The BEST Tools for Managing Your Negative Emotions


Posted on : March 29, 2012

Learning to appropriately manage your anger, frustration, sadness and fear is a huge part of being happy.  Over the last couple months I’ve been sharing some of the best tools from the science of happiness (and from traditional psychology) for managing negative emotions.

This week, I’m going to do a top-level review.  Click on any of the titles to be taken to full post.

Negative Emotions, A Key To Happiness

Some people find it interesting that I spend significant time in my workshops and talks discussing negative emotions:  “You’re supposed to be the Happiness Coach, right?”

But effectively managing negativity is a central strategy for becoming happier.  And it’s not about ignoring the bad stuff or covering over it….  Click here for more.

Learning to Be Sad Can Increase Your Happiness

A key component of being happy is learning how to manage our negative emotions: sadness, fear, anger, worry, guilt, grief, frustration, and all those other emotions that make us feel icky.  And let’s be clear; 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.”

We all know that if you are going to live and love in this world, you are going to feel negative emotions.  You have to give yourself permission to be human and not push away all these experiences, many of which will teach you valuable things and allow you to grow and learn…  Click here for more.

“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”).  Necessary negativity starts with the facts and helps us face the truth, and once fully experienced allows us move forward with our lives.  For example, it is natural to mourn the loss of someone dear to you, to feel guilt when you do something you know is wrong, to be angry when you see an injustice done or disappointed when something doesn’t go your way.

Gratuitous negativity on the other hand takes the facts and distorts them through unfair self-judgments and blame, endless ‘what ifs’ and over-the-top worrying.  This hyperactive negativity is simply not necessary.  Reducing gratuitous negativity is a great place to start on any path to more happiness.

Understanding which type of negativity we feel determines which tools and processes to use to help us get back to a neutral or positive emotional state.  To learn more about how to differentiate the good from the bad, go here.

Act the Way You Want to Feel

One of the simplest ways to reduce gratuitous negative emotions is simply to act the way you want to feel.

Did you know that an artificially induced smile (biting a pencil lengthwise without touching it with your lips) can make you happier?  Or that botox treatment, which paralyzes frowning muscles, makes it harder to feel angry or sad?

Most of us believe that our actions follow from how we feel, but in fact we often feel because of the way we act.   And this provides one of the simplest and most powerful tools for changing how we feel… To read more, click here.

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.  This is rumination.  It’s your brain on a hamster wheel – cycling round and round and getting nowhere.  Studies show that when we are sad or angry or anxious, our brain selectively calls to mind negative thoughts which further intensify the negative emotion.

Because of this negativity bias, it is nearly impossible to think yourself out of these cycles.  What is needed is a healthy distraction.  Go HERE to read more about healthy and engaging ways to get yourself out of this rut and move on to greener pastures.

Taking on the Voices in Your Head

Let’s be real here.  We ALL hear voices in our head. They tell us all kinds of things – that we should try harder, how we can be “safe” and sometimes, if we’re lucky, they tell us we did a great job.  But often these voices trigger a negative spiral, taking one minor thing and fabricating an entire story that makes us feel bad about ourselves.

To learn some of the scientifically proven tactics for quieting these voices (or at least minimizing their impact!), check out the full blog post here.

Choosing your Board of Directors

As you practice listening to those voices in your head, you’ll start to notice some consistent messages or themes.  One powerful way to manage those repeated messages from your mind is to externalize and personify those voices.  Think about them as your Board of Directors – helping you guide your life.

Once you’ve got them defined, then you’ve got real power to decide what advice to take and what to ignore.  AND you can actively recruit other characters onto your Board to balance those more troublesome voices.

(Interestingly, I received more positive comments on this post than on any other in the six months I’ve been putting together this weekly missive.  To find out what has everyone so engaged, read the full post here.)

Finding the Right Counter-Fact

Whenever something happens, you create an alternative scenario, or counter-fact,  that your brain makes up to make sense of what happened.

Imagine you have to stay late at work.  You can compare yourself to being at home with your family or out with your friends and you’ll rail against the unfortunate situation you are in.

But if you compare yourself to other people who have to work late every day or to people who don’t have a job in this crappy economy, you can see yourself as the lucky one and it will help you feel better in the short term.

What’s important here is that these counter-facts are completely made up.   They are pure fiction and you can CHOOSE what situation you want to compare to.  This gives YOU the power to guide your feelings.  To read more about this, check out the full blog post, here.

Learn to fail or fail to learn

“Failure is an inescapable part of life and a critically important part of any successful life.  We learn to walk by falling, to talk by babbling, to shoot a basket by missing, and to color the inside of a square by scribbling outside the box.  Those who intensely fear failing end up falling short of their potential.  We either learn to fail or we fail to learn.”  – Tal Ben Shahar, The Pursuit of Perfect

Learning to accept failures can be difficult.  Tap into several tools for learning this important skill here.

Defusing Negativity Landmines

Do you arrive at work every day angry from your commute?  Do you end up yelling in frustration every morning, getting your kids out the door?  Does a toxic coworker consistently bring down your mood?

Many of us have these kinds of negativity landmines in our life:  events, situations or people that consistently and predictably affect us in a negative way.  The good news is that once you recognize the pattern and take a conscious approach to it, you can often make changes that significantly reduce their chance of destroying your hour, day or week.  Click HERE to learn some great tools for defusing these landmines.

Embracing Necessary Negativity

Much of the above is concerned with reducing gratuitous negativity.  But fully embracing necessary negativity is also an important part of being truly happy.  After two months of posts on negativity, it’s time to take a break and talk about some pro-happiness tools for a while.  We’ll circle back to this topic in a few weeks.

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach

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