ruthless compassion (aroraborealis) wrote,
ruthless compassion

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Don't believe what you feel

Over the weekend, a wide-ranging discussion on my porch reminded me of a lesson I first learned in psych 101 in college, about how people use their physical symptoms as a clue to their mental and emotional state. In the study I remember, participants were given adrenaline. Some participants were told that they'd been dosed with adrenaline, and what some of the symptoms they could expect were (a feeling of anxiety, pounding or racing heart, increased body temp, etc), and the other participants weren't told either of these things. Then, both groups were asked to answer a series of questions about their mood and state of mind.

Participants who knew that they could attribute their physical state to an external cause tended to have more relaxed responses. They knew that their trembling hands weren't due to threat, anger, or other upset, but to a chemical they'd consumed, and that allowed them to separate their physical experience from their mental one.

This piece of knowledge has come in useful for me time and again. Especially when I'm sick, or underslept, but also after I've had too much caffeine, or am feeling overheated or chilled or any of a myriad of other "imperfect" physical states, it's so good to be able to (at least some of the time) step back from my internal freakout and realize that at least part of what's happening is that my mind, lacking something to attribute my discomfort to, is finding the nearest source of anxiety, worry, sadness, or anger, and pasting that onto what I'm feeling physically.

It was great to have been reminded about this in conversation this weekend, because it came up dramatically last night, when I found myself not sleeping for hours, despite being pretty wiped out after the weekend, because of fretting about my temp job ending and not having something else lined up yet. I had a stomach ache, was feeling overheated, my heart was racing, and after tossing and turning for a couple of hours, I was thinking, "Wow, I had no idea I was so anxious about this!"

Then I realized that over the course of the day, I had consumed a fair amount of the very intense habanero vodka that spike and I made yesterday, and that, in fact, that probably accounted for all of my physical symptoms. Indeed, after realizing that, I was able to identify all of my symptoms more individually, rather than feeling them all simply as a mass of "things aren't okay in here!" Then, having done that, I could tell that while, yes, I do have some nervousness about the next step in my job search and general employment, I wasn't sleeping mainly because my body was out of whack.

This all reminds me of one of the overarching messages of Mindsight, which is that a psyche in balance can experience emotions without being overwhelmed by them. And it also reminds me that all of this sort of thing is more a practice than a state of being. Practice every day.
Tags: insight, introspection, self care

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