Are you throwing the punches or absorbing them?

It’s very easy to pass on a bad mood without even realising it. Like when you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, already frustrated because you are running late, and some idiot in an SUV cuts in front of you. You’re still fuming when you get to the office and so you snap at your colleague when she tries to tell you about her crazy weekend.

She is already not having the best morning, because her excitable dog peed on the carpet – again – just before she was supposed to leave the house. Your harsh tone pushes her precarious positivity over the edge, so when her husband phones from the supermarket to find out what type of bread to buy, she yells at him for not knowing – after five years together – about her gluten-intolerance.

But of course he does know, which is the whole reason he phoned to double check in the first place. He grits his teeth at her unjustified attack, but she hangs up before he gets a chance to defend himself, which is even more infuriating. Then he takes it out on the cashier, who has just started a nine-hour shift.

Throwing-or-absorbing-punches

On her way to work, the cashier had stood for an hour in a crowded, overheated bus, musty and fogged up by everyone’s breath, and then walked through the rain from the bus stop to the shop. This man’s rudeness so early in the morning is the last straw and her tone is abrupt and resentful with all of the customers coming after him.

So the disease spreads, but it just takes one person to break chain. One person who absorbs the negativity instead of passing it on. One person who, after their initial angry reaction, shrugs it off and thinks, “Whatever. It’s actually not such a big deal.”

I don’t believe there is ever an excuse for rudeness. Nonetheless, a sympathetic case can be made at any time for any one of us to lose control of our emotions. Everyone is dealing with something. Many of the times we yell or snap at someone, the things we are yelling about are actually not the things we are truly upset about – there’s something else going on in another area of our lives.

It takes strength to absorb the impact without releasing it. To always be the calm, emotionally responsible, considerate, non-reactive person when everyone around you is just letting their feelings carry them from one situation to the next. I don’t think it’s possible to be that person all the time. At least, I don’t think I could be that guy every time. But I will try to be him sometimes.

When you have the capacity to absorb the blow, do the next person a favour by not passing it on. You don’t always have to be the zen person, but it can’t always be someone else either.

Are you trained in emotional first aid?

An article published in the February 2015 issue of Molecular Psychology discussed a research study which found that the brains of people with major depressive disorder (MDD) produce less natural painkillers in response to rejection.

The brain’s μ-opioid receptor (MOR) system dampens physical pain and is believed to also dampen “social pain”. In the research, which compared the responses of medication-free MDD patients with those of healthy people, it was found that during social rejection, the MDD patients showed not only reduced MOR activity, but also slower emotional recovery. During acceptance, only healthy people showed increased social motivation, which was associated with a reward structure in the brain.

In conclusion, the study proposed that these weakened brain functions in MDD patients reduce enjoyment of positive interactions and impede emotional recovery from negative social experiences, thus reinforcing depression.

Our attitudes and beliefs shape our thoughts, so if we perpetuate them over time we will change the way our brain functions and behaves, thus influencing processes like that of the MOR system in the research above. We should all therefore take care of our minds by encouraging good thought patterns and curtailing bad ones. It is also vital that we teach our children from a young age to care for their psychological well-being as conscientiously as they would their physical health.

I highly recommend watching the TED Talk below, by a psychologist who explains how to practise emotional first aid and why we should take our emotional hygiene seriously.