Watching the Australian Open last night I was reminded of just how strong the relationship is between our emotions, our bodies, and our actions. If you were also watching, then you would have seen the downward spiral which developed between Daria Gavrilova’s emotional state and her performance. As she began to make mistakes and unforced errors, she became visibly more frustrated and this frustration led to more careless playing.
Whilst we may not always have a worldwide audience watching on, we are all susceptible to this process. As humans we are guided by our emotions and are driven to express this to others in our facial expression, body posture, and movements. As we mature we usually learn to balance our emotional reactions with more measured and thoughtful responses. Sometimes however, we feel powerless to stop our emotions and our rational side seems to go missing. This is because the parts of the brain responsible for emotional processing (and for physical responses) are the first to receive new information about the world around us. When these brain regions are over stimulated the capacity to think rationally goes offline and does not return until we calm down. By this time the damage is done and we typically feel embarrassed, regretful, or guilty, about the whole thing.
But we are not powerless against this. Firstly, its liberating to understand that this is a normal part of life and that even the most rational among us will be overwhelmed by emotions at times. Secondly, your ability to calmly pay attention to your emotions, body, and behaviours can be increased with practice. In time you can improve your awareness of how your mind and body respond to stress (eg. changes in breathing, body temperature, heart-rate, muscle tension, and gastro-intestinal sensations). This sense is sometimes referred to as interoception. Improvements in interoception allow for better opportunities to access your rational mind in a crisis or emotional situation.
My suggestions to improve interoception include any body- focused activity like; yoga, tai chi, martial arts, dance, pilates, swimming or running; or you could try mindfulness meditation; creating art or music; or regularly writing about your feelings. Some people I have worked with prefer to just focus on the development of a still, quiet space in their days. It really doesn’t matter what you choose to do, as long as you commit to the practice.
If you are interested in developing your interoception, why not start by having a look at the link below or looking into one of the other activities I’ve described. As always, Im more than happy to speak with you or arrange a session if you want to learn more.
Until next time, take care