The Science Of Emotions

co-regultion loving our children religion Jul 29, 2022

You hear a sound at midnight in your house and get scared. Fear is an emotion aka chemical event in your body that is happening to make you act. You get up, grab a weapon-ish thing and go look for what's going on. You're ready and armed to keep yourself alive and safe. The fear has pumped adrenaline and cortisol in your veins and these chemicals are shooting through your body to give you that extra 'fight or flight' energy!

When you go searching, you realize its just your 10-year-old getting himself a snack from the fridge because he couldn't sleep. You put your cricket bat away and tell him to turn the light off when he's done. You go back to bed but now you're wide awake. Your heart is still beating faster than normal because the chemicals that were dumped in your body are still present- as far as your brain is concerned, nothing has happened to indicate that the stressor has been removed.

You KNOW that, yes but your brain needs additional work to stop pumping those hormones in your veins. Why is this?

The source of the fear (called stressor) is gone, so why is the stress still there? 'Burnout' author twin sisters E. Nagoski & A. Nagoski explain this phenomenon as the 'cycle of emotion not being complete'. They elaborate on this concept in their book in the following way:

Source of stress (called stressor) is spotted -> -> Emotion is triggered by stressor -> ->Stressor is dealt with and eliminated

-> ->Stress is still present in the body as the original emotion->

-> Separate action is required to show the brain that the stressor is gone (like deep breaths that rush blood to the prefrontal cortex) -> Finally stress goes away also

You see, emotions are simply a chemical event that occurs in our body triggered by something we experience. This event happens for a particular reason and serves a particular purpose. The attached picture shows the results of a Finnish study that generated topographical maps to indicate where in our bodies is each emotion experienced physically.

So if all emotions are a physical manifestation, there is no need to demonize some of them. We simply must learn how to deal with them and process them without judging their existence in ourselves.

Just like every chemical that's released in our body serves a purpose. It's either sending a signal to our brain to do something or its sending a signal to another body part to do something.

Enzymes are released in the stomach to digest food; the trigger is the presence of food in the stomach. They serve to digest the food and the completion of the 'job' indicates to the enzymes that they can stop secreting.

Emotions are similar.

In the above example of the maybe-intruder, here is the breakdown of this process:

Stressor: sound of a possible intruder

Emotion triggered: Fear

Action to remove stressor: investigate and deal

Action to 'end' emotion: deep breaths and self-talk

If that last step is not take to process the emotion, what do you think happens? Those hormones that are released in our veins continue to be released and cortisol continues to build. Can you imagine what would happen if this process continues for years and decades? It's what the authors call 'burnout' and it results in:

-> Rage/explosion/frequent anger/aggression

-> Depression/anxiety/suicidal thoughts

-> Chronic and frequent bodily pains (arthritis is also linked to stress)

This is a very short list and tip of the iceberg. If I was going to talk about what havoc stress creates in our bodies and minds- I'd be writing all night.

So you see, telling people to "do sabr" (be patient) when they are suffering is basically asking them to invite havoc and sickness in their life. This is NOT the concept of sabr (patience) our beautiful religion talks about. When we ask a person who is suffering to 'sabr', we become complicit in their spiritual destruction. There is nothing good happening inside a body that is constantly accumulating stress.

So then what is 'sabr'? Is it accepting oppression, or difficult circumstances and our 'fate' without making any effort to save/help ourselves? That definition of sabr doesn't align with what we know about our beloved religion. We know we have to do our absolute best and strive hard to create spiritual hygiene and safety for ourselves and THEN rely on Allah and while we're striving, we remain grateful to our Creator and don't say things like "what did I do to deserve it... woe unto me."

Because if there's a 'beautiful patience' (sabrun jameel), as one Islamic scholar pointed out, there must be an 'ugly patience' too, right? Where beautiful patience brings us closer to Allah and His creatures, ugly patience takes us away from both. Hard no to that.

So first of all, please stop randomly telling everyone to do sabr. Ask instead, "What can I do to help?" or just help. Bring biryani, if nothing else. Or even just a kind word like, "I'm so sorry.. that's a tough situation indeed." For all that's holy and good, please just stop throwing around the S word nilly willy.

Lastly, what can we do to complete our own stress cycles in that moment and stop those hormones rushing through our veins? What CAN we do to feel our feelings and 'close' that cycle? All of the following help:

-> Talking to a loved one who will hold space for us (therapists also serve this function)

-> Breathing deeply and focusing on our breaths

-> Exercise (walking outside)

-> Positive self-talk (I was scared because I thought there's an intruder in my house, anyone would be scared.. it's ok now, I'm ok)

-> Praying (with khushoo) if you're in the right frame of mind (but please don't go around telling everyone its the solution to their problems if they are not spiritually there right now)

Long term solutions to deal with stressors may include:

-> Permanent escape plans (starting with small goals)

-> Getting help

-> Setting boundaries

-> Focusing on our life goals without worry of judgement

-> Getting out of the victim mentality

-> Rebuilding our spirituality

-> Focusing on our needs and ensuring they're met

When we do these things and give our emotions the respect and time they deserve, they start to serve us. Emotional stability is hard work at first and once we have it, we can become functioning citizens of society, ready to give and love truly for the right reasons <3

Finnish study link: https://www.pnas.org/content/111/2/646

Quran 12:18 "So I will bear this with beautiful patience. It is Allah's help alone that I seek against your fabrication." (Do you think if he lost his son, he just said this statement without making any effort to look for his son? And did his beautiful patience still involve tons of crying and mentioning his loss again and again?)