Don’t let emotions stress you

Published 8:52 pm Monday, October 13, 2008

We drive along, listening to music, books on tape or just the wind — lost in our own little worlds. When someone intrudes in those worlds, we react in some very basic ways. Our most predominant urge is self-preservation, which, though important, must be used carefully in modern society.

How does this urge work through us?

First, when we are threatened, self-preservation urge triggers fear. Our fear stimulates us to do something. Fear is the emotional state that causes us to choose fight or flight.

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Physiologically speaking, this causes our bodies to pull blood away from the organs and push it into the heart, lungs, arms and legs. At this point, we are not thinking clearly.

To understand how the second phase of self-preservation affects us, we will go back to the example of driving along peacefully.

Imagine you are driving along and someone cuts in front of you with very little room to spare. For most of us, our first reaction would be fear, but almost instantly we would shift over to anger.

So our self-preservation urge pushes us to attack just as if we were protecting our territory. The problem is that we are not animals and, in the case of my example, we drive powerful vehicles weighing thousands of pounds. With that kind of power, spur-of-the-moment decisions can have dire consequences.

There is a story from Texas about a 50-year-old woman who was cut off in traffic by a couple of teenagers. To teach them a lesson she tailgated them. While she was doing this, she ended up bumping them, and the teenagers lost control, crossed the median and were struck by an 18-wheeler. This was probably a nice lady, but losing control earned her two vehicular manslaughter charges.

Self-preservation is a necessary facet of human emotion. The thing we must remember is that it is a tool for us to use. Many times we end up being used by our urges, and that’s when our strengths become weaknesses. If our urges are opposed by our moral values, then we build up stress and take an emotional beating.

We must always remember that we are humans, not animals, and our urges can be channeled into productive applications.