Anger. Frustration. Stress. Sadness. Fear. Disappointment. Negative emotions are part of our lives and can hold incredible power over us. Learning to appropriately manage these emotions is a powerful skill that can help you live a fuller, more engaged, meaningful and happy life.
I’ve written a lot about negative emotions since I started this blog two and a half years ago. This week, I’m putting all this great information in one place as a guide to help you wade into this murky world and find a positive way through.
Happier, NOT happy all the time: There is a LOT we can do to sustainably increase our happiness and decrease our negative emotions but this work is about becoming happier, NOT about being happy all the time.
Negative Emotions: My Adventures in Insomnia: I’ve been going through my own adventures in negativity over the last several years and use myself as a guinea pig to test a lot of these tools.
Learning to Be Sad Can Increase Your Happiness: When I say “manage” negative emotions, I don’t mean “squash down into oblivion so that you can pretend like everything is rosy and be a fake, plastic kind of happy.” Once you give yourself permission to feel bad it opens up paths to more positive emotions in your life.
“Good Sad” vs. “Bad Sad”: There are two major types of negative emotions: Necessary negativity (e.g. “good sad/mad/hurt/grief”) and Gratuitous negativity (e.g. “bad sad/mad/hurt/grief”). Here’s how to differentiate them.
Ok, now that you can differentiate the gratuitous (bad) negative emotions from the necessary (good) negative emotions, what can you do about it? I’ve grouped all the tools into two separate areas below. The first is how to reduce the gratuitous, unnecessary, silly negative emotions that do nothing but make us needlessly suffer. That is immediately below. The second section is about how to embrace the necessary pain that living and loving in this world provides us. It’s in facing these challenges and hard times that we most grow and learn.
And if you aren’t quite sure if those negative emotions you feel are gratuitous or necessary, try some of the tools in the ‘gratuitous’ set for a while. If that doesn’t seem to help or if it feels like you are simply running away from the hard stuff, then move on to the ‘necessary’ tools.
Reducing Gratuitous Negativity
Distract Yourself from Endless Rumination: We’ve all experienced times when we beat ourselves up with unfair criticism and endless cycles of doom-and-gloom thinking. What is needed is a healthy distraction.
Take on the Voices in Your Head: Let’s be real here. We ALL hear voices in our head and often these voices trigger a negative spiral that makes us feel bad about ourselves.
Choose your Board of Directors: One powerful way to manage repeated negative thoughts is to externalize and personify those voices and then bring supportive help into the discussion.
Find the Right Counter-Fact: We compare our current situation to made-up alternatives all the time. You can choose these scenarios in a more beneficial way.
Learn to fail or fail to learn: Failure is a critically important part of any successful life. It turns out that if we can’t learn to fail then we simply fail to learn.
Defuse Negativity Landmines: We all have negative emotional landmines in our lives. These things consistently and predictably affect us in a negative way. Learn to identify and reduce their effect.
Good Night, Insomnia!: If your negativity is showing up as troubled sleep there is a lot you can do to address this symptom.
Embracing Necessary Negativity
Embracing Necessary Negativity: Journaling to Heal: One of the most powerful ways to let necessary negative emotions in is to write about them. Going towards the pain through writing can allow these emotions to work through your body and mind and ultimately allow you to come out the other side.
Embracing Necessary Negativity: Comforting Yourself: As we let these necessary negative emotions in, it’s key to provide comfort and support for ourselves.
Self-Compassion: A Powerful Antidote to Self-Judgment: Bad things happen to good people. One of the best ways to manage this unfortunate bad stuff is by developing self-compassion.
Authenticity: Shining a Bright Light into your Darkness: Shame is one of the most pervasive and insidious of the negative emotions and can be at the root of many of the negative voices in your head.
Managing Negativity: When to Seek Professional Help: If you are experiencing a lot of negative emotions in your life, seeing a mental health professional may be just the ticket to get through this recurring negativity in a constructive and helpful way.
Eric Karpinski, The Happiness Coach
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