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Fifty Shades of Crappy 

Talking about fifty shades of crappy always brings a smile to people’s faces! This is the fourth in a series of blogs about managing stress. Stress is part and parcel of every day life, and can affect how we feel emotionally, mentally and physically and also how we behave. We can feel emotionally overwhelmed, irritable and tense. We can also feel anxious, fearful and lacking in self-esteem. We may also have difficulty concentrating and in making decisions.

Fifty shades of crappy 

One of the most helpful ways I have come across in terms of making sense of how we feel, and managing the powerful emotions that stress can bring up, is the use of what neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett (above) calls “emotional granularity”,  or “fifty shades of crappy”!! 

Her excellent TEDtalk and book are solidly backed by science (see links below) and give us an understanding of what emotions are and how we aren’t at the mercy of them – even though we often feel as though we are. I have recommended her TEDtalk to many clients and some have described it as life-changing. 

What are emotions?

Early on in her research career, she studied 700 people’s emotional experiences as they went about their lives. She found that when people used various emotion words such as ‘sad’ or ‘afraid’ to communicate their feelings, they weren’t necessarily talking about the same thing.

Feldman-Barrett had discovered emotional granularity and explains that in a similar way that a skilled interior designer might describe five shades of blue as ‘cobalt,’ ‘royal,’ ‘cyan,’ ‘sky,’ or ‘aqua,’ there are also spectrums of words people can use to describe their emotional experiences. While some people use fine-grained distinctions, such as ‘sadness’ as distinct from ‘fear,’ others lump words together to just ‘unpleasant.’ 

Feldman Barrett argues that many of the key beliefs we have about emotions are wrong

She says: “Your brain’s most important job is not thinking or feeling or even seeing, but keeping your body alive and well so that you survive and thrive … How is your brain able to do this? Like a sophisticated fortune-teller, your brain constantly predicts. Its predictions ultimately become the emotions you experience and the expressions you perceive in other people. And that’s good news: Since our brain essentially constructs our emotions, we can teach it to label them more precisely and then use this detailed information to help us take the most appropriate actions — or none at all. One of the best things you can do for your emotional health is to beef up your concepts of emotions.

Suppose you knew only two emotion concepts: “Feeling Awesome” and “Feeling Crappy.” Whenever you experienced an emotion or perceived someone else as emotional, you’d categorise only with this broad brush, which isn’t very emotionally intelligent. But if you could distinguish finer meanings within “Awesome” (happy, content, thrilled, relaxed, joyful, hopeful, inspired, prideful, adoring, grateful, blissful . . .), and fifty shades of “Crappy” (angry, aggravated, alarmed, spiteful, grumpy, remorseful, gloomy, mortified, uneasy, dread-ridden, resentful, afraid, envious, woeful, melancholy . . .), your brain would have many more options for predicting, categorising and perceiving emotions, providing you with the tools for more flexible and useful responses. You could predict and categorise your sensations more efficiently and better suit your actions to your environment.” 

“I’m having uncertainty and I’m having high arousal”

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, she laughs that her own family have adapted to this way of commuicating how they are feeling. “My daughter will say, like many college students, ‘I’m really anxious’, and I’ll look at her and she’ll sigh, ‘OK Mom, I’m having uncertainty and I’m having high arousal.’ Or, ‘I’m really depressed.’ And I’ll be: ‘Are you depressed?’ and she’s like, ‘OK my body budget is out of whack and I’m feeling unpleasant. Are you happy now?’”      Lisa FB TEDtalk   An excellent Guardian article about her book 


Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.

Book a counselling session today!

See also:  Physical Effects of Stress  Is All Stress Bad?  Managing Stress