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Boston Bombings : Channeling Your Emotions

Runners continue to run towards the finish line as an explosion erupts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon

Boston Bombing – Channel Your Emotions

The recent bomb blast has again triggered the menace of terrorism in the minds of the public. The casualties that people have suffered, the images on TV and the internet and the stories that are being shared are certain to illicit a variety of emotions – fear, anger, sadness, disbelief, contempt…

It was noted in this Atlantic article that we should “keep calm and carry on.” That we should “refuse to be terrorized.” That in allowing our fears to run rampant we risk unintended consequences such as making poor choices regarding our public policies and laws, making our country less open and therefore allowing a victory to the terrorists “even if their attacks fail.” This perspective, in a nutshell, is a fear of fear – and its consequences. It is an invitation to repress our natural response.

Our emotions are not a conscious response and they are not a biological dynamic that we can deliberately control. Fear is a natural response to any sign of threat and it has done well for us evolutionarily. When we experience fear, we focus on the incident in a lot more detail, our associated memories become much stronger. Together, this helps to ensure that we anticipate signs of threat much earlier and are, therefore, better prepared to cope in the future.

We know some of the action tendencies of fear are to retreat, to wall off, to exclude, to discriminate, to “close our minds.” We know that a world of fear is not the world we want to live in. Yet, this should not mean that we repress all emotion; that just because we recognize the dangers of our emotions we should somehow abolish them.

We experience anger towards the perpetrators because we want justice. One of the natural action tendencies of anger is the motivation towards action. We want the criminals to be apprehended, exposed and punished. We want our security agencies to learn from the event so as to prevent it next time.

However, there is an emotional cost that comes with a heightened negative state. Physiologically, it consumes a lot of bodily resources – weakening our systems. It results in lower executive control – making us more vulnerable to rumor mongering and panic.

More than fear, maybe then, it is panic and the associated feeling of helplessness that terrorists are interested in inducing. But, instead of arguing that we should “stay calm” (which is a physiological impossibility) the question, and strategy, should be: “How best to channel our emotions?” We know what we’re experiencing. We can, in accordance with Emotion Appraisal Theory, delineate the producers of our emotions. And we can predict the probable action tendencies associated with each emotion.

I would argue that we not, keep calm and carry on, but that we feel what we are going to feel – to recognize and experience our emotions, understand the consequences, and leverage those emotions that are going to most effectively lead us to the experiences that we most desire when we are feeling our best.

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