Have you ever opened an email at work late on a Friday afternoon that made you feel annoyed and angry? There was no point in replying to the email, as the issue needed to be resolved face-to-face. Feelings and thoughts about the message interfered with your evening and you were still feeling annoyed and having angry thoughts on a Sunday afternoon walk.
Why is it that some emotions, especially negative ones, tend to hang around for such a long time after the event? There’s a saying that positive emotions are like Teflon and negative ones are like Velcro, replaying like a stuck record, extending our suffering for hours, days, and sometimes much longer. Velcro was inspired by the Burdock plant, which has burrs that catch on animal fur and clothing to distribute its seeds. Teflon, one of the slipperiest substances on the planet, is the subject of a controversial industrial cover-up portrayed in the 2019 film Dark Waters.
Emotions are difficult to pin down, as they’re not just one thing. Emotions include feelings, physical sensations, thoughts, and behaviours, like posture and facial expressions. Also, we can experience different blends of emotions at the same time, for instance, a mix of anger and sadness.
Imagine you’ve found yourself waiting in the wrong queue in a supermarket, which is something most of us have experienced at some point. Chances are you’ll start to feel frustrated, a little stressed, hotter around your neck or chest. Maybe you’re starting to frown and have thoughts like, “Why does this always happen to me?” In case you’re wondering if it’s best to change queues, recent research found that people in the last place tended to switch queues and then wait longer. The tendency to switch is motivated by what the researchers call, “last place aversion’, where we feel socially uncomfortable when we’re last in a line.