Emotional wellness is about the interaction of three core systems – Threat, Drive and Safety.
The Threat system helps us to detect and respond to things in our world that we think are threatening. It is about the things we typically “run” from, including feelings of shame, self-loathing, and guilt.
The Drive system helps us identify, pursue and feel rewarded for goal achievement. This is the wanting, achieving, consuming and pursuing parts of us.
Our sense of calm, safety, peace and connection is experienced through the Soothing and Safety system.
Try this exercise to check in on your emotions:
Thinking about the week just gone, last month or the past six months, draw a diagram of your three systems as three circles.
Make the relative size and position of each circle reflect how strongly you experienced threat, drive and safety.
How do the three circles interact? Are two or more circles/systems connecting with each other? Considering the thoughts and feelings you are reflecting on here, what do you notice about how your drawing reflects your recent life experience?
In striving for a more contented, fulfilling experience in life, philosophers and deep knowledge workers such as Alain De Botton, advocate that we should focus on the ancient Greek philosophical idea of Eudaimonia. Often loosely translated as “happiness”, Eudaimonia more accurately means fulfilling our unique potential as human beings by achieving happiness as well as virtue, morality and a meaningful life. By living well and flourishing we can become better, wiser people.
Learning to relate to our experiences in a non-judgemental, present-focused and accepting way is key to achieving lasting satisfaction and happiness.
For example, if you check in on your three systems and notice that you are feeling emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, apprehension, self-disgust, or shame, your Threat system is in over-drive. By engaging in exercises designed to quieten your mind, including soothing rhythm breathing, mindfulness, and meditation, you make a conscious and pro-active choice to slow things down and to activate your Safe and Soothing system. This helps restore balance to your emotional wellness systems.
When you get into the habit of checking in on your three circles you begin to notice and rate how much you feel threatened (anxious, angry, fearful, upset), achievement oriented (driven) and calm (safe) in the present moment. Much of the time we are not experiencing just one thing, but in fact our sense in the moment is patterns of relative activation across our three circles. Recognising imbalances in the three systems allows you to consciously decide to do something about it.
Checking in regularly, noticing without judgement, and committing to doing what is necessary to restore balance is an important step in establishing and maintaining a connected, loving and contented approach to life.