How can we learn to navigate our feelings without getting lost in their midst? How do we begin to try to understand our complex system of emotions and its components? How do we use this knowledge to act accordingly, to objectify and rationalise our moment to moment experiences?
Knowing that, as human beings, we can experience around 34,000 different emotions and that we’re often faced with trying to navigate the turbulent waters of our feelings, tackling these questions that frequent my mind seems like a near-to impossible task. This proves particularly challenging in moments when I feel I need the answers the most. Even with my studies around the topic of emotions, I can tell myself over and over again that I know the theory. I know what to do. All I need to do is apply it. Of course, things aren’t always that simple or straight-forward.
To address the above questions, in Psychology studies, we learn that there are indeed such things as a ‘Wheel of Emotions/ Emotion Wheel’. What these tools present to us is a resource for understanding and interacting with our emotions, for example, Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions and the Geneva Emotion Wheel. They hold two different approaches and provide a great starting point for detecting our emotions. Nevertheless, as much as this focus of study fascinates me, I’ve recently identified my own interpretation of this idea of a visual colour wheel of emotions.
Through observation of my own and others’ experiences, I recognise that Winter – holding with it shorter and darker days – can have a significant affect on our mental health and mood. This can be identified by some as a common phenomenon known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As much as labeling helps us objectify and categorise, I recognise that many of us may not reach the full criteria for SAD but will be very familiar with changes in energy levels, motivations, sleeping patterns and mood. I believe that it’s natural for our experiences to change in synchronicity with the seasons. We are after all living beings, continually interacting in harmony with the world around us.
It’s recognised that our behaviours are predominantly dependent on context and vary according to the situation. Of importance to note is that we’re all unique individuals and while some behaviours may be perceived as determined, we hold the capacity for free will. In this respect, human behaviour and mood changes are very flexible and changeable, respective of the individual, the situation they find themselves in and their environment. I suggest that the changing seasons, in our environment, have a role to play as external, sometimes subconscious, effects on our moods.
This thought process has, to some extent, allowed me to rationalise my own experiences of low mood and energy during these more challenging periods of Winter. This process of rationalisation may be based on simple logic or an intrinsic drive to explain my behaviours by displacing some responsibility of those behaviours onto a possible explanation, i.e., it’s that time of year where we reflect nature’s more withdrawn and quiet qualities therefore my low mood and introverted self can be explained. Either way, a process of rationalisation and explanation provides consolidation and support of the notion that its okay not to be okay – whatever your situation, whatever the season.
Going back to the Colour Wheel of Emotions, with an understanding that we all differ in our intensity and expression of behaviours and that our behaviours are very flexible to change, I visualise my own wheel without labels. It is a wheel of beautiful soft colours, shades of every colour, dark and light. While there will always be one colour that points directly upwards, perhaps representing the emotion we feel that moment or day, at whatever the angle we hold the wheel, all other colours will remain just as prominent and will always continue to exist. It is collectively that each and every one of these colours, these emotions, make us one whole. Some days we may feel sad, lonely, and disconnected. We must try to remember that the emotions of that moment or day, don’t define the whole of us. Feelings of contentment, happiness and clarity lie patiently within us, waiting for their time to shine, to be pointing directly upwards on the wheel.