How to spot ’emotional inflammation’ and overcome it, according to a psychologist

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How to spot 'emotional inflammation' and overcome it, according to a psychologist

There are four reactor types emotional inflammation can manifest itself in. Psychologist Briony Leo explains how to identify it the signs and stop it in its tracks.

There’s no denying 2020 has been a rollercoaster. For Aussies, the year kicked off with bushfires, which was then followed by the devastating floods. Oh, and then there was just the biggest unexpected dilemma AKA, the outbreak of COVID-19, which has infected millions of people worldwide – and killed thousands of others – and is still causing absolute mayhem. With it, it brought an economic collapse, caused redundancies, pay cuts and have forced businesses to shut down. To top all this off, Black Lives Matter protests kicked off to break systemic racism – and it’s only July. Yikes.

With all this chaos, we’ve all experienced – and still may be experiencing – ‘emotional inflammation’ and haven’t even realised.

The term is coined by Lise Van Susteren, MD and Stacey Colino in their recently released book ‘Emotional Inflammation: Discover Your Triggers and Reclaim Your Equilibrium During Anxious Times’. In their book, they explain how emotional inflammation can manifest in four different reactor types: the “nervous” reactor, the “revved up” reactor, the “molten” reactor and the “retreating” reactor. Understanding which type of reactor you are can help you get a better grasp on your mental health and provide some sort of relief during the most difficult times.

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4 types of emotional inflammation

1. The “nervous” reactor

This type is defined by fear and worry, and triggered by the uncertainty anxiety of the current global situation. Nervous reactors can develop high intensity levels of stress.

2. The “revved up” reactor

These people “overfunction” in a crisis, try to fill their mind and time with other jobs, and work hard to “fix” problems. This can lead to burnout, impulsive behaviour and poor decision making.

3. The “molten” reactor

These are the people who are fuelled by outrage. Anger can be a powerful and healthy emotion in some situation, but it can become problematic when molten reactors lash out at people and situations who may not deserve it.

4. The “retreating” reactor

A retreating reactor is one who withdraws in a crisis, separating themselves from the outside world, bottling themselves and their depression up, never leaving their bed, and resort to eating and drinking their emotions.

With these in mind, we asked Briony Leo, a Melbourne-based psychologist, to help identify the signs and signals that you may be falling victim to emotional inflammation – and what to do to stop these unhealthy behaviours in its tracks.

What is ‘emotional inflammation’?

“Emotional inflammation can be thought of as being a bit ‘out of sorts’ emotionally – this might mean feeling on edge, feeling teary or irritable,” Leo tells Body+Soul. “Generally, emotional inflammation is another term for feeling stressed and having our emotional resources under pressure, and this can be really common during times of uncertainty and change, and when our normal coping mechanisms are not accessible.”

Leo explains that coining a term to these emotions is useful as “it encourages us to reflect on our emotional state and see it as a kind of continuum.”

“Sometimes we are emotionally sound, feeling calm and able to deal with anything; other times, we might be less able to cope; and sometimes when we are exhausted, grieving, unwell or lonely, we might not have any spare emotional resources at all!”

What are the signs of emotional inflammation?

“Signs that you might be a bit emotionally inflamed are that you are more irritable than normal, you might be eating or drinking more comfort food and alcohol, you might be wanting to spend more time alone, you might be spending a lot of time passively on social media, or you are getting teary and feeling unmotivated.”

How do you deal with emotional inflammation?

If you’re experiencing any of the above signs, it’s a good indication your emotional resources are low.

Leo says you should seek methods that will restore this depleted levels, including “time alone, health food, exercise, a phone call with a friend, lots of water and a good night’s sleep.”

If you or someone you know needs help, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24-hour Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Mental health professionals are available 24/7 at the beyondblue Support Service – 1300 22 46 36 or online here for a chat (3pm-12am AEST) or email response.

Briony Leo is a Melbourne psychologist who works with couples, individuals and addictions. She is interested in helping people have good relationships and improve their wellbeing through better understanding of psychology, as well as ongoing behavioural changes.


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