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Body Budget and Mood

Did you know that emotion is your brain’s creation of what your body senses?

How you feel within your body is called Affect. Affect (mood) is what influences your senses and produces what we refer to as emotion. How these bodily senses are known to us is called enteroception or otherwise known as your internal perception.

The brain spends its entire existence in a dark, silent box (your skull). It receives sensory messages from your body and the world around you. It has no access to the cause of that sensory information, it only has access to the sensation itself, the raw data. So, the brain must guess as to the causes. For example, let’s say there is a load bang. Is that a car back firing, door slamming, gunshot, or what? What your brain guesses that it is will determine what you do next.

Same goes for if you feel a tug in your chest. This is how people make sense of their body sensations. Your brain is guessing that it is indigestion, anxiety, the beginning of a heart attack. In her talks and books Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, in “How Emotions are Made, the secret life of the brain,” states, “An emotion is your brain’s creation of what your body sensation means, in relation to what is going on around you in the world.”

What if your brain wasn’t filtering all the data coming in?

Sense data as it is being processed in the brain is being compressed or summarized. This summation of sensory input becomes a feeling. What we can call “mood” or “Affect.” These moods (affects) are always there because your brain is always updating, and the body is always sending sensory data to your brain. Luckily the brain is also always filtering all the raw data coming from your senses. Yikes! Imagine if that wasn’t happening and you were aware and experiencing all the sense data being interpreted.

Sometimes when your brain makes meaning of summarized data, it is recognized as an emotional event, and you will express that as an emotion. This is how your brain constructs an emotional response. The brain takes a past mood (affect) experience, which is interpreted as a feeling, pleasant, unpleasant or neutral based on your body budget. Depending on whether your body budget is in balance or disturbed in some way.

What if we could turn our pain dial up or down?

Whether we feel comfortable or wretched is a property of consciousness. It’s with you every waking moment of your life, because your brain is running your body budget every waking moment of your life.

This is vital and a key to understanding our emotions and the control we can have over our experiences. When it comes to every experience, including our pain, our interpretation of the sensory data coming from our body, gives us a mood (affect), that may then be sprinkled with an emotional overlay (based on past experiences) and this complex combination of dynamic variables will create our pain experience. This empowers us to turn our pain dial up or down. How we build resilience or emotional agility is when we learn to be flexible in trying on different perceptions. This is an active process we can participate in and build resilience over time and potentially change our experience.

There is value in not mentalizing everything. It would be exhausting if you had to mentalize every sensation that your body sends to your brain. Heart rate, glucose levels, respiration rhythms, etc.

You do receive sense data from your body that your brain must make sense out of that data. It is then making a prediction about what behavior it needs to take for your survival and what is the best behavior based on your body budget in that moment. The brain will make sense of that data as emotions based on past experience, body budget constraints, and the current external environmental factors that are available.

If you learn to interpret or predict your sense data in a different way, it can empower you to have more control of your pain dial. The most current neuroscience tells us that the pathways that link body parts and organ systems to emotions are well worn, well used. The brain has constructed these nerve pathways to make prediction faster and more efficient. These learned pathways are not always correct, they may be well worn mistaken interpretations or predictions for pain based on past deficits in your body budget.

You can better regulate your emotions by keeping your body budget solvent. It is easier for your brain to modulate your body. If you are not running a deficit you are going to have less opportunity to feel like shit and there is going to be less opportunity for negative emotions. Everything from sufficient sleep, healthy choices in how you eat, movement and exercise, and proper management of your psychological and social internal and external environment keep your body budget solvent, balanced and in the best possible position to empower your life. That is the bottom line.

You’ve got this!

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