Reframing

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This morning, Melody and I did the first half of our official “open water dives” as part of getting our scuba certification. As we drove to the dive shop, I said, “We still don’t know how our ears will handle the pressure as we descend in the water. I gotta say, I’m feeling anxious about that.”

Melody responded, “I’m choosing to interpret that feeling as excitement.”

Which was such a brilliant reply, I wanna take some time to talk about it.

Within the last couple of months, Melody and I have listened to a long podcast on emotions and how they operate, and then went to a #ScienceOnTap lecture on emotions (different professor, unrelated to the podcast).

Both sources raised a really good point that I hadn’t previously encountered. I will attempt to convey it in my own clumsy words, with zero citations. Caveat Reador.

Emotions are often a person’s attempt to put a label on a set of bodily sensors that are firing at that moment. I’m going to meet a friend, my heart is racing, my breathing is fast, I’m moving with speed and a light step; I must be crushed out on them. I’m waiting for a phone interview, my hands are sweaty, I’m fidgety, my muscles are tense and trembly; I must be anxious.

The thing is, a number of emotions can be associated with a specific collection of bodily sensations. Which emotion you choose to glom onto in a given situation can be influenced by your culture, your past experiences, your current frame of mind, all kinds of things. But if you really pay attention to the bodily sensations, sometimes you can manage the trick of reinterpreting the signals your body is giving you into a more productive label. As in my case this morning, Melody pointed out that I had decided to label my somatosensory feedback (fancy phrase, eh?) as anxiety, but I could just as easily view it as excitement. Fair enough. The worst possible outcome (shark attacks notwithstanding) was that I would find out scuba wasn’t for me. Bummer, but hardly a huge deal. I could reframe the feeling as excitement, use that as a way to get pleasantly amped up for the experience, and leave the fear/dread/anxiety behind me.

That was a really powerful observation (thank you, Melody) and one I expect to utilize more in the future.

PS: Oh, I suppose I could share the outcome, huh? We survived the experience! My ears were challenging enough that I had to descend exceedingly slowly, equalizing my ears often and in a variety of ways, but I finally got down to 40 feet. The second dive was roughly the same depth and I got down there a bit faster, without quite so much work. I’m am choosing to believe this is the sort of thing that will get gradually better as I do it more.

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