- in Self-Care
“See if you can catch yourself complaining, in either speech or thought, about a situation you find yourself in, what other people do or say, your surroundings, your life situation, even the weather. To complain is always nonacceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge.
When you complain, you make yourself into a victim. When you speak out, you are in your power. So change the situation by taking action or by speaking out if necessary or possible; leave the situation or accept it. All else is madness."
~ Eckhart Tolle
In this column, you will learn simple but powerful tips on how to deal with negative emotions in a healthy way from a wide range of experts.
Clicking on the expert names below will take you to their individual blurb on how to cope with negative emotions.
Are you an emotional stuffer?
Do you tend to stuff the emotions that you deem “bad” away in a dark corner of your mind in an effort to control them? Many of us learned in childhood that it wasn’t polite or spiritual to dwell on or express negative emotions. “Good” people just don’t do that kind of thing.
As a result, we have become a society where much of the population have numbed themselves to what they are thinking and feeling. We don't pay attention to the constant inner dialogue going on inside us and the resultant feelings associated with them. This is a dangerous practice that robs us of important messages and feedback about ourselves and our environment and can even lead to serious physical illness.
The first step in coping with your emotions is to honestly recognize how you are feeling.
Take an inner inventory—how do you feel? The great thing about this is that you do it internally. No one can see you do it. Allow yourself to be completely honest, even if the feelings are deemed socially unacceptable. This is just between you and you, within your own mind and heart.
If you are feeling hateful toward someone, allow yourself to feel it.
You don’t need to act on it—just acknowledge it and feel it. If you feel grief over a loss—feel it. No one (not even your inner critic) gets to tell you when you should “buck up and start getting on with things.”
The more you suppress or ignore your feelings, the more they grow.
When you allow yourself to name them, feel them and acknowledge them, they will actually move through you and dissipate much sooner. It’s only when we try to stuff them away that they get stuck.
Often times, simply saying to yourself, “I feel angry (or sad, worried, regretful, unmotivated, etc.) right now,” is enough to start the healing process. If you need to get your feelings out physically, punch a pillow or go sit in your car with the windows up and scream.
The idea is to allow the feeling as a part of yourself.
Where is it located in your body? What message does it have for you? This feeling could be alerting you to changes that you need to make in your life, such as a different career, or dissociating yourself from people that feel toxic to you. Perhaps you need to be more loving to yourself. Whatever you discover, you’ll know more about yourself for having allowed yourself to be with your feelings and you will have gained confidence from having the courage to feel them.
Tina Gilbertson, author of Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them, says, “Feelings are like flowers. They grow, then bloom, then wither and die.” They’re not meant to last, and you can’t choose what you feel. So, you might as well feel them rather than try to struggle against them.
Sometimes, when strong feelings come up that you are not used to acknowledging, it can feel overwhelming.
Here’s an exercise you can do to help you be in touch without overwhelm:
Place your hand over your heart and just breathe normally for a minute. Love the one who has the feelings. Say, “I love the one who is feeling (fill in the blank). Then, imagine each breath in is nourishing and soothing your heart.
Breathe into your heart, and just listen. You may experience a wave of emotion as you listen to this part of yourself that you normally don’t hear from.
Continue breathing and listening. You can ask your heart a question such as, “What do you need?” or “What do you want me to know?” Or, you ask about a topic, such as “My career” or “My marriage”. You may or may not get an insight at the time.
Just being willing to breathe into your heart and listen, is enough. When you allow yourself to acknowledge and experience your feelings you aren’t divided against yourself—you are whole.
Estra Roell, Life Purpose Coach– www.americaslifepurposecoach.com
We all find it hard to sit with negative emotions.
That’s because they feel extremely uncomfortable in our bodies and our minds. And when we feel a negative emotion, we instinctively want to get rid this feeling.
Our negative emotions were designed to be alarm bells for our ancestors. The experience of a negative emotion signalled to our ancestor that they were in danger, with relief of the emotion usually meaning that our ancestor had found safety again. Ultimately, it was their negative emotions that helped them to survive.
Unfortunately for us, our emotions still act as primitive alarm bells, but nowadays, we aren’t trying to stay safe from stalking cheetahs, we are just trying to deal with the stressors of our modern day society.
In saying this, our negative emotions continue to be important; they still act as alarm bells and are there for a reason.
But we also find ourselves having to deal with them all of the time as we face more and more stressors. And because we can’t just run away from our job like we would have with the cheetah, we often turn to other ways of trying to get rid of our negative emotions, such as shutting down, numbing or avoiding. But if we spend all of our time trying not to feel the way we do, we actually end up creating more pain and suffering for ourselves.
One thing is for certain. We can't make our emotions go away.
What we can do is learn how to respond to our emotions differently.
If instead of fearing them, we start to accept them, we have a different situation on our hands. By simply not being afraid to tolerate the experience of a negative emotion, we reduce how bad and intolerable they feel.
If you really think about it, the physical sensations of anxiety share many similarities with the emotion of excitement. With both, your heart rate increases, you have a surge or energy, racing thoughts etc. It's just that we have come to label one emotion as "bad" and the other as "good", yet at the end of the day, they are both just an emotion. They are both just physical sensations in your body.
So how do we accept our negative emotions?
1. Become aware that you are trying not to feel your emotion, that you're trying to escape it or get rid of it.
2. Notice what judgments you might be making about the emotion. Maybe you're saying to yourself that it's "bad" or "wrong" to feel this way. Or simply that you don't want to be feeling this emotion.
3. Remind yourself that no matter how much you try to fight feeling this way, negative emotions are just a part of life. The more you try to resist or fight that, the worse your experience of the emotion becomes. When struggling with this, it can be very helpful to acknowledge that there is a cause for the emotion. There is always a reason for feeling the way you do. You might not always know what the cause or reason is, but despite this, you can still accept that the emotion is there.
4. Turn your mind towards accepting it. Imagine yourself being able to accept it, allow yourself to be willing. Say over and over to yourself, “May I accept this emotion”.
5. Take an open and relaxed body posture and try to do a slight smile. You can do what is called the “half-smile”. It’s like Mona Lisa’s smile, relaxed, slightly turned up at the creases, soft eyes, and you try to embody a sense of serenity. Imagine your heart or body opening, expanding, allowing this physical sensation to be present in your body. Say to yourself "this is an emotion, I can accept this emotion".
6. Breathe! Take a few long and slow, deep breaths in through your nose, pausing before you breath out, and then pushing your breath all the way out through your mouth. Our mind uses physical cues to determine how we are feeling, so if we change our physical cues, then we change our emotion. By taking on an open, relaxed body posture and by changing how we are breathing, we signal to our brain, "Hey, I'm okay. I've got this".
7. When resistance shows up (which it will, again and again), try to relax your body, make room for those physical sensations and thoughts to be there. Allow emotions to be present. They aren’t going to kill you; they’ll just make you feel uncomfortable for a short while.
May you learn to embrace all of your emotions, just as they are.
Dr. Kass Sarll, Psychologlist – www.happinessinsight.com
Meditation is one of the most powerful exercises to dispel and protect against negative emotions.
A practice of mindfulness, meditation brings your awareness to the present moment and helps you accept and let go of your emotions, especially the most negative ones.
If you’re not sure of how to start, let’s try a simple exercise.
Find a quiet area and sit with your back straight. Close your eyes and focus on your breath – the inhalation, a moment of pause, and then the exhalation. Focus on this rhythm of your breathing for a few moments until your attention is completely drawn to it.
Then start to explore what emotions you are feeling right now – Anger? Sadness? Jealousy? Annoyance? No matter what emotion you are feeling, embrace and accept it. Then, with complete self-compassion, let it go and let your mind clear.
Meditation can be done in many settings and can benefit you in many ways.
For example, I am a big advocate of morning meditation, since it’s such a great way to start your day. In fact, doing this typically means that your day will begin with a fresh slate and open mind, in the most peaceful and self-compassionate way. I have also counseled people on how to incorporate meditation practices during their busy workdays, and many mothers have sought my meditation advice on how to manage their frustration with their young children so they could spend more time enjoying their kids instead of being irritable or upset.
Regularly practicing meditation could help you to be more mindful in everyday situations.
If you find yourself often being reactive, angry or impulsive, the regular practice of meditation can teach you how to create a moment’s pause before you react. Luckily, most of the time, a moment will be all you need to gain perspective and find healthier ways to respond to a situation.
For example, if somebody at work says something that would have typically angered you, having the ability to take a moment to be mindful might help you compose yourself before you respond. This, of course, could lead to more positive interactions at work and at home.
Studies have shown that meditation has been powerful in protecting against relapses into depression and anxiety.
Often people who struggle with depression will have moments of incredibly intense internal pain, even with optimal medications and therapy treatments. In such moments, they could benefit from being mindful and learning to let go of that painful moment.
Not sure if you have time to meditate?
For some of us, a guided meditation class or video is an ideal way to get started. For others who might be very pressed for time, a quick 5-minute meditation could be all that you need to hit that reset button. But no matter how long you are able to dedicate to your meditation, the incorporation of this regular practice of it into your busy schedule could create a giant positive shift in your mood, health and life.
Dr Aparna Iyer – www.draparnaiyer.com
Eek! Sounds pretty scary?
However, those who experience overwhelming negative emotions such as anxiety and depression often do not challenge their zones of proximal discomfort. When we avoid the situations that cause us to feel uncomfortable, not only are we passing up an opportunity to learn, experience something new and grow, but we are doing quite the opposite!
Avoiding situations or circumstances that cause us to feel uncomfortable creates temporary relief but has more long term side effects.
Think about it?
You were invited to a friend’s going away party. You also have social anxiety. You believe that if you go to the party that it will be a wonderfully delicious recipe for anxiety brulee, but you really planned on bringing the chips and guac. So you start to talk yourself out of this party idea, you may have 99 problems but making yourself the laughing stock of Felicia’s party ain’t one! So you manage to talk yourself out of going. A week goes by and you are starting to feel really guilty that you didn’t wish your friend goodbye.
Maybe the negative self-talk is setting in and it’s really giving you a good lickin’! You’re also starting to feel pretty lonely and isolated and think about all the missed opportunities you had to possibly make friends that night, to get out of the ol’ cooped up apartment, and try new things. Now you’re feeling pretty hopeless and depressed and ultimately the cycle continues to repeat itself until YOU decide when enough is enough and you want to change your life.
So here are a few ways that I would challenge you to challenge yourself.
Ask yourself what do you have to loose. Now ask yourself what do you have to gain? Which list is longer?
1. Choose a different seat.
Ok so let’s start small. If you tend to sit in the same place every day, same bus seat, same chair at home or same place in the cafeteria, I challenge you to choose a new seat today. Changing your environment, even just a little, can have positive impacts on the brain and waken our thoughts up all over again. New seat, new perspective on life!
2. Let it go just for today.
If you often struggle with letting go of arguments, issues, pains, anger, I challenge you to just let it go for today. Tomorrow hasn’t happened yet so that is out of our control. Yesterday has already come and gone, so that is out of our control too. However we do have control over our thoughts in the present moment today. Sometimes it may not feel like it, such as an old memory popping up, however just let it go for today instead of dwelling.
3. Get some fresh air.
Go for a walk, run, bicycle ride, whatever it is you feel most comfortable with. Exercise also has a powerful effect on the brain that allows us to have better feelings of wellbeing internally and externally! Worried someone might see you and judge you? Then put those sunglasses and headphones on and listen to your favorite motivational speaker on YouTube. Or maybe play the songs that make you feel empowered! And by the way… judging people who are working out or exercising and trying to improve their health is actually off limits, so? Just saying.
Have you ever been moved by that person who just smiles at everyone? Something about a smile can completely change your mood in an instant. I challenge you to start smiling more. Instead of going about your day as you used to, try smiling more. Smile more towards your co-workers, the lady at the checkout at the supermarket, anyone who makes eye contact with you on the street. Make it your knee jerk reaction to smile. See what happens.
5. Change your negative Self-talk.
So often, those with overwhelming negative emotions are some of the most kind-hearted, caring individuals who would do absolutely anything for a friend or stranger. They are the ones who a lot of people tend to turn to for advice, or to feel better because they know that they will offer the best support. However, the relationship with themselves is usually completely the opposite. Those who struggle with overwhelming negative emotions tend to berate themselves, talk down to themselves and plant seeds of doubt, fear, worthlessness and insecurities.
I challenge you today to leave this negative relationship with self-talk. When we engage in negative self-talk it only promotes the growth of weeds, not beautiful flowers. If you aren’t ready to use self-affirmations or positive self-talk, then the very least I challenge you to do is stop engaging in negative self-talk. You are worth the love, kindness and respect that you so outwardly display.
I believe in you!
Megan Harley, MS, LPCC - www.counselingandfitness.com
Having experienced a torrent of fear, pain and anxiety just five short years ago, I am well-versed on how overwhelming and paralyzing emotion can be. I will cut to the chase by listing and explaining the most effective tools I used (and still do) to shift myself out of paralysis and into sound mind.
1. Connect with your Divinity
When we recognize that our problem is greater than we are, it is time to take it to a power greater than we are. Pray, meditate, meditate, pray. Prayer is speaking to Spirit; meditation is listening. Spend as much time as you need to connect and know that you are being heard and will be guided to the highest good for all concerned.
2. Let your emotions out
Give yourself permission to cry, to mourn, be angry or frustrated. You are a human being and are allowed to have emotions. Learn to feel to heal so a loved one does not become the recipient of your pain. Scream into a pillow if need be (one of my faves). It is a great release of energy!
3. Talk therapy
We can heal so much when we are listened to and validated. Positive, loving folk will help you move forward. Negative nellies will want to sit in the negativity and drama with you. Be mindful of who you share with.
4. Exercise & Journal
Exercise brings a rush of endorphins to your brain. They are the “feel good” hormones we get from a good workout. They can lift our mood and allow us to see/feel the light at the end of the tunnel. Journaling allows us to authentically release all that we may hold back from saying to others. As Byron Katie states, “All war belongs on paper.” Let ‘er rip!
5. Practice forgiveness
Martin Luther King Jr. stated so perfectly, “Forgiveness is not an occasional thing. It is a permanent attitude.” Forgiveness allows us to release the toxic ties between us and our perpetrator. Forgiveness is for you, not the other person.
6. Burning bowl ceremony
Oftentimes ceremonies do wonders for relieving fear/anxiety/depression. Write down all you wish to release on a sheet of paper. Hold the paper over a fireproof bowl and carefully burn the paper to ash.
Next, write all that you wish to attract into your life. Repeat the burn process. When both papers are ash, dig a small hole in the ground and bury it. Before, during or after the ceremony, say a prayer or affirmation of release worded any way you choose. Spirit feels your soul, not your words. Let go.
7. Stay away from substance
Substances like alcohol and marijuana may take pain away momentarily, but all substance has a residual effect whether we want to admit it or not. At this point, we don’t need any help feeling worse. Substance will not help long-term. Abstaining from substance is best at this point.
Last but definitely not least…
8. Practice presence
We cannot suffer when we are present. Whenever we are rooted in “now”, we cannot be in the past or the future. Learn to practice presence all day long. There are many books available to help you develop a practice that works best for you.
As always, sending love and peace your way.
Kristen Brown, Author and Certified Empowerment Coach – www.sweetempowerment.com
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches us that our feelings of anxiety, depression, guilt and anger are caused by unhealthy thoughts we have about situations and events.
It is these unhealthy thoughts that cause emotional suffering, not only the situation or the event. Many of our thoughts are automatic and can produce unhealthy negative emotions, such as depression, anxiety, guilt and anger. This theory is well researched and empirically supported.
However, a frequent erroneous belief about CBT is that it’s all about just thinking positive.
We often hear people say, “I went to therapy and I tried to think more positive, but it just didn’t work”. Actually, when done correctly, CBT isn’t about positive thinking at all. As a matter of fact, therapists who have special training in CBT believe that positive thinking can be just as problematic and irrational as negative thinking.
If a person has been told to just trust the universe and think positive thoughts, and everything will all work out, she will be not be prepared to handle a catastrophe or face a difficult life situation if it actually arises. It’s a fact that sometimes things we hope will work out, just don’t work out in our favor.
On the other hand, if a person constantly focuses on the worse possible outcome, she will likely feel powerless and consumed with fear and anxiety and may never find the inner strength to work toward her goal.
There is a fine line between remaining positive and optimistic, yet staying realistic and rational.
Albert Ellis, the psychologist who originated cognitive behavioral therapy, clarified that the “elegant solution” is to strongly hold on to your preference for a desired outcome AND at the same time emotionally prepare yourself to deal with it if the situation doesn’t work out the way you had hoped it would. While you may not be happy with the outcome, in all probability, you will be able to stand it. And “standing it” means you will experience healthy negative emotions.
By this I mean:
• Concern instead of anxiety
• Sadness instead of depression
• Regret instead of guilt
• Annoyance instead of anger
As you can see, there is a great difference between healthy negative emotions and unhealthy negative emotions.
Let’s imagine for a minute that you just lost your job.
It would be pretty unreasonable if I expected you to feel happy or have no emotion about the job loss at all if you were hoping that this job could lead to a great career. The healthy negative emotion I would help you to feel is sadness instead of depression, because when we are depressed, we find it difficult to move forward and to feel okay about our self.
And if you’re depressed, you likely won’t begin job hunting. However, if you are healthily sad about the job loss, you may be able to learn from it by assessing what went wrong so you can determine what you could do differently in your next job and you would likely also begin preparing your resume. In a nutshell, unhealthy negative emotions usually paralyze us, whereas healthy negative emotions help us to experience feelings while being able to move forward.
There is no doubt that in life, we will experience negative emotions.
So when the road of life becomes bumpy, we can reevaluate our thinking and carry on by handling the curve ball that life throws us with appropriate healthy negative emotions.
Marion M. Plessner Rodrigue, M.S. – www.groundworkcounseling.com
Anger, fear, sorrow, anxiety—these are typically thought of as “negative” feelings.
And while they are difficult, they are not negative. These feelings, like every other emotion, have messages to give us about our lives—messages which are vital to our understanding of who we are and how we wish to live. Not only that, but the experiencing of these difficult emotions, can transform us at a fundamental level.
So let’s take anger, for example.
Anger is our I AM. It exists to inform us that “I exist,” “I’m real,” and “I matter.” Without the feeling of anger we would not ever allow ourselves to receive these very true, very important, even life-saving messages. But, we have to learn how to both hear these messages and how to use them. Many of us have the idea that to feel a feeling is to be compelled to act upon it.
But that isn’t so. Action may be required down the road, but before we act we need to listen to the feeling in order to receive its message. So, what about your particular situation or your particular attitude needs adjusting to receive the message that you exist, you are real and you matter.
What ways are you undermining your own existence?
In what way might you be believing in the power of someone else to negate you, or pretend you out of existence? In what ways are you not allowing yourself to be real, or believing in someone else’s power to make you unreal? In what ways have you stopped mattering to yourself? In what ways have you made someone else’s idea of you matter more than you matter to yourself? Once we have answered these questions then we can begin to make plans and take actions that bring the I AM a sense of fulfillment.
We often think that anger is a message to us about someone else.
But that is not true. If we are to be about the business of building a life for the authentic Self, then anger is just one of the tools we will use to build the houses of our lives. I think of anger as the hammer. Without it, we will not be able to nail any of the boards together to build that house. But we may also misuse it by metaphorically or literally hitting someone else over the head. Yet all the while we are hitting that someone else, we are not using the energy and power of the hammer to build the house of our life.
Anger, like every other emotion is giving a message to us, for us and about us.
If we give away all of that wonderful power to someone else, we may lose the message meant for us. What a shame that would be, for we would have missed another chance to make our lives more authentic. If we learn to use all of our emotions this way, we can evolve into more authentic people.
Andrea Mathews, LPC, PhD – www.andreamathews.com
The foundation for staying out of vulnerability to negative emotion mind includes eating for nutrition meaning avoiding over eating or restricting or eating foods that can potentially enhance negative emotions (consult nutritionist, but excessive amounts of sugar or salt).
Creating and sticking to a regular exercise plan that is supportive of your age and body, avoiding over exercising or no exercise.
Getting plenty of rest for your body, generally 7-8 hours a night and maintaining a structured sleep schedule, meaning going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time, even on weekends. Making sure you are treating illness, meaning, if you have a cold or any other illness, consulting and seeing your physician and taking medications as prescribed.
Avoiding mood altering substances, including caffeine, drugs, nicotine, energy drinks, even excessive technology and social media.
And, building a sense of mastery of your mind, which requires you to stretch your comfort zone every day in small ways as well as having long term goals to stretch your comfort zone in big ways. This creates a foundation of being able to maintain positive emotions and deal with negative emotions by coping effectively.
However, in some cases, it can still be challenging to staying out of negative emotion mind, at these times it may require you to manage extreme emotions, by changing your body chemistry (temporarily).
For example your body temperature, which can be for example holding something cold or splashing your face with a cold cloth or ice water, this shocks the body and mind back into the present. Another way to do this is extreme exercise that requires a lot of focus for example the Pilates plank, kick boxing or intense dancing of some sort (always consult your doctor before doing these skills).
The next step would be to perhaps distract yourself, by engaging in pleasant events that may be activities, contributing to another, listening to music, seeing a movie, visiting or calling a friend, keeping in mind that these are times that if or should you call a friend for example, you do not talk about the negative emotion you are experiencing, leave that for a therapist or support group.
One might also consider the self soothe set of skills, by calming the senses, all five of them, this may require you make a list prior to an experience of the negative emotions, the goal is to have a multi sensory experience.
Also, improving mood may mean you find meaning of the situation that is creating an emotion, for example, praying may help if you are comfortable with that, guided imagery may help to calm the mind and access parts of the self that have a connection to the universe and life and journaling are all ways to find meaning and help survive the negative state of mind when it is too overwhelming to deal with and you find it hard to cope.
Lisa Bahar, MA, LMFT – www.lcbahar.wix.com
Negative emotions need to arrive before they can leave.
While we all have psychic strategies such as avoidance, denial, suppression, and dissociation to help distance ourselves from negative emotions, these do not, in fact, make them disappear. Often the emotions can then manifest in other forms including body tension or physical discomfort. When possible I encourage my clients to begin to learn to name their emotions and “welcome them” so they can be felt, processed, and then move along on their way.
When we feel our emotions we are able to receive support from our loved ones, be aware of how we need to take care of ourselves, and allow our emotions to provide us with potentially valuable information.
For example, if you feel envy or jealousy it may be unwarranted, but could also mean there is an area in your life that needs some revamping. An important thing to remember is not every emotion should be taken at face value. You may not be in control of which emotion you feel, but you are in charge of how it sits with you.
Guilt is a great example of this.
Guilt may clue us in to the possibility we did something wrong, but the key word is possibility. When feeling guilt you can check in with yourself to see whether or not you did something that is not in line with your values and the answer can be no. Emotions like this can be used as signals to pay closer attention to your behaviors, but do not ultimately define you.
So give it a try!
If your natural inclination is to push negative emotions try and be mindful of what you may be experiencing.
Journaling is a great strategy to identify the emotions may exist within you. And if you’d like the support of professional in this process, psychotherapy is a great place to identify, process, and understand your emotions.
Dr. Sari Fleischman – www.phillypsych.com
Processing emotions authentically is a crucial life skill that most of us are not taught as we are growing up.
Instead, we get messages telling us that full expression of grief, anger and anxiety is not OK.
My parents died when I was 13 and 23. As a result, I was told repeatedly that I was strong and independent. The truth is, that was a mask. Behind the mask was a weak, needy girl with a crushed heart. But I was terrified to let that show. I held to the false belief that grief and tears meant weakness and vulnerability. I wasn’t safe to express what was really inside. I couldn’t be authentic.
Yes, my false self was extremely strong and independent. Competent. Performance-driven. Hard. Walled off.
Meanwhile, my (weak and needy) authentic self cried out for attention over and over in the form of cravings; for sugar, cigarettes, drugs, sex, relationships, perfection, people pleasing, people fixing, any fix to ease the ache. By ignoring the cry and feeding the craving, I became a user of just about anything that would allow me a moment of escape.
But the cry always came back. I would think, “Why can’t I ever be happy? What’s wrong with me?”
Turns out there was nothing wrong with me at all. I was just terrified to take off the mask and be with grief, anger, and anxiety. As Debbie Ford always said, “What you can’t be with, won’t let you be.”
The mask had to come off.
No more faking it. I had to get real. Years after my losses, I told people how I actually felt. I finally sat with all of it. I learned that behind my walls was a soft heart in need of healing. But it wasn’t sugar, Salem Slim Lights, rum, bad boys, or getting skinny that healed it.
It was love. I had to love me, even when I was weak, needy, grieving, pissed off or anxious. I had to learn to be with what I thought I could not. And I had to fully claim my authentic self, trusting that she was worthy of being heard.
Sue Markovitch, Author and Life Coach in Westerville, Ohio – www.clearrockfitness.com
Let’s start out with a radical notion: that there is no such thing as positive or negative emotions.
We call them “positive” when they make us feel good and “negative” when they make us feel crummy. However, they serve only one evolutionary purpose: like our senses, they help us negotiate our way successfully through the world.
Emotions give us information.
We call them negative because they cause us discomfort at best and misery at worst. They’re meant to grab out attention to get us to do something in order to survive and thrive. A lion rushes at you and a jolt of fear makes you skedaddle. Spot your newest flame crossing the street, and love or lust will have you racing off to say hello.
When you’re experiencing an emotion and have labeled it, try to figure out why you might be having it.
What is it trying to tell you? Grief tells us that we had a strong attachment to something or someone. It may hurt, but it lets us know what makes us happy so that we may pursue it again. Anger tells us that we’ve been (or perceive that we’ve been) emotionally or physically threatened and to take action to stay safe.
Worry and anxiety can be tricky.
On the one hand, humans are primed for the fear response, the most important signal we have of danger. But we may have no real need to worry or be anxious. Sometimes these emotions are not about what is occurring now, but they are triggered by a memory of a similar event. In the case of worry and anxiety, we need to thoroughly examine whether we need to be fearful or not.
Disappointment tells us that someone has let us down. Good data to have. Confusion means we’re unsure and perhaps need more information or time to make up our minds. Loneliness signals that we desire more people connection and boredom that we want an engaging activity to do.
If you view emotions as information, you won’t need to push them away, and may even welcome them as life-enhancing. Listen without judgement to what they have to say no matter how they cause you to feel, and the “negative” ones might surprisingly improve your life.
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. – www.karenrkoenig.com
To cope with a situation that we feel is unacceptable or intolerable, we often try to deny its existence.
But in doing so, we also turn a blind eye to any possible solutions. When it is ourselves that we feel is unacceptable, we often do not feel capable or worthy of being helped, so again, we do not try.
What we need to call on at such times is compassionate self-acceptance.
Compassionate self-acceptance involves coming to accept, without resistance, the reality of where you are right now—warts and all—and choosing to commit to and focus on positive behavioral options instead of pain, guilt, shame or perceived inadequacies.
Compassionate self-acceptance allows us to accept the unacceptable in ourselves and our situation and to distance ourselves from self-defeating behaviors and avoidant coping styles. It frees us to acknowledge, and therefore address rather than run from, our pain or mistakes, which automatically increases our commitment to change.
One tool for addressing denial and embracing compassionate self-acceptance is the psychological approach of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the moment-by-moment awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and immediate environment. In this process, we choose to be present with and accept thoughts and feelings as they arise, but we do not automatically act on them. (Otherwise, we would likely engage in pre-programmed, habituated and self-destructive “auto-pilot” responses.) Instead, we take some time to objectively view both our weaknesses and our strengths and make an informed decision about the best action to take that will us lead toward positive change and greater self-acceptance.
Mark Atkinson, MD, author of True Happiness—Your Complete Guide to Emotional Health, says.
"An important part of the work you must do is to accept what was previously unacceptable… Embrace your shadow (negative traits) and free yourself to make choices about your life, or you will remain owned by your shadow and it will direct your life.”
Rita Milios, LCSW – mindmentor.blogspot.com
Our emotions often serve a purpose, even negative emotions.
Anxiety and fear for example, cause physical reactions in the body that enlarge our muscles, increase our heart rate, and dilate our pupils in an attempt to prepare us to react quickly to perceived danger. These emotions can become problematic when chronic or progressive in intensity causing an individual to constantly be floating in a sea of negative emotions that create distress.
A huge part of life involves having flexibility when it comes to coping skills managing our emotional responses.
The way I see it there are a few ways to attempt to cope with feelings that cause discomfort; process through the feeling and the thoughts helping to fuel it, use a self-calming strategy to elevate the symptoms, and/or reevaluate the situation causing the uncomfortable emotion. I usually assist my clients strengthen their ability to utilize all three of these during times of heightened negative emotions.
Processing through our feelings can be quite a task.
Part of this involves recognizing that the way that we feel does not always represent truth; feelings are not fact. For example we may feel unloved but that doesn’t mean that that is the truth. Talking to a friend, or involving a counselor to help provide nonjudgmental reflection regarding emotional ups and downs can be helpful to really separate an emotion from situational facts.
Using self-calming techniques is a great way to manage the physical symptoms of negative emotions, like the buildup of stress.
The key here is to relax, and practice how to. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, swimming, reading, meditation, are all examples of activities that can help clear the mind and relax the body in hopes of reducing stress chemicals in the body. These activities should be planned and scheduled into each day as “self-care time”, and are just as important, if not more important than other daily activities.
Finally, reevaluating a situation that may be causing the uncomfortable emotion.
Our feelings are powerful and can affect our perception of reality, negative emotions can lead to misrepresentations of actual events. Through this process, we can identify thoughts that are linked to negative emotions and work on reframing them to be more positive and empowering.
In the right context, even our negative emotions serve a purpose, often instilling motivation to change.
Elizabeth H. Carr, LPC, NCC – www.resourcedmichigan.com
Let me introduce you to a thirty something year old woman, named Jen.
Sitting slumped over in her desk chair, Jen peers over the computer intently reading an email from Human Resources. The words, “We regret to inform you that we decided to move forward with another candidate for the Director position” kept ringing in her head. Tears stinging her eyes, Jen felt sad and an immense sense of hopelessness.
She kept thinking I wish I was smarter; there must be something wrong with me. This is the fourth interview in this company; I am never going to get promoted. Nausea beginning to set into her stomach, and a massive headache forming, Jen was making herself sick. Jen took the rest of the day off and went home early.
Sadness, hopelessness, doubt, and frustration were just a few emotions that Jen was feeling.
Would you call these emotions negative or positive?
It is safe to say that they are negative because they are subtracting from her quality of life by causing sickness. Not only was Jen making herself sick, but the rest of the co-workers and clients were being impacted as well, due to her leaving early that day. Each employee has a vital role within a company, and whether or not the person realizes it; their absence is felt by many.
So, how can Jen feel better and get rid of the negative emotions that are plaguing her?
That’s easy, wash them away. When I talk about wash, I am not saying to hide the emotions and pretend they are not there, but rather the opposite. It is important to experience the emotions and name them, otherwise they will fester. Once you do this, wash or cleanse yourself from the negative emotions; do as you would wash off dirt after a long day.
My advice to you is to take a shower or bath and for a couple of minutes, really pay attention to your body.
What are you feeling?
Once you have named those emotions, take a washable crayon, specifically made for the shower or bathtub, and begin to write them on the tile. Again, this should only take about a couple of minutes.
Once finished, take time to look over what you wrote, then, with a towel, wash the negative emotions away, both literally and figuratively speaking. Let your mind be clean of all the negativity. Do this mental exercise everyday, and take notice of a lighter you.
Robin Ennis, LMSW, CPC – www.prominentpathways.org
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