Our emotions often serve a purpose, even negative emotions. Anxiety and fear for example, cause physical reactions in the body that enlarge our muscles, increase our heart rate, and dilate our pupils in an attempt to prepare us to react quickly to perceived danger. These emotions can become problematic when chronic or progressive in intensity causing an individual to constantly be floating in a sea of negative emotions that create distress.
A huge part of life involves having flexibility when it comes to coping skills managing our emotional responses. The way I see it there are a few ways to attempt to cope with feelings that cause discomfort; process through the feeling and the thoughts helping to fuel it, use a self-calming strategy to elevate the symptoms, and/or reevaluate the situation causing the uncomfortable emotion. I usually assist my clients strengthen their ability to utilize all three of these during times of heightened negative emotions.
Processing through our feelings can be quite a task. Part of this involves recognizing that the way that we feel does not always represent truth; feelings are not fact. For example we may feel unloved but that doesn’t mean that that is the truth. Talking to a friend, or involving a counselor to help provide nonjudgmental reflection regarding emotional ups and downs can be helpful to really separate an emotion from situational facts.
Using self-calming techniques is a great way to manage the physical symptoms of negative emotions, like the buildup of stress. The key here is to relax, and practice how to. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, swimming, reading, meditation, are all examples of activities that can help clear the mind and relax the body in hopes of reducing stress chemicals in the body. These activities should be planned and scheduled into each day as “self-care time”, and are just as important, if not more important than other daily activities.
Finally, reevaluating a situation that may be causing the uncomfortable emotion. Our feelings are powerful and can affect our perception of reality, negative emotions can lead to misrepresentations of actual events. Through this process, we can identify thoughts that are linked to negative emotions and work on reframing them to be more positive and empowering.
In the right context, even our negative emotions serve a purpose, often instilling motivation to change.