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How Should I Deal With Negative Emotions?

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Updated July 01, 2012

How Should I Deal With Negative Emotions? Photo from iStockPhoto.com
Question: How Should I Deal With Negative Emotions?
"Sometimes I feel overcome with negative emotions, feelings of hurt, anger or frustration. I’ve heard that it isn’t good to "stuff my feelings," but I also don’t want to dwell on these negative feelings. How should I deal with these negative emotions in a healthy way?"
Answer: You are right that ignoring feelings (such as "stuffing your anger") is not the healthiest way to deal with them. Generally speaking, that does not make them go away, but can cause them to come out in different ways. That’s because your emotions act as signals to you that what you are doing in your life is or isn’t working. If you’re feeling angry or frustrated, this can be a signal that something needs to change. If you don’t change the situations or thought patterns that are causing these uncomfortable, "red flag" emotions, you will continue to be triggered by them. Also, while you are not dealing with the emotions you are feeling, they can cause problems with your physical and emotional health. (See this article on anger problems for more.)

Rumination, or the tendency to dwell on anger, resentment and other uncomfortable feelings, however, brings health consequences as well. So it’s important to listen to your emotions and then take steps to let them go. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Understand Your Emotions.
    Look within and try to pinpoint the situations that are creating the stress and negative emotions in your life. Negative emotions can come from a triggering event: an overwhelming workload, for example. Negative emotions are also the result of our thoughts surrounding an event; the way we interpret what happened can alter how we experience the event and whether or not it causes stress. The key job of your emotions is to get you to see the problem, so you can make necessary changes.
  • Change What You Can.
    Take what you’ve learned from my first recommendation and put it into practice. Cut down on your stress triggers, and you’ll find yourself feeling negative emotions less frequently. This could include cutting down on job stress, learning the practices of assertive communication (so you don’t feel trampled by people) and changing negative thought patterns through a process known as cognitive restructuring.
  • Find An Outlet.
    Making changes in your life can cut down on negative emotions, but it won’t eliminate your stress triggers entirely. As you make changes in your life to bring about less frustration, you will also need to find healthful outlets for dealing with these emotions. Regular exercise can provide an emotional lift as well as an outlet for negative emotions. Meditation can help you find some inner "space" to work with, so your emotions don’t feel so overwhelming. Finding opportunities for having fun and getting more laughter in your life can also change your perspective and relieve stress. Find a few of these outlets, and you’ll feel less overwhelmed when negative emotions do arise.

This site also has many resources for ongoing stress reduction. Give them a try, and you’ll feel less stressed and more free.

Sources:

Lo CS, Ho SM, Hollon SD. The Effects of Rumination and Negative Cognitive Styles on Depression: A Mediation Analysis. Behaviour Research and Therapy, April, 2008.

Miers AC, Rieffe C, Meerum Terwogt M, Cowan R, Linden W. The Relation Between Anger Coping Strategies, Anger Mood and Somatic Complaints in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, August, 2007.

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