High Intensity Overflow
Organizing and condensing the phenomenon of emotions into labels and groups and genres is not always a perfect science. Humans obviously have dynamic fluidity to their emotions. Moods change emotions, thoughts create emotions, physiological functions can feel like emotions. But generally, emotions can be classified as positive/negative and high/low intensity in a two-by-two box.
Positive emotions are what we typically want while we mask negative emotions or avoid them or block them out all together. High intensity can be positive or negative, ecstaticness or anger. Likewise, low intensity can be positive - contentment, peace, calm - or negative - sad, tired. Of course, you can come up with exceptions; “what about those neutral feelings, like pensive? What about apathetic? What about focused?” Well, I don’t have all the answers and I would imagine this two-by-two could easily expand as much as language can define our feelings.
I discuss this because I have been drawn back to the intensity measurement of emotion this past week. I am finding it increasingly difficult to smile and respond. Attention is taxing. Walking has become draining. I have not been drawing - or writing for that matter. But, I ask myself, why? So many wonderful things have happened in the past two weeks. I published a book. I have gotten emails and notes and texts about the impact my words have made. I have raised money for charities and taken baths and gone thrifting. I’ve literally achieved a goal I have held since I was five and writing my first “book”. So why am I suddenly so drained?
I feel less like a shell than I do when I am in a depressive wave. I actually feel quite filled up, overflowing even. I relate this type of fatigue most closely to social exhaustion that I feel after being with friends or going to an event. As enjoyable as the people I love are, I get totally wiped out from being with them. Even over the holidays when I visit home I am ready to leave just to hibernate for a few days (or years). This, however, feels more emotional than that. Less like I need to hibernate and more like I need to lay on the floor and cry for a few decades.
This odd discrepancy between what I think I should be feeling and the reality of my mental status breeds unwarranted guilt. I say unwarranted mostly to convince myself. I know that emotions are not a flaw. I practice mindfulness regarding this. I work on accepting my natural peaks and troughs of feelings and moods. I remind others that all feelings are valid and they should practice accepting them rather than apologizing for them, or worse, forcing them to change. But I feel guilty and that feeling is a negative one, bred out of positive ones, which have bred exhaustion.
I think this is from the high intensity value of these emotions. I have felt an unprecedented about of pride. Of relief. Of nervousness and vulnerability. I have felt excited and ecstatic and motivated and focused. I have felt joy and humility and gratefulness. I have hardly felt calm and I have certainly haven’t felt mad. But, understandably, my body desires balance. High intensity emotions, whether positive or negative, active the amygdala heavily. My flight or fight or freeze or submit inclinations kick in without a true need due to the overwhelming positivity surrounding me. How can my body tell me it needs a rest? Fatigue. Heaviness. I am at full capacity and I need to listen to the calls of my inner workings.
But it feels wrong. I feel unappreciative to admit that in the midst of the flood of support I have received, I want to hide from it all and turn myself into a bed-burrito. I always repeat to others that they cannot continue to fill up others if they are not taking care of themselves. I am remembering now to remind myself of this. This is the basis behind all the self-care rituals that have become mainstream. And, despite what Instagram my say, it does not always mean a face mask, a bath bomb, an expensive candle, and a glass of wine, but it does require attention to yourself, if not a “Me Day” then a “I’m Going to Listen to My Body and Mind’s Needs Today Day”. And while others are energized by the positivity flowing at them and around them and through them, I have to absorb it in doses, and I am not alone in that, and it’s definitely not wrong.
For me, I need nature. I research the interaction between humans and their environment, specifically the positive impacts of engaging in the natural world. And let me tell you, nature is amazing for more reasons than the aesthetic pleasure it gives us. Spending time in nature increases positive mood, decreases negative mood, increases body appreciation, decreases stress, increases attention, promotes empathy, promotes self-compassion, decreases social isolation. This does not require a week long backpacking trip either. My research utilizes a three minute video of nature and has profound results. One of my theories which I’m currently researching is that nature engagement promotes inadvertent mindfulness that allows your mind to become present and attentive to your body’s needs. This is yoga without the movement. This is meditation without the practice. For me, yoga is healing, but yoga studios with big mirrors and my self-critiquing brain staring at my body in leggings is not. Meditation is easy for me to put off or forget about. But nature, nature is easy. I can watch it on Netflix. I can focus on the tree outside or try to watch a bird out my window. I can water my plants in my house or go to a plant nursery or play with my cats. I can go for a walk if I have energy or I can go for a drive through the mountains.
And, of course, I’m biased. I love nature to the point that I research it for my job and (I’m tweaking currently as I try not to ramble on and on about the amazingness of nature.) Maybe other people don’t love nature and that’s okay. But the point is, listen to your body and your mind. It is not wrong, it is reality. If you are uncomfortable and don’t know why, take a few moments to accept that and regain your balance. If you are tired, decide if it is mental or physical. If you are overwhelmed, think of what may be causing that overflowing lack of control and do something you can control like rearranging a room or cooking a meal you know and love. Your mind is the only one you’ve got and it is powerful and beautiful. Protect it with your actions, practice loving it, and most importantly, pay attention to it!