Before you take your emotions too seriously, consider this ...
We’ve all heard the joke that justice has as much to do with what the judge ate for breakfast as it does with the law. Well, it’s actually no joke. A study actually followed eight parole judges for 10 months to see if there was any truth to it, and the researchers found that “the likelihood of a favorable ruling is greater at the very beginning of the work day or after a food break than later in the sequence of cases.”
“Prisoners lucky enough to face the parole board when its members were well fed and rested had a roughly 65 percent chance of gaining parole,” Alex Mayyasi at Priceonomics explains. “Yet over time, the odds of a favorable decision deteriorated until the last prisoner before a break had almost no chance of getting parole.”
I don’t doubt that the judges are honorable people working an especially hard job, and the study has its limitations, as all studies do. But I found it pretty relevant to my own life. I’m more of a disciplinarian right before supper, and gentler right after. As consistent as I try to be, there’s no question my blood sugar is steering my choices some of the time.
For everyone’s sake, including my own, I’m trying to keep in mind what outside factors might be skewing my judgment a bit. Next time I’m tempted to think that I’m furious or despairing or impatient because my life is so hard, or because of that comment my husband might have made, or because of how downright impossible my son is, I’m going to check if it’s not one of these common culprits instead …
This one is obvious enough that we have a word for your hunger-induced bad mood — “hangry.” Nobody’s immune. The brain needs sugar to function well, and when your body’s used up its supply, either because it had to process too much sugar too quickly or because you just haven’t had anything to eat in a while, you can probably blame your bad mood on your stomach.
My grandmother used to tell us, “Never trust any emotion you have when you’re tired.” Best advice I ever got. If you still feel as miserable in the morning when you’re rested, then address the problem, sure. But being tired has a way of magnifying every unpleasant emotion. Sleep deprivation not only makes us think less clearly, it also hurts our powers of self-evaluation. We’re more likely to think our assumptions and conclusions are reasonable, when everyone else can see that they aren’t.
Although men have hormonal changes too, theirs are usually more gradual, so this one’s mostly for the women. Are you pregnant, postpartum, or premenstrual? I know, I know, we women have been dealing with hormonal mood shifts since we were teens, but it’s not uncommon to only really notice it after the fact. “Oh, no wonder I’ve been so crabby! I didn’t realize my period was due!” It’s all the more reason to track your cycles, whether or not you’re sexually active. It’s nice to be able to know that the next few days might be rough, but you’ll get through them.
Has anything shaken you out of your routine recently? It doesn’t have to be as big as a move or a new baby, and it’s not just the bad changes that can throw us off. Maybe you’ve just started taking a night class, changed your hours at work, gotten busier, started or stopped dating, started a new diet, stopped exercising, anything. It could be daylight savings time, or the change in seasons. We are creatures of habit, and we underestimate how much those habits mean to us. When changes cause severe anxiety or depression, it’s called adjustment disorder, but even when it’s not a full-blown disorder, changes can throw us off our game, big time. Sometimes it’s worth waiting for life to feel normal again before we panic and try to make any more big changes to solve the problem.
You’ll never hear me advocating for people to just ignore their emotions. Emotions are a legitimate reaction to the world, and they give us important information about what’s good and not so good about our lives. But they’re subject to all kinds of influences, and it’s worth stopping and making sure they’re proportionate reactions, before you take them too seriously.