May it be the greeting of a close friend or a complete stranger. As you step up to pay for your morning coffee, “How are you today?” It happens to all of us almost every day. “I’m well.” “Doing okay.” “Good.” How genuine you are with your responses most likely depends on the closeness of your relationship. However, some people take the opportunity during a brief monetary transaction to truly express their emotions. “UGH! Could be better, I cannot wait until my divorce is finalized and all this is over with!” Our emotions play a part in our lives every single day. The psychology of stress and emotion is constructed by our interpretations, the environment we are a part of, and even cultural rules. Nevertheless, certain emotional states can influence those around us and enhance our own healthy living.
To understand our emotions we must first understand what they are and how they work. Emotion is defined as a state of arousal involving facial and bodily changes, brain activation, cognitive appraisals, subjective feelings, and tendencies toward action. ((BOOK)) Our emotions are often recognized through our facial expressions. Our facial expressions are reflections of our internal feelings. Humans are thought to have six innate facial expressions that almost anyone can recognize. Happiness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, and sadness. Happiness and anger being the most prominent of these emotions. As early as infancy we can start to determine the expression correlated with these two emotions. Its been said that our expressions can influence the way we feel, in a phenomenon called facial feedback. This occurs when the muscles of the face send messages to our brain about the expression we’re showing. In fact, smiling can increases positive feelings and help us perk up after a stressful situation. Whereas maintaining an angry face will inflate negative feelings and can cause an increased heart rate.
Furthermore, the brain plays an essential role in emotion regulation. The assignment of the amygdala is to interpret information and decide if it is of emotional importance. Thus, making an immediate decision to whether there’s a potential threat commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. Some parts of the prefrontal cortex are also related to emotion regulation, keeping us under control and allowing us to respond properly to the situation at hand. Once these areas of the brain are active, hormones are released to allow for quick response. When we feel an intense emotion or are under stress the sympathetic system, part of our autonomic nervous system, stimulates the adrenal glands. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are released increasing arousal and alertness. This provides the body the energy it requires to take action. The hypothalamus in our brains sends chemical messages to the pituitary gland and then to the adrenal glands. Secretion of cortisol and other stress hormones are then released into the body. We then feel an increase of energy, a proper stimulant for short-term stressors.
However, chronic stress can be detrimental to the body and mind. If stress hormones and levels of cortisol stay elevated to long it can result in hypertension, immune disorders and emotional problems.