Breaking Bad Emotional Habits

Choosing our emotions
All of us feel “bad” sometimes. Sad, angry, scared, anxious, irritated, and the list goes on. And while for the most part feelings like this are normal even on a daily basis, the trouble begins when the negative outweighs the positive.

Do you find yourself reacting negatively more often than not? Is every delay a source of irritation?  Do people just make you angry? Your spouse, your kids, your co-workers? Maybe even your friends? This is a sign that you’ve developed some chronic, negative emotional responses.

In other words, you have some bad emotional habits.

The good news? We can break those bad habits.

First off, let me clarify: emotions are not “bad”, even if they don’t feel good. Labeling the way we feel as good or bad can make us feel worse. How? When we say an emotion is bad, we can begin a stress cycle of feeling “bad”, telling ourselves it’s bad to feel “bad”, which makes us feel worse, which leads to more negative labeling and so on.

Second, the reason we’re responding with irritation, anger, or any number of uncomfortable emotions is because we’ve been programmed to feel that way at certain times. For instance, we get irritated with traffic because we’ve learned to be irritated with traffic. In the grand scheme of things, traffic itself is neither good nor bad.

Sure, if we run into traffic when we’re not expecting it and the consequence is being late for an interview or an important meeting, feeling stressed out is understandable. But more than likely, our work commute is somewhat predictable, traffic jams and all, and we can plan for that.

So why feel stressed out? Because somewhere in our brains is the underlying belief that traffic is a bad thing, and being stuck in traffic is a bad thing.

Bad thing with no escape = bad feeling.

This program, like any program, can be changed.

We don’t have to feel stressed in traffic.

We have a choice.

It may feel as if we have no choice because this program runs automatically in the background, but it doesn’t have to. 

To stop feeling stressed in traffic we need to change the program that says we should feel stressed when stuck in traffic.

Here’s the deal: we are on emotional cruise control much of the time. We’ve learned certain response cycles as children and in adult life, and we continue to learn new ones, but the most automatic are the ones we learned early in life, as children.

Life events create pathways (neural pathways constructed in our brain) and if we walk these paths repeatedly the more automatically a certain emotional response becomes. It’s like using a path in the woods. If we walk it every day, the path becomes clearer and easier to walk, a lot easier than bushwhacking a new path every day through the brambles and weeds.

Our brain is efficient. It choices the strongest, most used pathways as defaults in daily life. So if you learned from your dad that anger at anything or anyone in your way on the road is the way to be, you most likely have been practicing that anger response for a long time. And as an adult, it’s automatic. You’ve forgotten that the response wasn’t always your default and you take it for granted that any impediment on the road produces anger.

But we do have a choice. This is where I get the stink eye from most people. A choice over being offended or angered or annoyed at offensive, annoying people? Come on. People are asshats sometimes and any normal human is going to get irritated with them.

And we believe that because most of us are wired to believe that.

But we can change that.

Here’s the program laid our in it’s simplest terms:

A + B = C

Where A = The Event, B = Our Perception, and C = Our Emotional Experience

We can’t change the Event. We can’t change that we have run into traffic.

BUT we can change our Perception of the Event and Our Emotional Experience. 

The first step is becoming aware of our emotional programming, which this article is already doing for us. 

The next step is learning HOW to change the program. We know that Perception and Experience are the variables we have control over, so that’s where we start. 

The easiest place to start is with our Emotional Experience, although to fundamentally change our reaction we have to dig into Perception, too. I'll deal with changing our Perception in the next blog post.

For now, let’s look at how aromatherapy can help change our experience. First, we have to identify the emotional habit we want to change. Let’s use the anger or stress in traffic example. You want to feel less anger and less stressed out in traffic. So we need to look up which essential oils help lesson those emotions.

I recommend using two tools:

  1. The Emotions and Essential Oils book by Enlighten, and
  2. the Emotions and Essential Oils Wheel, also by Enlighten.

Look up anger and stress in the index of the book and study the corresponding essential oils. there will be several recommendations, so get all the recommended essential oils out and smell them, because your nose and your brain will help you identify which oils work best for you. You’ll have an immediate reaction to the oils, and the ones that evoke more positive feelings are the ones for you.

The wheel is even easier to use. One side I call the “Sunny” side and it lists all the “positive” emotions that we like to feel and the corresponding oils that can promote those feelings.

The other side I call the “Blue” side and it lists all the emotions we tend to label “bad” or the ones we want less of in our lives. The oils listed tend to ease those feelings. So check out both sides of the wheel, pull out those oils and start experimenting to identify the essential oils that are the most effective at helping you shift out of the negative, habitual emotional response.

For anger we might try:

  • Cardamom
  • Thyme
  • Vetiver
  • Renewing Blend
  • Calming Blend
  • Women’s Blend
  • Skin Clearing Blend

Keep one of these essential oils on you for “road side assistance” and breathe it in as needed. It’s also helpful to do some calming, deep breathing exercises for a few minutes a day with the essential oil of your choice. Aromatherapy is a powerful way to deactivate the stress response and activate the relaxation response, especially if we practice and develop the connection between the essential oil and the relaxation response. 

Over time and with consistent use you will see a shift in your emotional response. You can develop new emotional habits the same way you developed your old ones, with practice. The anger may not go away completely right away, but it will ease, and eventually turn into, say a mild irritation. Or it may go away entirely.

Give it a try. What do you have to lose except maybe some stress? 

Next blog post I’ll talk about getting to the root of habitual emotional responses: our Perceptions.




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