Tuesday, August 25, 2009

90 seconds of emotion

Karen Koenig, psychotherapist and author of the Rules of Normal Eating, recently wrote a post about what Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor calls the "90 second emotion rule." The idea is that it takes 90 seconds or less for each emotion to be automatically triggered, surge through the body, and dissipated. Once the emotion (chemical component) is gone physiologically, it then becomes a choice to continue as she puts it the "neurocircuitry" to run or not. In this sense, we become more attuned to the emotion in the current moment versus continuously cruising on autopilot. We become aware to what we are feeling, learning to yes, choose whether to take it, leave it , or change it.

Now, of course, I don't want to go all cognitive-behavioral on everyone as there is sometimes a tendency to feel skeptical (even by me at times), but I think this kind of awareness is important, especially with eating disorders. I think once in a nutritionally stable state, this can be something to work towards. Too often than not, most of us want to shoo away the bad feelings, to pound down whatever it is we are feeling period. I certainly remember those times when I'd tell my therapist, "Why do I have to feel? What's the point? Can't I be a human without emotions?" But that's the thing, the essence of humanity is to have high functioning feelings. It's what distinguishes us from other species, though of course animals do feel and have emotions too.

So do you let yourself sit with an emotion for 90 seconds? If not, maybe it is something to try?

If you're unaware of who Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor is, take a look at her TED presentation about her insights into her own stroke. She wrote a book called My Stroke of Insight about her stroke and her recovery in 2006. It is an amazing book which I found quite relatable to eating disorder recovery.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post ...
I tend to fear emotions and shy away from them (read: push them down and pretend they don't exist) because I am afraid they will last forever and completely drowned me. I like this idea of 90 seconds. It makes it not so scary ... and just maybe, I am a little more willing to move closer to allowing myself to sit with my feelings. I can handle it for 90 seconds.

Thanks for this.

Eating Alone said...

Ummmm, yeah emotions? Not a good thing. I pushed them down for so long I forgot about them. Getting in touch with them again is a pain. My T say's it's like I'm going through adolecence again. Sometimes I think she's right.

I'm going to try and sit with one for 90 seconds next time. I don't like sitting with them, but I'll try it.

Just Eat It! said...

The Rules of Normal Eating is one of my favorite books. It taught me a lot. I had no idea Karen Koenig had a website.

I'm glad you posted this as it is very interesting. Those 90 seconds seem like the longest of my life when I'm feeling fear or extreme anxiety. I definitely notice that after the moment has passed, I can think rationally again. I guess it's kind of one of those "this, too, shall pass" things, literally.

Don't we all wish we were Spock sometimes? "Emotion is illogical, Captain."

Kim said...

Very interesting post. Like you, I am very uncomfortable with emotion. I have no patience for bad emotions (sadness, etc), and I don't trust good emotions (joy, etc). So, I'd rather not feel at all. But, I've realized that if I just let myself sit with things, they pass. I used to take anti-anxiety meds and I realized that if I sat with my anxiety instead of putting myself to sleep, essentially, I learned a lot more about what was going on in my head, and I got to see that it wouldn't last forever (or even more than 24 hours). It's still hard for me to believe that emotions come and go. When something powerful hits me, I'm still terrified. I'll keep this 90-second rule in mind :)

Tiptoe said...

Glad that this post helped some of you. I think sometimes giving it at least a set time helps, although 90 seconds can feel like a long time.

Sarah, it's definitely a good experiment to try. I think it is one of those things that the more we do, the better we are able to handle it.

Eating Alone, emotions can be hard to deal with when you haven't for so long. There is a learning curve involved. Hope you can try this.

JEI, yes Spock definitely!
Karen Koenig has some good info. I have that workbook and have only skimmed it. At some point, I'll actually go through it. Yes, you're right, it is like learning a "this will pass" thinking.

Kim, ahh ,we are so alike! Learning to sit with my emotions has been hard, but I realized similar things as you. It used to drive me crazy how some people would get fuming angry, and then one second later, they'd act like nothing happened. With other emotions, they can hit me like a brick wall, but through time, I've learned they don't always last.

Anonymous said...

I did experimental ED therapy, about 15 years ago (took a while to sink in) and one of the points that seemed outrageous at the time was learning to sit with our emotions. "Just let them wash over you like a wave, but don't react". It seems to me that as soon as I allow myself to feel them, they lose their urgency.

Bren Murphy said...

Hi Tiptoe,
Love what you are saying here - and how it points to taking individual responsibility for our emotions and that letting the feeling go does not equal repressing it or suppressing it.
I really like how the greater awareness of monitoring our emotions can pay off in the form of having the emotional mastery to actually choose when we allow emotions and when we choose not to.
Thanks, A wonderful blog too!