It’s Monday morning. As you’re driving to work, you’re aware of someone impatiently tailgating you – when suddenly they overtake you on the left and petulantly zoom off. Brilliant, you think, it's started out well… and it’s ages until the weekend.
What you’re probably not aware of is that your grumpy mood is in large part created and sustained by the sensations inside your body, responding to your interpretation of events around you. This sensing into your body, called “interoception”, gives your brain an approximate idea of what is going on: is your current experience pleasant or unpleasant? Are you feeling calm or being stimulated?
The extent to which your brain relies on bodily sensations to give rise to emotions has been explored by studies which have created maps of embodied emotions (look at figure 2 here!), and found that the intensity of the emotion varies with the intensity of physical sensations.*
Why is it useful for you to remember that? Well, that inconsiderate driver will trigger your fight-or-flight response, and there’s not much you can do about that – adrenaline and cortisol will flow into your bloodstream, your heart will beat faster, your muscles will tense up. But this is where you regain your power: whether you turn all that into anger or not is now up to you. And if you’d rather not, you don’t need to.
What can you do, then, to change the sensations in your body – and shake off that grumpy mood? In previous posts, we explored the simple strategies of deep breathing (which stimulates the vagus nerve), grounding yourself (which stops your mind from catastrophising), and exercising (which reassures your brain that you’ve taken action, while also producing endorphins).
You can also:
Get social: talking to someone triggers the release of dopamine and oxytocin… that’s why involved, fulfilling conversations feel so good. Just be aware that texting does not give you the same level of chemical relief.
Get creative: making things boosts dopamine and serotonin, which in turn helps you feel even more creative! It’s a happiness loop.
* Read about it here: Maps of subjective feelings | PNAS