Emotions are powerful. They are the basis for our connections to others and essential for our innate survival mechanisms. Emotions allow us to experience joy, happiness, compassion and empathy. They allow us to bond. Emotions bypass logic, but when regulated well, contribute to self-care, productivity and healthy relationships. However, when emotions inappropriately overwhelm logic, they can reduce a person’s ability to anticipate consequences, cause irrational reactions and get us into trouble.
Often, it’s hard to let go of past painful events. People often talk about their past when they’re feeling bad because it’s their negative emotions that connect them to the memories of their past. Going over and over these thoughts keeps you in the past; not just mentally, but emotionally and physically. It makes it nearly impossible to change your reality.
How Emotions Affect the Body
You think 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts every day and 90% of those thoughts are the same as the day before. Habit. If it’s true that your thoughts have an impact on what your future will be like, and almost all of your thoughts are the same as yesterday, then it makes sense that your life isn’t going to change much at all. Why is this? According to Dr Joe Dispenza, the same thoughts lead to the same choices, and the same choices lead to the same behaviours, which leads to the same experiences and the same emotions. Those familiar emotions then influence the same thoughts and we begin the cycle again.
Your thoughts and emotions trigger hormonal secretions, for example happiness sends a wave of endorphins, while worry floods the body with stress hormones. Your brain doesn’t know whether an event causing an emotional reaction is happening now, or is just a thought about a past (or future) event. So even if you’re just thinking about a painful event from the past, it will still have a physical effect on your body.
So imagine if you’re stuck in a pattern of negative thoughts about the past like I was. I was in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic during 2018 to early 2020. Now despite all the pain he put me through, there was love there, but one day he disappeared. Well “coincidently” a few days after I told him he needed to stop this bad behaviour, he dumped me over Facebook and I haven’t seen him since.
This was traumatic, mainly because I don’t know why, and that’s the difficult part, no answers. This caused a lot of negative thoughts and unanswered questions that I went over and over in my mind for months and months. This caused me to go further back in time and beat myself up about red flags I ignored and why I allowed this monster into my life in the first place.
Can Emotions Make You Sick?
Being stuck in negative thought patterns like this had a physiological effect on my body. My constant thoughts about this relationship caused ongoing stress to my body. My thoughts would be triggering my brain to believe that I was still in these bad situations, even though it was all in my head. But the brain doesn’t know this. It just does what it’s supposed to do. It believes I am under stress so it releases stress hormones.
Stress hormones are useful and they keep us alive when there’s a REAL danger present. I’m not going to use the tiger example, everyone uses that. Lets go with spiders, they cause me stress! You know how you react when you walk through a spider web? You start jumping around like a maniac, hitting yourself in an attempt to get a possible spider off your body, screaming at your friend to check your back immediately! I guess this example is only relevant to those of us who are petrified of spiders.
Anyway, that surge of energy when under stress is useful in dangerous situations. Fear and stress shut down your immune system, reduce digestion and constrict blood vessels in the torso so that blood flow increases to the arms and legs, where it’s needed to defend or run. Fight or flight. This means that the digestive system had minimal blood flow as it’s not needed during times of stress and the immune system isn’t defending against pathogens as effectively. The brain also ceases to use conscious reasoning, and focuses on pure automatic reaction as this is much faster and necessary in dangerous situations.
Now all of this is very effective at saving our lives and the body recovers just fine from short bursts of stress with adequate recovery time. However, when stress becomes chronic, which it can from ongoing negative thinking, worry, and any perceived modern-day stress, the body remains in this fight or flight response which it isn’t designed to do.
Remaining in this chronic state of stress can lead to illness. The immune and digestive systems are much less effective in this state, opportunistic pathogens may take advantage, digestive issues may arise due to poor blood flow, and the body will remain in a state of inflammation which is the beginning of many diseases.
It’s easy to overlook thoughts as a potential cause of disease, but it can begin there if you allow negative though patterns to control your life. Of course, there are countless other mechanisms that contribute to disease, it becomes like a snowball effect as one leads to the other.
Getting Out of Negative Thought Patterns
Just like drugs, emotions can become additive. In emotional addiction you become “hooked” on feeling a familiar way, or automatically responding to the powerful emotional pull. Emotional addiction leaves you at the mercy of feelings provoked by circumstances that can be either real or imaginary, and your perceptions of these events. Overwhelming emotions easily cloud judgement and may cause you to react like a loony towards loved ones. But rather than reacting to impulses, you can stop and make sensible decisions.
I believe I was, or still am addicted to my negative emotions from my past relationship. I look at the logic of it all and it makes no sense to continue to allow some nut from my past to influence my present and future. Yet I so easily get caught up in it all. The answer is very simple, yet not so simple to put into action. It’s the answer I knew all along, but I didn’t want to hear it; and it takes work and persistence.
I’m sure you’ve already heard it before. It’s called a few things, mindfulness, or staying present, or remaining in the now. And despite how long I battled this idea, it actually does work. It takes time, practice and patience, and I’m nowhere near a professional at it! But every time I notice my thoughts going back into that negative space of my past, I say “Where are you Nikky?” Which makes me laugh at myself, here I go again. Then I realise I need to come back to now and focus on what I’m doing now. Suddenly you realise how much time you spend in the past!
When you do bring yourself back to the present, you have reclaimed the energy that you have been wasting on events that don’t exist anymore. This energy can go into what’s important to you now. What you want to achieve and change to create a better future for yourself. New thoughts. If we go back to Dr Joe's example but in a positive way, different thoughts lead to different choices, and different choices lead to different behaviours; resulting in new experiences and sparkling new emotions!
I have no idea how long this process takes. But persistence does work, it’s how the subconscious mind learns. But remember, you will fail many times; I have failed more than I have succeeded so far by getting caught up in the drama. But every time you notice your thoughts in that negative space and you bring yourself out of it, that’s a victory and you deserve chocolate! I mean you deserve to congratulate yourself.
I think most of us have heard or read about the universe and everything in it being one, we are all one etc, etc. That's all well and good, but I feel quite individual and I found it hard to understand completely. What I mean is, I understand it in theory, logically, but the idea remained stuck in my head for many years before I truly understood it.
Could dreams be the clue to understanding what life is? I think it's very likely. If you look at a dream, as you are dreaming everything within the dream seems very real. You don't know that you're dreaming while you're dreaming (unless you have mastered lucid dreaming). It's true that a lot of the time dreams are very strange, but while you're in them you don't feel that they are.
Now on to the "one" part. Everything within your dream is within you. Every building, plant, animal and person is created by you and is you, because it's coming from you and it's your mind's creation. You may have a dream where you're in a crowd of hundreds of people, every person there acts independently and has their own personality, yet technically they are you. You have just taken on one point of focus within that dream (the character you are at that moment). Sometimes you even step back and view your creation (dream) from a distance. Almost like you're watching a movie, and you aren't specifically one of the characters.
Could it be that the universe, or god, or whatever you like to call it, is just some sort of massive consciousness creating some sort of dream-like reality and each life form is a point of focus for many different experiences? I think that it's probably far more complicated than that, and maybe too complex for us to understand. But I think it might be something along those lines. Possibly consciousness gets sort of duller as we move into a dream with in a dream within a dream.
Maybe we lose some signal quality as we move further down in a sense. For example consciousness changes or gets a little duller as you move from the spiritual world, to the physical world, and finally to the dream world. I say this because when you read about those who have had near death experiences (NDE's), so many of them mention how the spiritual world felt more real, they felt more awake and more conscious. And when you look at being awake versus dreaming, you also see a similar difference. Of course you don't notice this difference until you wake up. So you will not understand this difference until you wake up from this current "life dream".
There are many references to life being a type of dream. For example the song Row Row Row Your Boat. The boat signifies you or your body and the stream is your life journey. You're suppose to row gently down the stream, with the current (the flow of life). If you try to row against the current you will struggle as many of us do. If you try to stay in one place you will struggle; the current will do it's best to pull you in the right direction. If you try to go too fast you will miss a lot along the way. So you should row gently and enjoy the ride. Merrily as the song goes; not stressfully, because life is but a dream.
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent on." - Albert Einstein.
Buddhists also believe that life is a type of dream and waking up to the illusion is known as enlightenment.
Anyway, if life is "but a dream" this doesn't make it insignificant or any less important. There is surely a reason for it, a reason which may be far beyond our ability to understand. But most of us feel, or even know that we have a purpose whether we work out what that is or not. We know we have a reason for being here, some sort of inner knowing.
Everything in the physical world is impermanent just like a dream. So we can do our best not to get too caught up in the details and row our boats gently in flow with the stream of life.