RESEARCH SHOWS THAT when someone is in
a bad mood he's more likely to believe negative statements about
himself. He also remembers more times when he was punished for
failure and remembers fewer times he was rewarded for succeeding.
And when two pictures flash at the same time (one to each eye
with a divider between the eyes), he'll see the negative picture
but not the positive picture more often when he's feeling bad
than when he's feeling good.
In other words, feelings effect your perception
in a way that reinforces the already-existing feelings.
Events in your life cause your body to
produce stress hormones. Okay, it's not just the events
it's also how you interpret those events. But to simplify
for the moment, let's say events directly cause the release of
stress hormones into your bloodstream.
Stress hormones have many effects in your
body. Adrenaline, for example, makes your heart beat faster.
If it's just a little adrenaline if you're just a little
upset your heart beats only a little faster. If you get
very upset, you get a large dose of adrenaline and your heart
beats a lot faster.
Adrenaline also makes you breathe faster.
It diverts blood away from your digestive system and into your
muscles (giving you the sensation that you've got butterflies
in your stomach). It causes sweating. If it is just a little
adrenaline, you may not even notice the increase in sweating,
but a galvanic skin response machine could easily detect it,
because the electrical conductivity of your skin improves as
it gets wetter (water is an excellent conductor of electricity).
So adrenaline has a finite number of effects.
Certain systems and organs in your body have receptors for adrenaline
and respond to it.
One of the organs effected is your brain
and that's how we get the secondary effect. A stressful circumstance
or even a worrisome thought begins a chain of reactions.
Adrenaline pumps into your blood. Your brain is altered so it
is more tuned into danger and threat. Your thoughts become more
upset-oriented. When you're experiencing anxiety or worry, you
tend to see the world in terms of threat and danger. You're more
likely to notice potential dangers; you're more likely to see
what might go wrong; and you're more likely to interpret what
you see as dangerous or worrisome, even if it isn't. You begin
to interpret your world in a more upsetting way, taking even
neutral comments as threatening; seeing danger in a nonsmiling
but unthreatening facial expression.
Because of these interpretations, your
body produces even more adrenaline, increasing or prolonging
the feeling of anxiety.
These are secondary effects. Adrenaline
causes your brain to be on red alert and this changes the way
you perceive the world. If you aren't aware of this or if you
don't know what to do about it, stressful events will be more
stressful than they need to be. Or you'll feel upset longer than
you need to. In other words, you'll suffer needlessly.
Don't get me wrong: If you are alive, you
will suffer. You will feel upset now and then. You can't avoid
it and stay alive. But you can lessen it by limiting the secondary
All you need to do is remember the secondary
effect happens. When you remember that adrenaline alters
the way your perceive and interpret your experience of the world,
you will naturally become more skeptical about the conclusions
you draw when you feel upset. That all by itself will lessen
the secondary effect. Many of the other methods on this web site
will help you as well.
The method here is simple: When you feel
upset or anxious, remind yourself that stress hormones effect
your judgment and perception.
Remind yourself that
stress hormones impair your judgment
and distort your perception.