Have you ever heard of emotional buffering?
It’s something we all have, whether we realize it or not.
Emotional buffering is when we use external things to change how we feel emotionally. For instance, if we feel guilt, shame, boredom, anxiety, or overwhelmed, it’s uncomfortable and we’d like it to go away stat! We can decrease the intensity of those negative emotions by buffering. Buffering makes us feel better in the short term but can keep us away from our long-term goals.
For example, emotional buffers can include over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending, over-pleasing, overworking, over-Netflix watching, and spending too much time on social media. Eating, drinking, spending, pleasing, working, watching Netflix, and checking social media aren’t bad things. They are just bad when done in excess and done to keep us from feeling negative emotions. Buffers can keep us from reaching our real goals.
If I over-eat, I gain weight and move in the wrong direction on the scale and what I want for my overall health.
If I over-drink, I gain weight, hurt my liver, disrupt my sleep, and don’t feel my best the next morning.
If I over-spend, I don’t have the money in the bank to do things that are truly important to me, like take nice vacations with my family.
If I over-please, I often say yes to things I don’t want to do, just to try to alter someone else’s opinion of me. I often feel resentful.
If I over-work, I don’t have enough energy to care for myself and my family.
If I Netflix binge, I don’t have enough time to do other things in the evening that bring me more pleasure, like taking a walk or reading a book. These things move me in the direction I want to go.
If I spend too much time on social media, I lose the opportunity to connect with real people in front of me whom I love and care about.
As you can see, Buffering only provides temporary relief from negative emotions. The negative emotion comes back harder than when it started. This encourages more buffering and a vicious cycle ensues.
When we take away emotional buffering and deal with negative emotions instead, we start to feel natural pleasures. This is challenging because in our society pleasure has been falsely intensified.
The human brain is wired to keep us alive. Its motivation is to:
Exert as little energy as possible
Keeping this in mind, we can see why it’s hard to stay on track with our big goals. The sugar from candy and cookies exerts a much bigger reward (dopamine hit) than the naturally occurring sugar from an apple. Additionally, the dopamine hit from a like on Facebook is bigger than a conversation with a friend. Just watch, it’s rare for someone to have a conversation without looking at their phone.
Our brain reinforces these dopamine signals, convincing us that they are important and necessary for our survival, but they aren’t! This wiring that was helpful to keep us alive in the wilderness when we were truly in danger of being eaten by a tiger is keeping us from the true pleasures in life and keeping us further and further from our long-term goals as we tend to seek short-term intensified pleasure.
So, there are really 2 choices when it comes to emotional buffering:
Option 1: Buffer anytime you feel uncomfortable. This feels great in the short term!
Option 2: Recognize that negative, uncomfortable emotions are a part of life. Nothing has gone wrong here. It’s okay to feel the feeling, process it, and stay on the path in pursuit of your bigger goals in life.
It sounds hard, I know, and not so fun, but it’s so worth it.
How do you do option 2?
First, acknowledge the uncomfortable feeling.
Recognize that it feels like something has gone wrong, but that this is normal and just part of life.
Then, instead of trying to escape the emotion or blunt it, FEEL the emotion. Breathe into it. Don’t push it away. Welcome it. It’s like standing up to a bully. They usually back down when you do. Negative emotions are the same way. When we aren’t afraid to feel them, we realize that while they aren’t pleasant, they aren’t that bad either.
The more you practice this, the easier it will become.
Therefore, as you learn to handle negative emotions and deal with them instead of buffering, you gain confidence, you feel empowered and you can ultimately reach any goal.
Before you go…
In my functional medicine practice, we prioritize identifying the root causes of health issues. By addressing the underlying reasons for cravings or over-eating, we create a path towards healing your body and facilitating the loss of stubborn weight. Introducing my latest program, Mitoboost, designed to assist you in tackling stubborn weight, boosting energy levels, improving cellular function, and enhancing detoxification.