Using psychology to power out of a crisis
How to come out of an emotional dip positively.When in an emotional dip, you need to stretch yourself a lot more for insights and imagination. During an emotional dip, it becomes even more important to take care of your thought patterns. You have to be absolutely on top of your mind, not letting it feed you crap. When we are at our most vulnerable best, our strength needs to be at its fore, rising above us and put a protective wall around us and making sure every thought that gets in, is allowed to get in. We need to the gatekeepers of our thoughts.
When we are our most vulnerable self, it is easy to only look at things that feed into that vulnerability more. If we are afraid, it is easy to feed the fear. If we are sad, it is easy to feed the sadness. If we are angry, it is easy to feed the anger. In fact, everything around us will manifest suddenly in that way. We will be able to look at everything around us and use that to fuel the emotion we are going through.
What is hard is doing the opposite. When we are afraid, how do we feed ourselves courage? When we are sad, how do we feed ourselves happiness? When we are angry, how can we feed ourselves some calm? This is challenging because these emotions are buried under a myriad of other easily accessible emotions and not available to us easily.
The last part is the key. The opposite emotions are not available to us readily. We need to reach deep and pull them out and neutralize ourselves first, which in turn, will make us more receptive to them. I call this step conscious calibration. When we consciously calibrate ourselves to a neutral emotional state, it becomes possible to turn our perspectives and emotional quality.
Conscious calibration can also act as classic conditioning. In one of the famous psychology experiments of all time, Pavlov paired a neutral stimulus with a known behavioral response and demonstrated that over time, the neutral stimulus does not remain neutral anymore. In the experiment, Pavlov rang a bell every time a dog was provided food. Food made the dog salivate. While ringing the bell was not any trigger for the dog initially, over time the dog started salivating when the bell rang.
It should be possible to consciously choose triggers that allows us to come out from a state of emotional dip with a positive frame of mind. The challenge though would be to be disciplined to identify the dips and help create triggers until the response to an emotion becomes natural. You can take the aid of a friend or family to catch your emotional state and help you remember to provide the initial triggers.
It need not be just one person who can help you choose triggers but different. The different people can help you identify the thought states that you want to track, but are unable to do it from inside yourself. For instance, your friend who is extremely empathetic might be able to identify an empathetic or opposite state of yours. Your dad, who is monk like, might be able to help you identify a state of anger. Your son who is five, might be able to identify a state of stress. Using your social connections and network to identify emotional dips or unwanted states is something that will be very helpful.
Once you identify the state successfully, the first step needs to bring yourself to a neutral frame of mind. Lot of people try to suppress the thoughts. It does not work. There is a lot of social psychology research experiments on thought suppression (search for Wegner’s white bear experiment). Simply put thought suppression is not effective, and not necessarily a good way to come out an emotional dip. Some of the things that work instead are — using another thought as distraction, thought postponement, avoiding and changing exposure, meditation and mindfulness.
For getting yourself into a neutral frame of mind, you can try doing the following -
1. Stretch for insights and reach for thoughts that are at the periphery of your mind, still accessible but unrelated to the current all-consuming emotion. Social psychologists have proven time and again of how peripheral thoughts are lurking at the edges of our mind, sometimes contributing to a distracted thinking. However, it should be possible for us to consciously grab onto the same thoughts with the goal of breaking free of an all-encompassing emotion.
Once you are in a neutral frame of mind, it is easy to elevate your state of mind because from a neutral state of mind we are susceptible to deep influence by our surroundings and our actions. At this point, we will have access to a wide array of resources ranging from surrounding ourselves with the right kind of people, reading books, engaging in high energy physical activities, etc. This helps in bringing ourselves out of a emotional dip.
When you are able to consistently employ triggers for emotional dips, there comes a point where things reverse. The triggers take over to be the actual response, while the emotions become triggers. When we do that, we seen an emotional dip as a trigger, and respond positively to it. As an example, instead of being overwhelmed by a loss or stress or feelings of emptiness, we are able to turn them into cues for reading, working out, writing or connecting deeply with our families.
When my mom passed away last year suddenly, I could not make sense of why it happened. There were a gamut of emotions I was fighting ranging from confusion, regret, inevitability, family values, future, etc. It was sufficient to say that it was a dark phase of my life that taught me a lot about the values of stretching myself for insights and using triggers until the trigger itself turns to be a response and the state of an emotional dip a trigger. I think that is what we are attempting to do.
1. Suppressing the white bears (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/10/unwanted-thoughts.aspx)
2. Pavlov dogs (https://www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html)
3. Social Psychology: How Other People Influence Our Thoughts and Actions