Learning emotions: being excited vs being in an excited state

Until recently, I didn’t have the capacity to differentiate many of my emotions. I’m not sure if it’s the wisdom that comes with age, conversations with my therapist, the settling of many years of reading and listening to researchers dissect and explain emotion, or some combination of the three; but slowly gaining the ability to differentiate has been incredibly interesting.

It wasn’t until this past year that I was able to vocalize the difference between being excited and being in an excited state (which for me means there is a lot of stimuli going on at the same time with either unfamiliar or unexpected moments, situations, or stimuli). The specific instance where I first vocalized the difference between being excited and being in an excited state was this past summer. I was sitting at a table (with acquaintances) situated on the patio of a bar, in a popular part of town near other bars, restaurants, coffee shops, a busy street, stoplights, multiple genres of music playing, sports channels on TVs, AND, at this particular moment, an ambulance across the street at another bar. I was watching the situation across the street unfold while the people around me continued talking and, without realizing it, I displayed some form of stimming which prompted a question. I can’t remember what form of stimming I used at that moment, but I’m assuming it was rubbing my hands together because that tends to be the stim that (I have noticed) is most socially acceptable.

When asked why I was rubbing my hands together (I cannot remember what the exact question was, but I remember that it triggered the following responses) I responded with a simple, “because I’m excited” and either mentioned the ambulance or motioned to it. I was then asked how I could be excited because of an ambulance because ambulances usually indicate that something is wrong and/or someone is hurt, and for the first time in my life, I heard myself explain that even though I am not excited in the sense of excitement but rather that my body is in an excited state – like in the scientific sense of a system having a higher state of energy than usual. My body felt at a higher state because of the extra (and unexpected) stimuli provided by the ambulance (lights and potential story to be speculated). I was no longer able to drown out the usual sounds, movements, and lights, but rather they were stacking on top of each other. It felt as if my senses were now paying attention to everything – putting my body into an excited state NOT into excitement. The two feelings are similar, your heart is racing and your senses are often heightened. But there is often an eagerness to celebrate, participate, or enjoy the moment with excitement whereas being in an excited state is feeling like all of your senses are working at their maximum capacity.

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