What are Emotions and How Do They Affect You?

By Val Silver

What are emotions? The word "emotion" literally translates as 'energy in motion'. You experience, or feel, emotional energy as part of a naturally occurring feedback loop between your mind and your body.

Theories about what emotions are

Even though everyone has emotions, science cannot clearly define what emotions are and why we have them. In response to the "what are emotions" question, there are still only theories. 

Neuroscientists propose that the brain generates emotions as a result of how the body perceives stimuli and how the we think about things. 

Based on how your subconscious mind interprets what is going on in your inner and outer environments, you continuously experience a range of mental reactions and emotional states. These unconscious interpretations are influenced by your instincts, cultural conditioning, programming and belief systems. They can be influenced by your hormones or whether you had enough sleep, water, or exercise. 

Once an emotion is generated, it produces associated cognitive, physiological, behavioral changes.

For example, when people win a much desired prize, they often smile, high-five, or jump up and down. They might yell, "Yes!" They feel happy and excited. They visualize themselves enjoying that car, house, TV, or money and telling their friends and family about their good fortune.

On the other hand, Stubbing a toe is followed by surprise and anger, followed by shooting pain, hobbling around, and not so nice words coming out of one's mouth.

What are emotional responses?

As illustrated above, our uncensored emotional responses are very similar. 

 According to anthropologist Paul Eckman, most animals including humans experience basic emotions - fear, disgust, joy, surprise, sadness, and anger - that cause us to respond in predictable ways when triggered. 

American psychologist Robert Plutchik adds two other primary types of emotions - trust and anticipation. 

Of course there are many nuances of a primary emotion. Fear can range from terror to mild apprehension. Joy may be expressed as inner contentment to jubilant ecstasy. 

Abraham-Hicks teaches that there are 22 types of emotions on the Emotional Guidance Scale. These range from Joy/Knowledge/Empowerment/Freedom/Love/Appreciation at the top, or pleasant feeling side of the scale down to Fear/Grief/Depression/Despair/Powerlessness at the bottom, unpleasant range of the scale.

Movie producers are masters of using music and drama to elicit tears during sad movies, screams of fear during a horror flick, and laughs of surprise in comedies. You feel joy and trust when holding a loved one close. You are filled with anticipation about an upcoming vacation. When the doctor mentions the word cancer, your "oh no" fear response races through your body.  

Because humans and some primates and other animals have the mental capacity for empathy and self awareness, we/they also experience additional moral emotions of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and pride.

Emotions are more than just responses. Your emotional guidance system constantly provides you with signals that you interpret and respond to almost instantaneously. You gain a lot of information about your inner states by paying attention and tuning into your thoughts and emotions. 

Where are your emotions?

Feelings elicited by your emotions (and vice versa) move throughout your body. We can easily recognize the emotional state of other people and some animals. Even infants are attuned to how their caregivers feel by watching their facial expressions and body language.

what are emotions, amygdalaamygdala

Emotions originate in different regions of the limbic part of the brain. This system is involved with memory, emotions, learning, motivation and forming new memories from your experiences.

Fear is handled by the ever-vigilant amygdala which is in charge of your muscles, hormones and senses. It sends a signal to your body to respond quickly to perceived threats. The cortex is sometimes involved. This is helpful because it can look at the whole picture and allows you to assess and respond appropriately.

The amygdala also triggers anger because what makes us angry is usually perceived as some sort of threat to your survival or well-being. The amygdala triggers the hypothalamus which acts without thinking. The fright flight stress response is one of those responses.

Your brain's pleasure centers are triggered by enjoyment. They release dopamine and other feel good chemicals to encourage you to seek out this pleasure again. Food and sex are two main triggers for all animals.

What is your emotional guidance system?

To answer the "What are emotions?" question you also have to look at feelings, those body sensations that trigger and are triggered by emotions. When you tune into your feelings, you get feedback directly from your subconscious mind. This intuition or internal GPS alerts your brain to potential pain and pleasure, which is one of its primary concerns. It tells you when all systems are go, when personal boundaries are violated, whether life or present circumstance are working well or not, when adjustments in thinking are needed, and when inner wounds are ready for healing

emotional guidance system, traffic lights

Your emotional guidance system, along with accompanying thoughts and feelings, signal you much like traffic lights do. You stop at the red light of fear, proceed slowly through the yellow light of caution and uncertainty, and keep going through green lights of confidence and comfort zones. 

Sometimes though, your emotional guidance system gets hyper-vigilant. It alerts you to danger when there is none and holds you back unreasonably, much like being stuck at a red light that never changes to green.

This can happen because the human brain is wired for survival. Therefore, most of your 60,000 daily thoughts (and their accompanying emotions) are naturally more negative, judgmental, or fearful. Give them too much attention and power over you and they become stronger. Fortunately, you can take control and change this with intention and emotional healing and release techniques.

What is the emotion-memory connection?

The fleeting bits of energy in motion called emotions arise with new circumstances and stored memories that get triggered.  Science doesn't have all the answers about how this happens.

It appears that when you feel emotionally traumatized, the memory of the event is stored somewhere in your body. Some people began to cry when a massage therapist worked a certain muscle. They could associate it with a painful memory which the massage is releasing.

Cellular memory can be triggered any time. When it is, you feel and react as though it was only yesterday. Your brain does not discern between real and imagined so it causes your body to respond as if it is happening right now.

Replay a 'somebody done you wrong' movie in your head and your emotions, thoughts and body responses join in. Watch a movie or read a novel about betrayal and it may trigger you to feel guilt about someone you wronged.  Or you may feel anger and sadness over someone who wronged you.

Catch a whiff of cinnamon and memories and emotions associated with family holidays flood your mind and body. Hear the song that was playing when you first kissed your sweetheart and the love will well up in your heart.

Summary: What are Emotions?

What are emotions? They are part of who you are as a human and as an individual. They are your instinctive and conditioned responses that profoundly affect your mental wellness and life experiences. Emotional energy in motion is a powerful subconscious guidance system that helps you navigate your way through your inner and outer environments. When you shift, change and heal your conditioned, habitual emotional responses, you can change your life. Because your emotions are literally energy in motion, they set your thoughts, feelings and actions into motion, too. 

Continue Reading: Types of Emotions and Feelings

What are emotions page updated 12/2020

Source: sciencemuseum.org- What are Emotions?

For Educational Purposes Only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult with your health provider before using natural remedies and/or complementary therapies if you are pregnant, nursing, or you are being treated for a medical condition. Be aware that certain herbs and supplements interact with medications.

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