out just perfectly in the end.

We have more choice than we think. Claim your choice to focus your attention and energy carefully, selecting helpful, more resourceful meanings for your experience. Be as wise as a gazelle.

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