7 Essential Facts About Emotions

EQ Durban, EQ South Africa
Written by: Avril Kidd
Emotions are chemicals released in response to our interpretation of a specific trigger. It takes our brains about 1/4 second to identify the trigger, and about another1/4 second to produce the chemicals.

When awareness is brought to an emotion, power is brought to your life. TARA MEYER ROBSON

1. Emotions are electro-chemical signals that flow through us in an unending cycle.

They are released in our brains in response to our perceptions about the world. We feel them all the time, and yet we are never taught how to interpret them, even though they are so critical to our everyday health and wellbeing. Emotions are released in our brains and flow throughout our body as well as being produced in our bodies and going to our brains like a feedback system.

2. There are 8 basic emotions.

The 8 basic emotions are Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, Surprise, Anticipation, Anger and Trust as well as many variations of these. One of my favorite models of emotions is Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. Scientist, Robert Plutchik, created this model to illustrate these 8 emotions in a compelling way. It shows the dynamism of emotions, like what happens to an emotion when it is left unchecked and what you get when you combine two emotions, like anticipation and joy. It is really interesting, especially when you know how to interpret the wheel. The emotions closest to the centre are the most intense, whilst the emotions towards the outer edge of the petals are less intense.

So let’s look at annoyance, if we don’t acknowledge and deal with this emotion it intensifies to anger, anger left unchecked will intensify to rage. Once we reach this stage our ability to manage our emotion is hugely reduced.

If you want to enhance your emotional literacy, which is an essential component of practicing EQ, this is a great place to start. You can try it out Here.

3. Emotions are neutral.

So often we label emotions as good or bad, for example, we see joy as better than sadness. Who wouldn’t want to feel joy rather than sadness? But what if we look at this differently? Firstly, joy and sadness have more in common than we think. Joy means
I get something I care about. Sadness means I lose something I care about. So they are really two sides of the same need, and we couldn’t have one without the other (Ref).

The second point is that every emotion is simply a signal, delivering a message. Even difficult emotions like fear, anger or sadness are serving an important function. So, what are the functions of emotions?

4. Emotions function to guide us to survive and thrive.

Emotions focus our attention and help to motivate us toward a specific course of action. Each emotion has a purpose. Anger, for example, is a signal that our path is blocked. It focuses our attention on the threat and motivates a response of fighting or pushing through the obstacle. It can be used destructively, of course, but it also gives us the energy to find solutions to pressing problems whilst an emotion, like Joy focuses our attention on an opportunity and motivates us to do more of whatever we are doing. We feel joy when we experience meaning and connection, and the purpose of the emotion is to tell us that those are good things, which we should seek out.

Six Seconds have developed an awesome tool called the Emotoscope Feeling Chart. It has dozens of feelings – all variations of Sadness, Joy, Fear, and Anger –and then the message that each emotion is sending. You can receive yours when you go onto the link supplied above for Plutchik’s model on the 6 Seconds website.

5. Emotions are contagious.

Feelings spread between people like a virus, even if we’re not paying attention to emotions (Ref.).

Whether we’re in a group or with one other person, we can ‘catch’ both positive and negative emotions. The evolutionary basis of this is simple: humans have only survived and thrived in groups. We are social creatures that have a tendency to pick up on each other’s emotional states. Think about it this way: if you see fear on someone’s face, you are more likely to survive if you react quickly – if your own fear response is activated instantaneously. It could be the difference between getting eaten by that lion your friend just saw – or getting away.

We are constantly sending and picking up emotional messages through a number of mechanisms, including tone of voice, facial expressions, body language and specific behavioral patterns. It’s an incredibly important form of communication that we all partake in, even if we don’t realize it.

A study by Facebook and Cornell University found that emotional contagion even happens on social media.

6. Emotions are different from feelings and moods.

They are all interrelated, but the basic difference between them is TIME and the extent of which our cognitive thoughts are involved.

Emotions are chemicals released in response to our interpretation of a specific trigger. It takes our brains about 1/4 second to identify the trigger, and about another1/4 second to produce the chemicals.

Feelings happen as we begin to integrate the emotion, to think about it, to ‘let it soak in’. In English, we use ‘feel’ for both physical and emotional sensation — we can say we feel physically cold, but we can also feel emotionally cold. This is a clue to the meaning of ‘feeling’, it is something we sense. Feelings are often fueled by a mix of emotions, and last for longer than emotions.

Moods are more generalized. They are not tied to a specific incident, but a collection of inputs. Mood is heavily influenced by several factors: the environment (weather,lighting, people around us), physiology (what we’ve been eating, how we’ve been exercising, how healthy we are), and finally our mental state (where we’re focusing attention and our current emotions). Moods can last minutes, hours, probably even days.

Did you know we ‘catch’ emotions from others – even when we’re not consciously paying attention? This is the neural basis of empathy and it tells us a lot about our relationships. Due to this emotional contagion, we need to pay more attention to our own emotions before we walk into our home, enter a meeting or teach a class, as the emotion we are carrying with us may impact everyone in our family, work or school –so strive to create more positive emotional contagion. If our students or employees are fearful or nervous, chances are that they won’t learn or absorb any of the information we are trying to impart to them.

7. Emotions are absorbed in the body in about six seconds.

Each burst of emotion chemicals, from the time its produced in the hypothalamus to the time it is completely broken down and absorbed, lasts about six seconds. That’s how Six Seconds got its name. If we’re feeling something for longer than six seconds, we are – at some level – choosing to recreate and refuel those feelings. Sometimes that’s good – if the lion is still chasing you, those fear chemicals are helping to save your life. Sometimes it’s not. Recognizing which emotion we are feeling, evaluating its purpose relative to our circumstances, and deciding whether to recreate it, is what emotional intelligence is all about.



[Excerpt from a Six Seconds article.]