It’s normal to feel negative emotions from time to time, but it’s important to learn how to manage your feelings and not let them consume you.
Negative emotions are a healthy part of life and are important (for instance, they let you know if you are in danger), but there is a downside to giving them too much free reign. If you spend too much time dwelling on negative emotions and the situations that might have caused them, you could go into a spiral of rumination. Rumination is the tendency to keep thinking, replaying, or obsessing over negative emotional situations and experiences.
In this spiral of negative thinking, you can end up feeling worse and worse about the situation and yourself, possibly resulting in a number of detrimental effects on your mental and physical well-being. The problem with rumination is that it increases your brain’s stress response, meaning your body gets unnecessarily flooded with the stress hormone cortisol. Rumination could lead to a number of harmful coping behaviors, such as overeating, smoking, and alcohol consumption, alongside physical health consequences including insomnia, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and clinical anxiety and depression.
Research shows that the best way to deal with negative emotions is by understanding why we have them, learning how to accept them, and then moving on from them. Let’s look at five things you can do to overcome negative emotions.
Identify Your Emotion
The first step in dealing with your negative emotions is identifying what emotion you are feeling. Are you feeling sad? Angry? Frustrated? Knowing what emotion you are feeling will help you move forward in managing it effectively.
Once you have identified the emotion, take a few minutes to sit with it and understand where it is coming from and why it is arising within you. Consider that you were triggered by something or someone. Often, strong negative emotions are tied to past trauma or hurt that has not been resolved.
Reframe Your Thoughts
Reframing your thoughts can be an incredibly helpful tool when dealing with negative emotions. This process involves recognizing unhelpful thought patterns and replacing them with more accurate and positive ones. For instance, if you find yourself thinking “I am so bad at this task” try reframing the thought into something more positive like “I may not be great at this task yet, but I can get better with practice” or “I am doing my best and that is enough.”
To regularly practice reframing takes focused effort, but returns tremendous rewards. Victor Frankl provides a great example of reframing in his book, From Death Camp to Existentialism, in which he writes of being in a concentration camp. For three years, he lived through starvation and torture in four camps. He lost his wife and all of his family and observed most of his fellow inmates die. Frankl kept his mind active, planning the lectures he would give after his release, using the material from the death camps to illustrate points he wanted to teach. As a devoted teacher, the careful, deliberate planning of his future lectures kept his spirit and body alive in hideous life-robbing conditions. He survived the death camps and went on to realize his vision of using his experiences as a great healing tool for others.
Take Time for Self-Care
Taking time out for self-care activities such as yoga, mindfulness or journaling can be extremely beneficial for managing negative emotions. When we allow ourselves some time for self-care activities, we are able to turn our attention inward and address our emotional needs in a constructive way. Additionally, taking part in self-care activities can help us gain clarity while also reducing stress levels which can often exacerbate our negative feelings even further.
Talk About It
Talking about your feelings is a great way of gaining perspective on the situation while also receiving support from those around us who care about us most deeply. If talking directly about your feelings isn’t an option for whatever reason then writing or drawing about them can be another excellent outlet for expressing yourself healthily and productively as well as for releasing pent-up energy associated with the emotion itself.
Should you find that the negative emotions persist, consider bringing this up in your next therapy session.
Finally, practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful tools available when trying to shift out of feeling down or overwhelmed by life’s challenges; reminding ourselves of all that we have to be thankful for helps us recalibrate our focus onto more positive aspects of life which have been proven to reduce stress levels significantly over time as well as increase overall happiness!
You can learn more about practicing gratitude by reading this post: Gratitude – An Attitude for a Healthier, Longer Life.
Working through difficult emotions isn’t always easy but understanding why we feel these emotions and having tools available that enable us to manage these feelings in healthier ways can make all the difference between being stuck in a cycle of negativity versus finding balance in our lives again; these five tips are just a start so don’t forget that there are lots of other helpful strategies available too! Remember—you always have the power within yourself to move through any challenge no matter how big or small!