Hey, Jealousy- Can We Control a Physiological Effect?

It’s a typical, boring day. Nothing particularly special about it, but nothing exceptionally terrible, either. You’ve just filled up your first cup of coffee for the day and have just sat down to check your email – then, you hear him. You know. Him. That guy you work with that no matter what he does, finds some way to crawl beneath your skin and ruffle up your day to an alarming degree.  He’s young, friendly, hardworking and everyone seems to really like and respect him. There’s not really anything bad you can say about him but, ugh. Him. Why can’t he come down with the flu or something?

It’s Friday night and you’ve had a long week. You’re out unwinding at a local wine bar with your man of interest, laughing, and having a great time forgetting the troubles of the work week. All of a sudden, you hear a high-pitched laugh, followed by an “Oh, I can’t believe I’m running into you here!”– you turn around and it’s her. Look at the way she bats her eyelashes, and did she really need to douse herself in that musky perfume? All of a sudden, a perfectly enjoyable evening is ruined – all because of her. Who does she think she is exchanging pleasantries like that anyway?

It sounds silly and over the top, but we’ve all been there at some point.  Out of the vast assortment of emotions humans experience, jealousy is one of the most common and unsettling. It brings out the absolute worst in us, even if we know we are acting irrationally or should otherwise “know better”.  It’s a phenomenon that has been chronicled back to biblical times and has even been observed in other species including elephants and chimpanzees.

So what exactly causes these negative feelings of jealousy, and since they are so distasteful, why can’t we just turn them off? Well, have you ever tried to speed up your circulatory system when it’s cold so that you become warmer quicker? Chances are, you probably haven’t, and if you have, I’m willing to bet you weren’t very successful. Much like other involuntary bodily functions, jealousy comes down to a physiological, chemical reaction inside us – so while we can control the fashion in which we handle it, we can’t necessarily control it from creeping its ugly, unwanted little head into our lives from time to time.

Because people express jealousy through many diverse behaviors, it has been extremely difficult for scientists to devise a clear-cut definition for jealousy that can be universally agreed upon, but rather, have settled on a basic theme of a perceived threat of loss to a supposed third-party or rival- not to be confused with envy, which results from the desire to have something another has.  However, while the chemicals causing jealousy in all humans is essentially the same, the actions that trigger them in males and females differ in almost every case studied. While males tend to feel jealousy most intensely during a situation in which something that can physically be experienced by our senses occurs, females statistically respond more strongly to feelings of jealousy towards occurrences that are perceived – women’s intuition? Possibly. However, the effects of jealousy negatively impact both genders equally, resulting in restless sleep, weight loss or gain, skin breaking out into rashes, or stomach ulcers – if jealousy isn’t enough of a stress factor on its own, there you go!

So we know what jealousy is, what causes it, and its many impacts. Well, that’s all fine and good, but how exactly do we go about coping with jealousy when it’s bringing us down? If you find a good answer, I’m sure Doctor Phil would love to interview you.  In the meantime, try channeling your jealousy into motivation. What is it you’re worried about losing – and why? Finding that one important piece of information can help you gain control over your feelings of jealousy and make it work to your advantage.

By Jillian Seaton

Jillian is a recovering sorority girl/cheerleader and an aspiring trophy wife/crazy cat lady who somehow found herself in the magical land of auto dealership marketing and family portraits. Her true passions in life are writing, whiskey, music (especially good ol' rock 'n roll), and cheese. Jillian's life goals include saving the world from cancer and becoming the best astronaut ever.