The Happy Wellness Room
As with holistic wellness and the body’s systems, emotions can be categorized into individual units, but when viewed as a whole, the emotional picture becomes much clearer. For decades, scientists have believed there are six basic emotions: anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, and disgust; supposedly, all of the emotions we feel can be filed under one of those six categories. For example, anxiety is a subset of fear, joy is a subset of happiness, and so on. Only recently have researchers proposed 27 distinct categories of emotion, and they’ve shown how each emotion has a blended edge that can overlap with and be difficult to discern from other similar emotions. These emotions are: admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, craving, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, excitement, fear, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire, and surprise (Cowen & Keltner, 2017). It’s safe to say, no matter what emotions you may be feeling, it’s normal. Your emotions are normal for what you’ve experienced.
The limbic system in the brain oversees our emotional realm, and there are two pathways to get a physiological response from the body. When we receive a stimulus through one or more of the senses, the impulse(s) travel(s) to the thalamus, which tells the amygdala what to do in response; this is the quickest route to convert incoming sensations into action by the body, and it usually happens when the response is associated with anger or fear. Imagine walking along a path and seeing something dart out near your foot. Your immediate response could be to jump quickly, or turn and run, even before you’ve recognized what the something was. That’s our instincts protecting us from harm. Now, what if our instincts don’t sense immediate harm? The signals go from the thalamus to the frontal cortex, where the information is processed, an emotion assigned to it, and then to the amygdala for action. Everything we experience around us goes through one of these two pathways to be analyzed and stored for future use (Stangor, C. & Walinga, J., 2010). Because all each of us have to help us understand and process these stimuli is our past experiences and beliefs, each of us could assign different emotions to the same, or a similar, stimulus.
Emotional wellbeing is defined as “the ability to feel and express the entire range of human emotions, and to control them, not be controlled by them” (Seaward, 2021, p. 58). What if we didn’t have to control our emotions, but instead give a pathway out of the body for the emotions we don’t want to harbor? That’s what wellness is all about: balance. We must balance stress with self-care, responsibility with freedom, discipline with fun, and heartache with happiness.
Charles Swindoll (n.d.) once wrote, “life is ten percent what happens to you, and ninety percent how you react.” That’s how we react to almost anything; with emotions first. If we get cut off in traffic: anger; If we receive a gift: excitement; If we suddenly hear a loud bang: fear. When the ten percent shows itself, it is up to us whether we stay in the initial emotion, or purposefully switch to another after we have assessed the situation more thoroughly. All emotions are normal, but not all are healthy to hold on to. Fear and anger are survival emotions (Seaward, 2021, p. 58), not bad or unhealthy. Emotions, especially fear and anger, become unhealthy when they last longer than the intended purpose for which they serve. Anger can turn into hatred, fear can turn into anxiety, sadness into depression, and all of these emotions affect not only our emotional wellness, but our entire existence because we are the whole, not the sum of our parts (loosely attributed to Aristotle).