Episode #27: Emotions, Feelings and Moods
Welcome to the Samantha Leith show with me, yep, you guessed Samantha Leith. Each month, we dive into a different topic and this month is all about emotions, feelings and moods, what they are, how we use them, the good, the bad, and the what the… and how we can get a true handle on them to help us with our extraordinary lives. Stop the press. Emotions and feelings are not the same thing. What?
In real life, we use them fairly interchangeably, yet they’re actually different like non-identical twins or different sides of a coin. Let’s get all scientific for a second. Emotions are a reaction to a stimulus. They’re neutral. Deep down in the subcortical regions of our brain, the amygdala, our responses create biochemical and electrical reactions in our body. Think running through an airport scared because you might miss your plane, blood pumping, heart racing, eyes focused. Those physical changes form the emotion that may be labeled fear, and these changes are usually unconscious and instinctive. Primal, if you will.
Take the same situation, yep, I’ve been running through an airport, barefoot with my high heels in my hand, it’s horrible, the feeling you might be experiencing is worry. If you miss the plane, you won’t get to the meeting on time, then you may lose the deal, which will impact your mortgage and so on and so on and so on. This is the neocortical region of your brain at work assigning meaning to the emotion that’s, well, run the race in that situation. See, so close but different.
The situation doesn’t even need to be real. Thinking about snakes can actually trigger the same emotion and feeling as seeing one next to you in the garden. To put it in another way, emotions are the data of the situation and the feelings of the story or the narrative, and yet two people can be in exactly the same situation and experience different emotions and feelings.
I really love this description by Dr. Sarah McKay, who’s a neuroscientist and the author of the Your Brain Health blog. “Emotions play out in the theater of your body. Feelings play out in the theater of the mind.” Over the years, many a smart person has tried to create the perfect list of emotions and feelings and I’m not sure they ever will. As we understand our humanness, the lists that do exist will probably change.
UC Berkeley researchers identified 27 categories of emotions. Dr. Robert Plutchik proposed eight primary emotions. The Junto Wheel uses six and the Geneva Wheel uses 20, blah, blah, blah. Some say there are around 34,000 emotions so you can see why they’ve really tried to simplify it.
So if there’s all these different emotions, how many feelings are there? Again, it’s something that hasn’t been agreed on. If you go to the Google and investigate it, lists range from dozens to hundreds. The Hoffman Institute has a great one and I love Danielle LaPorte’s List of Core Desired Feelings.
Well, why do we even need to know or even care that they’re different? Bottom line, it helps us to be able to understand ourselves and navigate this thing called life. Being able to name the feeling and know how the emotion is showing up physically can help us to self-regulate and get back in balance. Even a simple breathing exercise in the midst of a chaotic emotion can shift you out of that state in seconds. This awareness also helps us in our decision-making, which given most of us suffer regularly from decision fatigue, is definitely a good thing.
“I am so mad. I don’t want to be here. You always make me do things I don’t want to do. Why won’t you listen? Blood is boiling. My fists are clenched. My heart is racing. My eyes are getting really crinkly, and I do not want to do this.”
Scientists have shown that emotions come first. Then as those chemicals go to work in our body, our thinking steps up and creates the feelings so we know that there’s a physical link between them. Maybe I should just stop there. Done? I can go? Can I go? Yeah, I think I can go.
There’s so much more, though. I recently became aware of the link between heart rate variability, for example, and emotion. This variability, when it’s out of whack, shows your body is in a state of fight-or-flight or heightened stress. And whilst there are many physical things like deep breathing and general fitness that can help this, better emotional regularity has a huge impact.
So can this physical connection be a good thing? Absolutely. Understanding how our body reacts and starts this process allows us to remove some of the muck in our brains that has us going, “But I don’t understand why.” This core emotion that comes up can almost act as a guidepost for further understanding the feeling that then comes to the surface and then the mood that’s the umbrella for all of it.
Okay. I’m confusing myself here. Take it back a step. Umbrellas, guideposts, what exactly do I mean? Time plays an important part in all of this. So let’s break it down that way. Emotions, feelings and moods are with us always and are highly variable. The physical reaction in our body to a circumstance triggers the emotion which, in turn, can make us aware of a feeling. As we process or don’t process the feeling, it impacts our more generalized mood in that moment and the moods of all of those around us. I know.
Picture this. You’ve had a busy day, rushing home to get dinner on, you take a few corners too quickly, some other drivers and slam on your brakes in the driveway with your heart racing. Anger has risen to bite you on the bum and you are feeling resentful and irritated with the world. First, your boss gave you an extra task this afternoon, making you late, and he spoke to you in that tone that you hate. Then the traffic sucked and now, now again, you’re thinking, “Why the hell do I have to be the one to make dinner? We both work. What makes them so important that they get to come home and have it all done for them? Huh? Huh? Huh?”
Watch out, world. They walk in the door and it’s worse. You forgot to turn the stove up in time, your son has a stain on his new shirt and your partner doesn’t even ask how your day was. Next thing you know, the conversation is short, your son is acting up and that black cloud of your moon has rained down, soaking everyone.
The reverse is also true. Can you remember a time when you haven’t wanted to go to an event and then you end up having the best time ever? You walk in, the music’s pumping. Someone shows you some love, you move your body, conversations flow, and you become re-energized with a bounce in your step and a faith restored in the world.
You may look at both scenarios and think, well, you can’t do anything about it because of the physiology. You would be mistaken, my friend. There are many ways in which we become better at self-regulation with emotions, feelings and moods.
“I’m so happy. Yay. I asked a gazillion times if we could come here and we did. I feel like I’m walking feet tall. My body feels so light and airy. My eyes are wide open and my mouth just can’t stop smiling.”
Thank you so much for watching this week’s episode. Please like, share, comment and subscribe and help me to be able to bring you more juicy topics like this. Don’t forget to grab the worksheets on the website, www.samanthaleith.com/freebies, and please stay in touch on the socials. I’d love to hear what you’ve been up to.
🎶 Fuckin’ Perfect
Songwriters: Alecia Moore / Johan Schuster / Max Martin © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
🎙️ Produced by Samantha Leith / Michael Allen
Vocals by Samantha Leith