Emotions – Do They Last Long or Do We Carry Them Over?

What’s the lifespan of an Emotion? Do our Emotions really last longer or we intend to feel them longer? Is there a difference between Emotions Vs. Feelings? How do we channelize?

Let’s understand from the perspective of Neuroscience.

What are Emotions?

Emotions are end products of our experiences. Our thoughts (start point) lead to our choices, our choices lead to our behaviors, our behaviors lead to our experiences and then our experiences produce the emotions (end point). An emotion is a chemical process associated with our body (subconscious).

An emotion comes & goes quickly. Let the secret be out, an emotion technically rather biologically lasts only 90 seconds.

In the words of a Harvard neuroanatomist:

When a person has a reaction to something in the environment, there’s a 90 second chemical process that happens in the body; after that, any remaining emotional response is just the person choosing to stay in that emotional loop.

– Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor (Author of “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey”)

Therefore, we intend to feel our emotions longer than their biological life span (i.e. 90 seconds). Are Feelings different from our Emotions?

What are Feelings then?

Feelings are our interpretation of emotions coupled with our thoughts (present) & memories (of the past); it is the meaning we give to our emotions. Once we integrate that emotion with our thoughts, judgements, beliefs & past experiences, etc. we begin to feel those emotions. Feelings tend to last longer.

So our Feelings are our intended choices through our thoughts; conscious (in our awareness) or subconscious (become automatic) based on the Refractory period of our Emotions.

What is a Refractory Period?

Refractory Period is the duration we allow our Emotional reactions to last, the duration we continue to feel our emotions; it can be in days or weeks or months or years.

  • If the Refractory period is in hours or days, our Emotional reaction becomes our Mood.
  • If the same lasts for weeks or months, it becomes our Temperament.
  • If the same lasts for years, it becomes our Personality Trait.

In Psychology, it’s called ‘Rumination’ – It’s the endless loop of thoughts that keeps those feelings (that correspond to the emotional reactions of those past experiences) alive in the body.

The more the refractory period lasts; the more we condition ourselves:

  • To think neurologically within the circuitry of those past experiences &
  • To feel chemically within the boundaries of those emotional reactions

We get trapped in a vicious cycle of those same emotions influencing our thoughts and the same thoughts cycling back to the same emotions again.

Eventually, the longer we volunteer ourselves to be in that loop, we are on autopilot – what is conveniently known as Automaticity in Psychology. Our choices, decisions, reactions, etc. become automatic without our awareness or cognitive involvement (mind). We become Victims in our day-to-day situations.

Why do we continue to stay in that loop?

While reasons can be very broad (genetic, social, environmental, etc.); we are predisposed to be either in our Comfort zone or Survival zone based on the emotions being Pleasant or Unpleasant. Either way, we tend to re-affirm those emotional states longer; by our own choices (by very definition, by our own thoughts alone).

What’s the way out then?

You will continue to suffer if you have an emotional reaction to everything. True power is sitting back and observing things with logic. Breathe and allow things to pass.

–Bruce Lee

  • To accept our Emotions (without judgement), let’s recall “As we resist, it persists”; the more we accept, we allow those Emotions to flow and watch them go away.
  • To introspect the cause of those Emotions within, so that we become aware, learn from it and handle it for our better next time.
  • Through Meditation, we calm down the brain waves, we take a step back and involve our Analytical Mind that separates the conscious mind & subconscious mind.
  • To practice Mindfulness (Technically called Metacognition), where we become aware of our thoughts through a layer above our regular thoughts (transactional).
  • To develop ‘Self-concept’ to become aware of our attitudes, beliefs & dispositions and also To seek ‘Feedback’ (refer ‘Johari window’)

Emotions are a double-edged sword as they play a significant role in Humans towards positive psychology contributing to Intrinsic Motivation, Long term memories, driving our sense of belonging & purpose, and our Goals, etc. If wisely channelized, they are catalysts towards positive changes for the greater good in the human race; if not they can be self-destructive too.

My stroke of insight would be: peace is only a thought away, and all we have to do to access it is silence the voice of our dominating left mind.

—Jill Bolte Taylor (Neuroanatomist)


Visweswaran Balasubramanian
Visweswaran Balasubramanian
I am Visweswaran, working as a Practice Manager with Oracle Corporation in Bangalore, India. I have done my Post Graduation (PGCHRM) with XLRI, Jamshedpur, and my Engineering with JNTU, Hyderabad (India). I have close to 18 years of IT experience that is diversified in the fields of Technology, Project Management, Talent & Competency Management, Human Resources Management & Program Management (current role). I have been exploring the fields of Philosophy, Psychology and their relatability from the perspective of Science for more than a decade. It’s my inquisitiveness, passion, and a quest for knowledge in learning & exploring, my inherent need to give a form or shape to my existence in synthesizing those learnings with my life experiences; that gives me the fulfillment in realizing my essence & purpose. I view the world around me as a reflection of my altered states of consciousness that enables me to see patterns in everything and to experience the feeling of oneness with the universe.

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