In this post I will describe unease, one of the components of stress. I will explain how unease is related to emotions. I will also give an example of a meditation technique to reduce the effect of unease on our nervous system. An audio version of the text is below. A meditation track is at the end of the post.
Audio version of this post:
What is unease?
In this model unease is defined as the sum of desire and aversion. Desire is wanting what we do not have. Aversion is having what we do not want. A state of ease or contentment occurs when we do not want to obtain or avoid anything. In that state unease is low.
Is unease an emotion?
Unease is more primal than emotions. Emotions are much more varied and nuanced.
An emotion is unease in a particular context. The context determines the emotion. The unease determines the strength of the emotion. We can think of unease like the volume of a sound. The greater the volume the louder the sound. Similarly, the greater the unease the stronger the emotion.
- Fear is unease about danger. The greater the unease the greater the fear.
- Sadness is unease about loss. The greater the unease the greater the sadness.
- Anxiety is unease about uncertainty, especially uncertainty regarding danger or loss.
- Frustration is unease about not getting what is desired.
- Feeling hurried is unease about time passing too quickly.
- Impatience is unease about time passing too slowly.
- Guilt is unease about having damaged a relationship.
- Anger is unease about not being able to protect something or someone from harm.
What about pleasure or happiness?
Unease is the sum of desire and aversion. When we obtain what we desire or avoid what we are averse to then we reduce unease. This means pleasure comes from a reduction in unease. The greater the reduction in unease the greater the pleasure.
Pleasure or happiness occur when our unease decreases.
Excitement or anticipation occur when unease is high and we expect it to decrease.
Why is it so hard for people to remain in a state of contentment?
The fact that pleasure comes from a reduction in unease has a very interesting consequence.
- When we have what we want then we are content. Unease is low.
- If unease is low then unease can’t decrease noticeably.
- But pleasure comes from a reduction in unease.
- When unease can’t decrease noticeably then we can’t feel pleasure.
- Not feeling pleasure will become aversive.
- Therefore, contentment is not stable and will eventually cause unease.
The unease that comes from prolonged contentment is boredom. We often deal with boredom by first increasing our unease. Then we can reduce the unease and feel pleasure.
Parents can now understand why their children who have been perfectly content suddenly start causing trouble. The contentment was not pleasurable, and by causing trouble the children have increased their unease. So, when unease decreases they will be happy.
Unease seems like nothing but a problem. Is it useful?
Emotions and unease can be extremely helpful as a source of information about difficulty. Recall that unease and difficulty are two different components of stress. They can vary independently.
If we use our unease and the emotions associated with it to explore our situation, then we may discover difficulties that we were not aware of. We may find demands that we had missed or resources we had overlooked. We can discover values that we hold to be important and act to defend them. When we use unease and emotions in this manner they will help us deal with difficulty more effectively.
Can we use meditation to deal with unease?
There are several ways to use meditation to deal with unease. The most effective meditation method will depend on the source of the unease.
Uncertainty is a significant source of unease. Uncertainty is more of an epidemic right now than any virus. When uncertainty is high, meditation methods that help us focus on something soothing will have a beneficial effect on our nervous system. The meditation will increase parasympathetic activity and reduce our fight/flight response. When we are meditating like this it may seem like we are not doing anything, but it is better than having our attention shift from one feared outcome to another.
We might call this method of meditation “The Ancient Art of Not Making Things Worse.”
One such meditation technique is to breath at a slow pace that is soothing. You can find short video clips for a variety of breathing paces at the Paced Breathing menu item.
Here is another simple technique. I call it “Enjoying the Breath”.
Here are the instructions:
- Notice that you are breathing.
- Notice that there are sensations associated with breathing that feel comfortable.
- Enjoy those sensations.
Its that simple.
If you can’t feel any comfort associated with breathing, then simply hold your breath for 30 seconds or so. Then you will be able to experience comfort when you start breathing again.
For those who like more detailed instructions:
- Breathe out gently and enjoy the sensations of exhaling.
- At some point it will feel good to stop exhaling.
- Stop exhaling.
- Breathe in and enjoy the sensations of inhaling.
- At some point it will feel good to stop inhaling.
- Stop inhaling.
- Repeat steps 1-6 for several minutes.
Meditation: Enjoying the breath