Handling Negative Emotions

Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.

-Ambrose Bierce


Life is like a bowl of cherries, right? It’s really sweet but sometimes we hit a pit. And when this happens, depending on what that pit is, we might feel sad, mad, disappointed, rejected or embarrassed. Negative emotions are just as natural as the happy ones like joy, excitement and happiness.

There is a perception out there that we shouldn’t show our negative emotions and we should try to be happy and optimistic all the time. And certainly, those positive emotions are more enjoyable and easier to be around. But the reality is we, as humans, experience it all whether we like it or not.

When the negative feelings pop up, it can be a natural reaction to try and get rid of them. Maybe we deny their existence to ourselves and those around us (“Everything’s fine!”) or maybe we push those yucky feelings deep down so they go away (we hope). Turns out these responses don’t actually work. Not, in the long run, anyway.

Our negative feelings don’t actually go away. Rather, they lurk inside us and can make us a generally unhappy person, which not good for our long-term health. Research shows that if we don’t let ourselves experience the full range of emotions it can mess us up psychologically. We’re supposed to feel it all. The trick is, to manage them all well and in a balanced way.

So what to do?

When something happens that causes an emotional reaction the first thing to do is realize that you are feeling a strong emotion. Remind yourself that it is okay because you’re a human not a robot.

Take three deep breaths.

Then, try to identify the emotion. Is it anger, anxiety, guilt, etc.

Take some more deep breaths.

If it feels overwhelming, take a walk, write in a journal, or talk to a friend. Give yourself permission to think about it before blowing your top. After these steps, it will be easier to decide, rationally, what you should do next.

This mentally healthy approach allows us to acknowledge our negative feelings as we try to put them in their proper place. Just like happiness and joy, negative emotions are real and valid and an important part of life. We need to recognize and express the full range of emotions we experience in order to grow emotionally.

In fact, research shows, that people who were more accepting of negative emotions like anger or anxiety had reduced feelings of ill-being and were more likely to have better well-being.

Here’s to your health!