The Power of Every Human Emotion: How What Makes Us Uncomfortable is What Inspires Us to Change

By: Batia Segal  |  August 23, 2021

By Batia Segal, Business Editor 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect over 40 million adults every year. In addition, according to a study published in 2020, from 2008 to 2018 there has been an increase of reported anxiety of “7.97% to 14.66% among respondents 18–25 years old,” which is the most rapid increase among all age groups in the study. It has become more obvious that something has changed in recent years. Life does not seem any more stressful than it used to be. Everything is more accessible and comfortable, from self-driving cars to cooling mattress tops to high speed internet. It is apparent that as we gain more comfort, we become more anxious. This does not make sense as things that are meant to make our lives easier should not be giving us more anxiety. It seems, however, more complicated than that. 

As the amnetities become robust, it becomes easier for us to avoid the emotions that make us uncomfortable, therefore exacerbating those emotions instead of acting on them when they first arise. To explain, consider the example of someone who is anxious before taking an exam. Instead of studying they decide it’s time for another Netflix show. In this case it is clear that the person is ignoring their emotions that are so useful to them. Every emotion, whether desirable or not, is useful and it is vital that we as human beings embrace them all so that we can live a wholesome and fulfilling life.  

The first emotion that we constantly seem to push aside is anger. Anger is not only uncomfortable, it’s scary. It makes our palms sweat and our heart race. Not only that, but the possibility that someone else may be angry with us is agonizing. Nonetheless, this discomfort is incredibly useful. Anger is a sign that our boundaries have been crossed and that our needs are not being met. For example, an employee has been working overtime at their job and their boss asks them for an extra favor. The employee begins to feel a sense of anger and resentment toward the boss because he failed to recognize how much his employee already has on his plate. The employee can utilize his anger to express to his boss that although he would love to complete an additional favor it greatly angers him that his boss failed to recognize the heavy load that he expects of him. The employee now recognizes his own limitations and needs, which helps him better get to know himself. With every feeling of slight, we become more aware of the things that are important to us as individuals, more aware of our basic necessities. 

Another example of prioritizing comfortable emotions is the negative perception of fear. Something that holds us back as people. The truth is that fear protects us from danger and helps us survive. When utilized correctly, anxiety is incredibly helpful. It’s what motivates us to study for that exam, to wear a seatbelt and prevents us from dangerously approaching the ledge of a tall structure. The issue arises when we are not conscious about the severity of a perceived threat, the extremity of always expecting the worst. This is unhealthy. Taking care of anxiety when it first arises allows us to use this basic human emotion to our advantage and allows us to make the changes necessary to become as successful and whole as possible. 

Moreover, guilt is another uncomfortable emotion that is wished to be avoided but similar to the two aforementioned emotions, it is not to be ignored. Guilt is a sign that we have overstepped our moral code. Which means that either we need to adjust our moral code or we need to acknowledge the error and fix it. Guilt catapults us to change and evolve as human beings. It is important to note that guilt is different from shame. Shame is the feeling that a person’s entire self is immoral and there is little they can do to change. On the other hand, guilt is the understanding that a certain behavior does not match the person and therefore the behavior should be corrected. A simple example of this is if  a student fails an exam and immediately believes that he or she is dumb, causing him or her to drop the class and find a new major. On the flip side, a different student fails the exam and instead of saying that he or she is dumb, he or she recognizes that neglecting daily studying is not going to result in high scores. The difference is the latter leaves room for the student to change, the former leaves the student feeling incapable. This is how guilt and shame differ. With that being said, guilt is useful, shame is not. 

Ultimately, every emotion is a piece of information that allows us to get to know ourselves a little bit better. The common denominator between anger, fear and guilt is that each of them inspire us to change and evolve. Without them there is high likelihood that we would end up in a state of stagnation. Although positivity, happiness and gratitude have been continuously shown to increase longevity, they are only one part of becoming whole. Overall, the suppression of the feelings mentioned previously serves as a barrier to feeling true joy.