Category: Anxiety

2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way

2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way
Having no time for anything also indicates an over reliance on intellectualisation, social interaction and movement as defence mechanisms not to connect with emotions

The habit of relying on external factors to regulate negative feelings and emotions is at the core of emotional dependence. People, things, work, food and exercise are all examples of external factors which are commonly used to make one feel balanced or “better”. While a certain level of dependence is healthy to nurture secure attachment, for instance, constantly searching for someone or something outside the self to help one deal with the discomfort that lies within – without consciously connecting with it – often worsens one’s ability to process emotions in a functional way in the long term. To raise your awareness or prevent you from perpetuating such tendency, here are 2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way:

You do what you can not to spend time alone

Focusing the attention on others distracts us from having it on our own selves. Emotionally dependent people tend to equate being alone to feeling lonely, restless and/or somewhat uncomfortable. That belief feeds a constant need to be surrounded by people in order not to feel that emotional discomfort. Such avoidant behaviour – or emotion phobia – signals a maladaptive tendency of not wanting to connect with the inner world, address and fully process negative emotions.

You do what you can to stay “busy”

Although activities such as studying, socialising, helping others, working, cleaning, talking and even exercising may be productive, they also work as perfect excuses for not thinking or, most importantly, feeling. As being busy is much more socially acceptable than connecting with negative emotions, since we come from a culture of emotional neglect and intolerance, endless to do lists and “no time for anything” might also indicate an over reliance on intellectualisation, social interaction and movement as defence mechanisms not to connect with emotions such as fear, anger, sadness and shame, as well as feelings of abandonment, emptiness and rejection.

Looking outside the self and relying on the external world to gain distance from emotions and, therefore, “deal with them” correspond to emotional dependent attitudes that strongly affect mental health and wellbeing. To embrace an emotionally autonomous stance, learning how to spend time alone and in stillness are essential for anyone who wishes to freely reconnect with the body and feel more centred in an organic, adaptive way which also boosts personal growth and emotional maturity.

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability
Persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem

At times of social isolation, it remains pertinent not to neglect the extreme negative effects it has on our mental/emotional health. Despite the current focus being on physical health as the only threat to wellbeing, it remains crucial to raise awareness of how isolation may have an even stronger impact on our psyches and quality of life in the longer term. In order to understand the link between loneliness and emotional vulnerability, here are 3 signs/feelings/mood states that indicate how you may be negatively affected by a lack of social contact:

Sadness and melancholy: as we have been wired for connection and intimacy, being with others and enjoying their company makes us feel more human and alive. Even if you are an introvert, a certain level of social interaction is required to promote a sense of identity and belonging. As the human presence, voice and touch are also soothing, a friend, colleague, relative or spouse, for instance, can be a source of emotional support. When we lack that and feel lonely, however, moments of sadness tend to last longer. As the days go by and loneliness lingers, we may become hopeless, melancholic and even depressed.                 

Shame and frustration: persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem. Despite being, at times, a consequence of our own lifestyle choices and rigid beliefs about relationships, loneliness can make us feel “not good enough”, “inferior” or “less than”. Not feeling worthy of the company and love of others brings about resentment, anger and even hatred, which are felt on a deep level and are often not fully registered by the conscious mind.

Fear and desperation: feeling alone, not seen and without access to emotional connection and support may trigger the fight or flight response. That is because we also need others to feel safe.  As human beings are only able to survive and thrive in groups and with the help of other humans, complete isolation – even when seemingly coherent at times of a health crisis – may cause stress, hypervigilance and anxiety. When we are submitted to a climate of fear that seems endless, desperation sets in, which may, in turn, lead us to resort to dysfunctional, extreme and risky behaviours to regain a sense of safety and wellbeing.

As our emotional health continues to be neglected by governments, the medical community and other authorities of the health sector, it remains of the utmost importance to be creative and dedicate time and effort to personal care. If you feel lonely and emotionally vulnerable as a result of isolation, do what you can to feel connected, firstly with your inner self and then with others. There is still much you can do that respects the social distancing guidelines that will ameliorate your mood, you just need to search for what suits and complements the authentic you.

6 common effects of social isolation

6 common effects of social isolation
Not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness

The imposed social isolation and focus on the negative news surrounding the COVID-19 virus spread may work as triggers for the fight or flight response. If you have a history of unresolved childhood trauma, you may feel even more vulnerable and experience the following effects of social isolation:

Fear: a nagging sense of collective fear may put your body in a state of hypervigilance, which, in turn, makes you more susceptible to feeling stuck in an excessive worrying and anxiety loop.

Abandonment feelings: not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness, rejection and abandonment. Even if these feelings do not make sense rationally, they do emotionally for those who have suffered abuse and/or neglect and, therefore, deal with the effects of their childhood trauma.

Anger: anger tends to follow abandonment feelings because it serves as to regulate them or give us back a sense of “self-esteem” and personal power. Being forced to isolate and cope with the negative emotions that arise from it without much emotional support can make you feel disappointed, resentful or even very angry for no apparent reason.

Lack of motivation: when the air is filled with negativity and there is little movement and fun in our lives, it becomes harder to find the energy to complete the simplest of tasks.

Lack of concentration: having your body on high alert for most of the time makes you limbic system or “emotional brain” hyperactive. As a result, our brain areas interconnected with the role of attention – as the pre-frontal cortex – do not get a chance to operate properly.

If you identify with the above to some degree, increasing self-awareness and keeping a very strict personal care routine could safeguard your emotional health during this challenging period. Practices that enable you to achieve that include nurturing the inner child via meditation and visualisations, daily exercise or physical activity, contacting friends and/or family and eating a healthy/low carb diet based on plants and whole foods. Reducing considerably or even avoiding the news while keeping an objective and positive outlook for the near future, as well as avoiding contact with pessimistic and fear driven people who refuse to see beyond an extremely biased and negative outlook may go a long way to making you feel more centred and calm. In addition, watching comedies, reading inspiring literature or watching uplifting talks and videos tend to put a smile on our faces and do wonders to improve our mood.

3 signs of fear addiction

3 signs of fear addiction
Making sure that days are filled up with a thousand activities is one of the signs of fear addiction

Is it possible to become addicted to an emotion? When we think about the effects that emotions like anger and fear have on our bodies, the answer is a definite yes. That is because the fight or flight response, or the fear that originates from our perceived sense of danger, for instance, triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain (dopamine has been connected not only to pleasure, but also to reward seeking and avoidance behaviours), as well as adrenaline. The combination of those hormones makes us feel physically and emotionally charged, which produces a “rush/high” that has potential to become quite addictive. Here are 3 signs of fear addiction to help you gain greater understanding of the role that fear has played in your life:

1- You have built up a personal narrative around fear

For those who have an addiction to fear, their personal history is construed by adverse events. So much so, in fact, that they allow themselves to be entirely defined by their negative life experiences. It is a well-known fact that trauma makes the brain biased towards the negative as an evolutionary measure to self-preservation, however, fear addicts refuse to move beyond that. Even when aware of that tendency, they struggle to adopt a balanced perspective and not see the world, people and the future through their extremely rigid belief systems and all-or-nothing attitude. Since the emotional discomfort that arises from not feeling afraid or anxious is too great for fear addicts, they feel safer when seeing their own selves as faulty and their lives doomed to misery and disaster.

2- Your lifestyle choices reinforce your fear

Any type of addiction is high maintenance by default. Fear addicts keep themselves in a fear state by creating and maintaining habits that reinforce their addiction. Therefore, what they do, consume and experience will be reflective of that principle. Making sure that days are filled up with a thousand activities, feeling (secretly) proud of being always busy, listening to podcasts or watching true crime documentaries, being addicted to the news and controversy, reading books that tell stories of violence, abuse and trauma – be them technical or biographical in nature – as well as drinking great amounts of coffee and eating foods which are high in refined carbohydrates – such as white bread and pasta – give fear addicts their beloved adrenaline rush and “help them” keep their stress baseline at a high level.

3- You gravitate towards people who reinforce your fear

Positive, emotionally mature, zen and centred people are uninteresting for the fear driven. Unless they feel consciously overwhelmed by their own addiction, they choose to be surrounded by individuals who add to their drama and reinforce their fear. Those who hold a negative outlook, struggle to see beyond worst case scenarios and think and act in ways that do not reflect objectivity make for their perfect match. In addition, people who display maladaptive behaviours, have mental health problems, “difficult personalities” and/or come from toxic backgrounds and, for those reasons, feed (even if unconsciously) a dysfunctional relationship dynamic, give fear addicts a great array of reasons to feel anxious and keep worrying excessively.

If you feel ready to overcome your fear addiction, I recommend practices that calm the nervous system and stimulate the pre-frontal cortex, such as breathing and relaxation exercises, mindfulness meditation and raising self-awareness through challenging negative thinking diligently. The more you activate that region of your brain, the more in control of your impulses you will feel, which is key to ending any type of addiction.

How to accept negative emotions

How to accept negative emotions
Mental health is all about emotional connection and acceptance

Mental health is all about emotional connection and acceptance. Our habit of judging and neglecting negative emotions, as well as our obsession with controlling them, often makes us more unhappy and unbalanced. If you are tired of fighting against yourself and the way you feel, and would like to rebuild a healthier relationship with your emotions, here is how to accept negative emotions:

1- Connect with the body

Emotions are expressed in the body. Therefore, anyone who wishes to fully connect with their emotions does so, primarily, through a reconnection with the body. You can achieve that through exploring bodily sensations such as those of tension and lightness. If you struggle to identify emotions, exploring your bodily sensations will give you a good sense of the impact your own thoughts and experiences have on you.

2- Become consciously aware of the presence of negative emotions

Instead of diverging your focus away from negative emotions or doing your utmost to repress or control them, become fully aware of their presence. You can do that by moving your attention towards them and creating a mental map of where they are felt in the body through direct observation of their intensity and movement, as well as the effect they have on you.

3- Observe them without judgement

Most of us were raised in a culture of emotional neglect in which “negative” emotions are thought to be an inconvenience that should be dealt with as soon as possible. Such attitude tends to be unproductive, however, since it has the potential of creating an even bigger problem. Avoiding, denying or repressing negative emotions are dysfunctional behaviours that often lead to emotional and physical problems. To prevent that from happening, just let them let them be and resist the urge to do something about them.

4- Validate their right to exist

Because all emotions are part of us, when we deny their wisdom and value, openly rejecting them through repression, avoidance or denial, we do so to the detriment of our own selves. Even when they do not seem coherent at first glance, they have a right to be brought to awareness. Every time you recognise a negative emotion with openness and respect, you become whole and complete in yourself.

5- Befriend your body

To become more tolerant of negative emotions, it is essential that you see your body as a friend. Self-love and acceptance is only viable through a strong alliance with our whole selves, mind and body. To befriend your body, change your beliefs about “negative” bodily sensations and emotions by regarding them as normal expressions of the self. Seeing them as fleeting also helps you approach them with patience, understanding and kindness.

The benefits of focusing your attention on emotions go beyond emotional regulation and wellbeing, but also help enhance your concentration abilities and regulate impulsive behaviour. To get the most out of the above, be mindful of how you feel and do what you can to remind yourself to think and act differently when worrying excessively or feeling anxious.

Why you can’t stop worrying

Why you can’t stop worrying
Just by the power of thought alone, we can activate our body’s stress response

Excessive worrying is a common problem. Most of my clients’ complaints are directly linked to the frequent occurrence of negative thoughts. While some are constantly bombarded by intrusive thoughts that make them feel ashamed or insecure, others are stuck in catastrophizing, or the habit of picturing worst-case scenarios. Regardless of its content, such dysfunctional thinking has a great impact on their mental health and quality of life. Simply put, those who worry excessively find it hard to feel good and enjoy the moment. That is because their brains are often busy anticipating supposed adversities, dangers and losses. But if worrying too much is counterproductive, why most of us struggle to make it stop?

In his brilliant book “Mind to Matter”, Church (2018) explores “The evolutionary value of negative thinking”. When we think of the bigger picture, we are able to understand how a preoccupied attitude has been central to our success as a species. If we were not able to be sensitised by fear, our limbic system or emotional brain would not mobilise us for the fight or flight response. A laid-back attitude to danger would increase our exposure to being eaten by predators, amongst other dangers. If there were fewer of us who were lucky enough to dodge death and manage to grow and procreate, our probability of thriving as a group would have been considerably reduced. A hypervigilant state of mind, or our ability to remain alert and be warned by our thoughts of the possibility of something bad happening, seems to have greatly enabled us to stay alive and become masters of our destiny.

It all makes sense, does it not? Now you know why it is so easy for you to start worrying: your evolved brain is trying to protect you! Of course, there is one caveat: its inability to differentiate between real and imaginary threats. You can literally bring yourself to a state of high fear and anxiety just by imagining something awful happening, as dying suddenly from a heart attack, even though you are in perfect health. Just by the power of thought alone, we can activate our body’s stress response and induce a change in our physiology so to prepare it to deal with a problem that does not exist. Cortisol and adrenaline, our stress hormones, flood the body and increase heart and breathing rate as well as blood pressure. While you are worrying if you have managed to charm everyone at that presentation, your survival instinct is making you feel like approval is a matter of life or death.

To find out if you are stuck on fight or flight, make a conscious effort to reconnect with your body and emotions. Hypervigilant people tend to live in their heads and neglect their physical and emotional health. As yourself, from time to time, “What are my bodily sensations and feelings saying about me at this very moment”. Muscle tension that does not get better with time, cluster headaches and unexplainable pain, for instance, are common chronic stress symptoms. While constantly checking your phone may seem like a harmless behaviour, it is also central to keeping your brain in a state of overstimulation. The practice of self-awareness will turn off the autopilot and enable you to start regaining control over yourself. Then, as you become familiar with how your life style, habits and choices affect your mind and body, be courageous and start investing in change that will bring balance and happiness into your life.

Reference:

Church, D. (2018). Mind to Matter, The Astonishing Science of how Your Brain Creates Material Reality.  Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.