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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Compartmentalize Emotions for Mental Wellbeing

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How to Compartmentalize Emotions for Mental Wellbeing

No matter who you are or where you’re from, your emotions can get the best of you.

This isn’t your fault, and you’re not alone, but this is a fact for nearly every person on the planet. Today’s fast-paced world has amplified everyone’s emotions without leaving enough time to handle them. Luckily, every human can compartmentalize emotions to get around this issue.

Emotions aren’t harmful in and of themselves, but issues arise when these unhandled emotions deter your focus, motivation, and productivity.

If you are unable to perform well in work, relationships, and life in general it’s time to learn some tricks to keep your emotions tamed for a healthy life!

Why You Should Compartmentalize Emotions

The mechanism that will help you keep your emotions organized in compartmentalization. Before you learn the dos and don’ts of the process, keep the final expected outcome in mind. When you know what you can achieve, you’ll be able to build a better path for yourself to reach your destination.

It goes without saying that compartmentalizing emotions will give you more time to manage other important tasks. You’ll be able to put your emotions in an orderly manner to be more peaceful and relaxed.[1]

Looking Deeper

If personal benefits and tranquility are not what you want, you should still compartmentalize emotions. It is vital for success in other parts of life, too.

Look at it this way:

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The world today is highly competitive. Why is that, you may wonder. The answer is simple. Everyone has the world at their fingertips. You can get information on any topic from any part of the world within seconds. This easily accessible knowledge has given everyone an equal opportunity to be educated and smart. So, even with all the knowledge that you have, you’ve become easily replaceable. There’s nothing unique about you or your skills because someone out there might always know more.

What puts you apart is your emotional intelligence in this world. How you manage your emotions helps you use your knowledge appropriately[2]. You could be the smartest mathematician in the world, but if you cannot control your rage due to unforeseen circumstances at the time when your mathematical skills are needed, you’re useless to everyone around you.

This also plays an important role in relationships. Your love and care can only be communicated if you can manage the emotions associated with these feelings.

When you compartmentalize emotions, it helps you keep distinct cognitive functions separate. Your feelings and emotions are connected, but feelings and emotions should be placed in separate places depending on the situation and function of the emotion.

Basically, you won’t be deprived of feeling your emotions. You’ll learn to control your emotions instead of being vulnerable to them. Since your emotions will not be a mess, you will act more rationally. Long story short, if you compartmentalize emotions, you minimize the risk of mental illnesses and overreactions.

How to Compartmentalize Emotions in a Healthy Way

To compartmentalize means to organize things in your mind so that they are easier to manage. In the case of emotions, this mechanism can quickly take an unhealthy turn if it’s not done the right way.

Emotions are sensitive, so if you mess up, you’ll do more harm than good. So here a few things to keep in mind to ensure a positive outcome.

1. Identify Your Emotions

A common yet unhealthy habit a lot of us have is to label our emotions without actually identifying them. Anything that makes you feel down is connected to depression or sadness. Anything that triggers your defense mode is anxiety.

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Start looking deeper. Stop using the terms that you know. Instead, feel what your emotions are communicating. Where are your relationship issues arising from? Is it somehow connected to your anger management? Is your childhood trauma affecting you?

Ask yourself the what, why, how, and who of everything you feel. This is the first step to categorize your emotions.

If you’re having trouble in this stage, which you most definitely will in the beginning, try some exercises to gain control over your emotions. Incorporate one little activity every day to slowly get the hang of this step.

2. Group Them Together

This step becomes a piece of cake if you’ve mastered step one.

Look for similarities and differences in your feelings. Be aware that whatever you feel is a result of your emotions. So, whichever emotions lead to similar feelings are usually connected.

While you’re connecting related emotions and feelings, group them together mentally. At the same time, anything that feels different or especially contradictory, group it separately. Opposing emotions should never be nearby.

You may be confused about how you can have opposing emotions. Look at an example of a mother-daughter relationship. A mother loves her daughter to death. But the daughter always has a habit or two that the mother despises. If the feelings of love are put together with what she feels towards these bad habits, she will neither be able to express her love properly nor will she be able to be strict against the bad habits.

3. Avoid False Negativity

When you’re struggling to build connections in your emotions, you can be misled by false negativity. It is usually prevalent in negative emotions.

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What happens is that you continue to relate events that aren’t even close. For example, one day you failed to finish your work on time. The next day you have a bad hair day. You connect it all to your bad time management. While that may be true for the first case, it isn’t necessarily relevant to the latter.

You have to be extremely mindful and focused to avoid false negatives. Mastering the identification of emotions will help you out here, too.

4. Maintain Boundaries

Some emotions will bother you more than the rest. While that is totally normal, what isn’t is if you just cannot shift your attention away from one compartment.

You have to maintain some limits and boundaries so that the other compartments aren’t left unattended. Overthinking one part of your emotions can give you false sadness or false happiness, neither of which is good for your mental state.

The Don’ts of Compartmentalizing Emotions

When you’re focused on doing things right, it is easy to get pulled into a toxic routine without realization. In this process, two specific mindsets can prevail. Do your best to keep them out of your routine.

1. Avoid Multitasking

This happens mostly when you’re just starting off with the process. Since there’s a lot to deal with in your head, your focus keeps wandering from one compartment to another. You’ll either want to go through different compartments at once, or your mind will be finding it hard to disconnect certain emotions from others.

All that you can do in this case is practice. Consciously identify when your mind is doing this. You can practice meditation to get better at maintaining your focus. As time goes on, you’ll get over this issue.

One of the main aims of compartmentalizing emotions is to increase your mindfulness. Force yourself to strictly keep all attention on one compartment unless you’ve fully dealt with it.

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2. Stay Away From Denial

While you’re avoiding multitasking, you may unintentionally keep avoiding a few compartments in particular. These are usually emotions that are very strong or hurtful.

Denial is only going to make it harder for you to deal with this part of your mind. You can keep the dark thoughts in a faraway corner in your mind so that you’re not constantly bothered. However, make sure to find the right time to confront these feelings.

If you ignore some emotions for a long period, they can lead to lifelong mental issues. For example, if something bad happened in your past, you will continuously avoid anything connected with it. But since you haven’t confronted these feelings, they will keep getting stronger and stronger. One day, this compartment will burst open and take over your mind. You’ll become a different person when you’re forcefully faced with these emotions.

To avoid a situation where you won’t know how to handle your thoughts, you should come face to face with them bravely, on your terms, and at the right time.

Conclusion

In the end, keep one thing in mind:

The way you deal with emotions is unique to you. So, there is no right or wrong way to compartmentalize them either.

With that being said, you must also stay cautious. There is a fine line in the process that will either encourage your social identity to grow or lead you to issues such as multiple personality disorder.

With the above tips and the final goal in mind, your brain will unconsciously lead you to the right path.

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Let your brain get in the flow, give yourself a boost, and get ready to enjoy the benefits of compartmentalizing emotions!

More Tips on Handling Emotions

Featured photo credit: Juli Kosolapova via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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