How to Deal with Negative Emotions

Do you remember the last time you were really sad? Or upset? Or angry?

How did you get over it?

No one likes feeling negative emotions. They make us feel terrible, ruin our relationships and waste our time. Hence we tend to avoid them as much as possible. Unfortunately, avoidance isn’t helpful in dealing with these emotions when they inevitably do come.

What if I told you there’s a better way to deal with negative emotions?

Here’s how.


1. Acknowledge the negative emotions, don’t avoid them

If you’re angry, trying to throttle your anger will make you angrier. If you’re sad, trying to ignore the sadness will make you sadder. If you’re lonely, defiantly telling yourself that you’re fine (as you watch another episode of Glee) will make you more miserable.

Fighting negative emotions or pretending they are not there does not take them away. It only makes them stronger.

Drowning yourself in addictions like work, alcohol or sex doesn’t work either. Guess what happens when the effects from your addiction wears off? Right, the negative feelings return with a vengeance. Plus the splitting headache from the hangover.

Instead, acknowledge them. Say to yourself:
“I feel angry that the guy in the Proton car almost hit me.”
“I feel upset that my boyfriend is playing DoTA instead of chatting with me.”
“I feel sad that Alex didn’t invite me for his house warming.”

Now, this takes deliberate practice and self-awareness. Not everyone is emotionally mature enough to see through all the bullshit stories we tell ourselves to avoid dealing with negative emotions. But it’s the crucial step in getting over over the emotions quickly.

Research (via Psychology Today) tells us:

According to recent psychological research (by David Barlow, Steven Hayes and others) one of the main causes of many psychological problems is the habit of emotional avoidance.

Acknowledging the feelings may feel uncomfortable. It’s not going to take the pain away.

Rather, it allows you to acknowledge the pain and experience it — so you can then move on and get over it.


2. Look for the root cause

Some negative emotions (usually the fleeting ones) have a very obvious root cause. Like, you’re angry that the guy in the Proton Wira almost hit you — because there was risk of physical danger to you and your family.

But some go deeper than that. It’s helpful to introspect and see whether there are deeper issues at play.

Like, “I feel sad that Alex didn’t invite me for his house warming. But is it just about this particular house warming snub? Perhaps it’s because I’ve moved to this new city and I don’t have many friends. I’m actually feeling lonely and isolated.”

Or “I feel upset that my boyfriend is playing DoTA instead of chatting with me. But is it really about his addiction to computer games? Perhaps it’s because he has been spending less and less quality time with me recently. I’m actually feeling neglected and unloved.”

Looking for the root cause frames your negative emotions in the wider context of your life. It helps you deal with emotional baggage that you’ve been carrying. And it helps prevent you going through the same negative emotions over and over again.


3. React positively

The first rule of reacting positively is to not do anything stupid.

If you can’t react positively, remove yourself from the situation. It’ll save you the trouble of trying to fix things you regret later.

Like, if you’re in a heated argument with your significant other. And feel like slapping her and calling her a bitch. It’s obviously a bad idea go on arguing while entertaining that thought of momentary release.

Rather, say “I’m feeling too angry to discuss this now. I’ll talk to you later.” And just leave.

(imagine yourself as the lead actor in a movie, and how cool you would look on-screen pulling that move).

After you have some time to think (and go through steps 1 and 2 above), you can do specific things to feel better.

As my favorite author Mark Manson says:

Emotions are not a choice. Behavior is.

So, what can you do to feel better? Here’s three scientifically proven things you can do to make you feel happier:

  1. Spend time with friends and family – you probably already do this whenever you’re feeling down. Go ahead, lean on some support from beloved friends and family. Get a hug.
  2. Exercise – go for a run, lift some weights, or play some football with your friends. You’ll feel better in every aspect – physically, mentally and emotionally.
  3. Help others – perform acts of kindness and charity to other people. Helping others is healing yourself.

The worst things to do? Stay alone indoors and dwell on the negative emotions.

Remember, you can’t control what you feel. But you can control what you do about it.


4. Above all, practice gratitude

This point is so important, I decided to give it its’ own sub-heading.

It sounds shockingly simple that counting your blessings will make you happier. But it’s been scientifically proven time and time again.

Productivity expert Eric Barker tells us:

Practicing gratitude is at the center of the single most proven technique for boosting happiness

How to do it?

Take time to think about all the blessings you have in your life. Like your family, your friends, fresh air, music, the computer you’re reading this on. Write them down. And share it with others: “I’m so grateful and blessed for …”

Take ten minutes to do this every day. And especially do it when you’re feeling negative emotions.

I’ll start: Thank you for reading this. I’m so grateful and blessed for your attention.

Your turn.


Pic By: Sasha Wolff from Grand Rapids (Sadness 90/365)

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