Emotions- the reason many people initially decide to go to therapy is so often rooted in this part of our day to day functioning that can sometimes feel so great and other times… not so much. What we consider the “positive” side of this- happy, joyful, optimistic, serene, amused, hopeful, satisfied- most of the time these feelings bring, to some degree a level of contentment or gratification. These positive emotions may be experienced differently and may last for varying lengths of time for everyone, but overall carry the perception of being “good”. The other side of this or what we consider to be “negative emotions” are those that we, as human beings, consider emotions that may not be as pleasurable to experience as those listed above. Sadness, anger, frustration, distrust, annoyance, and loneliness are just a few. In this post, the main goal is to understand that while these emotions may be considered negative, that does not mean that they are “bad” and how to begin the coping process around these emotions.
In an article published earlier this year from verywellmind.com, Elizabeth Scott, a health and wellness coach describes the experience of emotions by stating “When we talk about so-called negative emotions, it’s important to remember that these emotions, in themselves, aren’t negative as in “bad,” but more than they are in the realm of negativity as opposed to positivity. Emotions aren’t necessarily good or bad; they are just states and signals that allow us to pay more attention to the events that create them” (https://www.verywellmind.com/embrace-negative-emotions-4158317). Does an example come to mind here for you about a time something happened and you immediately classified that you were feeling something “bad”? Perhaps there are things in life that bring you anxiety, a presentation at school or work, a comment made by a friend or co-worker that makes you feel uneasy, or days where you feel particularly on edge, easily frustrated or annoyed. It is so easy to then jump to increased frustration with yourself or these feelings as they can be very uncomfortable and at times feel intolerable. As a therapist and a fellow human being, I am here to validate that this can be extremely distressing and you are not alone in feeling this! Here are a few ways that may help to cope with these negative emotions:
- Understanding how you label the emotion: Are you able to name and understand what you are feeling and where this feeling may be coming from? Being able to engage in this activity may help you to trace back to what brought on the negative emotion and problem-solve around the situation. Labeling the emotion also applies to what is talked about above. Are you immediately labeling an emotion as “bad”? This may be a moment to remind yourself that this emotion is trying to tell you something about what you are experiencing!
- Before responding, check the evidence!: What has happened in the past when I have felt this way? I know I may feel that this feeling may last forever, but is that true? In an article from positivepsychology.com entitled “What are Negative Emotions and How to Control Them”, writer Elaine Mead shares the idea “When exploring negative emotions, it’s also important to know that they are not the only source of information you have access to. Before you act upon any emotion you should also seek to explore your previous experiences, stored knowledge and memories, personal values and desired outcomes for any given scenario”. (https://positivepsychology.com/negative-emotions/)
- Re-regulating your physiological systems: Many emotions, especially those that are in the “negative emotions” category bring a response to your body. For example, accelerated breathing, flushed cheeks, feeling overly warm, tensed muscles just to name a few. In these moments, focus on re-regulating our body can help decrease the intensity of the emotion we may be feeling. Try to notice what is happening in your body and try exercises such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation techniques to bring your body back to baseline!
- Mindfulness Activities: When distressed, overwhelmed, angry or sad, it can be helpful to bring yourself back to the present moment by focusing on your senses and the world around you. A way to begin this practice may be placing your feet directly on the floor, and acknowledging where you are in this moment. What do I hear, smell, see, or physically feel around me. This can bring your mind back to the present and these physical sensations and can also support the physical re-regulation discussed above.
Last but not least, and in my mind, most importantly!
- Having patience with your emotions: Easier said than done right? One of the greatest things I have ever learned is to be patient with what you are feeling. While I think it is a wonderful thing to name, and to understand as a concept, this is something that can be very important to work on with your therapist in sessions! When an emotion enters and we judge it to be bad or negative, our patience with ourselves can go right out the window. Allowing ourselves grace and understanding in difficult moments can be a tremendous step on the journey to healing.