How To Express Negative Emotions In Healthy Ways

TW: Mention of self-harm under point 3.

Hey Psych2Go-ers. Welcome back. 

Do you struggle with communicating your more difficult emotions? If you do, you’re not alone. Not many people have a healthy relationship with their emotions as some of us believe that feeling and expressing them is a weakness. We might believe that they are stress-inducing and are to be ignored, avoided or denounced but it’s actually better to experience them. 

The surprising thing is, it’s normal to feel negative emotions, even when we dislike the uncomfortability that comes with them. The issue arises when they cause damage to our personal and professional lives. 

Dr Tracey Marks, a psychiatrist, references the practice of “distress tolerance” which is the skill of being able to accept the emotion that you’re feeling without resorting to coping behaviors that make your situation and overall condition worse and manage emotions. The main points regarding this emotional self-regulation is awareness of your emotions before reacting, controlling your reactions and expressing them in a healthy way. 

Below are a few tips on how to better regulate and convey your negative emotions. 

  1. Acknowledge and Accept Your Emotions

Based on your upbringing, you could have different reactions and responses to the negative emotions. For example, you might have been taught that anger is bad so you suppress it which can manifest as anxiety or the unprocessed anger leads to depression which some might consider more acceptable than being angry. Both of these reactions lead to poor mental health. 

Thankfully, by acknowledging and accepting our negative emotions like anger, fear, guilt, regret, contempt, shame, insecurity and sadness, we can achieve the benefits of being alert to what  our emotions at that present time are and preventing suppression of the emotions that can often backfire on us. The aim is to accept the emotions, make room for them, sit with them and let them pass on their own time. We learn to own the emotion in its extreme state without judgment and potentially acting out in a destructive manner. 

By learning to effectively accept our emotions and allowing them to exist, instead of ignoring them, we discover that the emotions are only temporary and can’t hurt you.

A suggestion on how to go about this is to (1) .state your emotions in their extreme form. e.g. I’m feeling anger towards Avril. In fact I hate her; (2) .practice self compassion, e.g. I’m not bad for feeling this way and I can allow myself to experience it and I’m going to make space for it ;and (3) .observe your emotions and practice self control. I don’t need to be afraid of it because I’m not going to perform some drastic or destructive action. I can control myself, so I don’t need to get rid of this feeling. 

  1. Practice Self-Compassion

Do you struggle with being kinder to yourself, especially when you fall short in some way? You might beat yourself up a lot for making mistakes on your life journey and that can make you feel worse about yourself and the things you do. It’s not your fault if you feel this way, you might have been conditioned to react this way. 

In the journey of learning how to express negative emotions in positive ways, we will stumble, tumble and fall. And that’s okay. A necessary part of expressing negative feelings and learning how to is to internalize the love and concern that you have for yourself, especially when you’re experiencing some difficulty in your life

By practicing self-empathy, we are able to be emotionally in sync with ourselves and by being selectively empathic with our family, friends and colleagues, we can be in sync with them too. Kristen Neff, PhD, stated that those who practice self empathy were less likely to be anxious, self-critical and depressed. By replacing the judgmental, harsh self criticisms with love and empathy allows you to gently accept your flaws and strengthens your mental well-being. 

  1. Find An Outlet

Do you use methods that aren’t so good for you when dealing with your emotions? Do you find yourself slipping back into old vices as a means to cope? It happens often and to the best of us. We are used to avoiding, numbing and self-harm. These are short-term solutions for long-term problems. That’s why it’s necessary for us to develop other healthy outlets for our emotions to reduce the risk of damage to our health. 

Suppressing the negative emotions and holding onto them can lead to an  “increase in our bodies’ production of our stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn depletes our cognitive ability to problem solve proactively and can also damage our immune defenses, making us more susceptible to other illness” according to a 2017 research article by Butler, Klaus, Edwards, & Pennington. 

Some suggestions on ways to increase out distress tolerance and to get it all out, are: 

° getting a massage or watching a comedy 

° meditation, which makes space for you to work through your stuff and not be overwhelmed 

° exercising if it’s possible as it’s great for an emotional lift

°self-reflective journaling about what’s going on in your life 

° taking a nature walk or being outdoors 

°yoga which boosts self-acceptance and optimism 

°having some alone time to scream into a pillow or crying 

With any of these suggestions, it’s important to experiment with finding the best outlet for your specific needs and to try other techniques for expressing yourself. 

  1. Practice Showing Gratitude

When we are struggling, we have a hard time feeling grateful for the other great things in our lives. We might dwell on the split cup of milk more than appreciating the other cups of milk that we still have and it’s fine. We need to mourn sometimes. However if we sink into these emotions too much, it can skew our perspective on life. 

You can express gratitude to people who have shown kindness to you, whether minor or major. You can write a letter to someone who inspired you, write it and read it back to yourself or visit that person if you can and express your deepest gratitude. Not only is the recipient going to feel good but the person who expresses the gratitude does too and can feel this euphoric for days or weeks afterwards. 

  1. Improve Your Communication Skills

An important factor in communicating your negative emotions is… communicating. Sounds obvious, right? But many people don’t have proper communication skills (which should really be taught in schools) and we don’t have the best relationship with saying how we really feel. 

Expressing our negative emotions may hurt if done thoughtlessly. Regardless of the type of relationship you have, it’s vital to take a deep breath before expressing negative emotions. It’s a delicate dance that requires tact and empathy. 

When you’re more in tune with your own emotions and you have understood why you feel the way you do, it helps you to explain your perspective better and how you’re experiencing the situation. By improving your communication skills and explaining to the other person how certain behaviour upsets you, you can express your frustrations and grievances without hurting the relationship. 

FINAL THOUGHTS 

Thank you for making it to the end, Psych2Go-ers. We hope you found some helpful suggestions and that you learned something new. Remember that with negative emotions, the goal isn’t repression of them but the pursuit of finding healthy ways of regulating them. Expressing your emotions using an arsenal of wholesome coping skills can lead to positive outcomes such greater life satisfaction, increased adjustment to stressor and heightened psychological resilience and well-being. 

See you soon. 

REFERENCES 

*Dr Tracey Marks. (2019, June 19). How To Deal With Negative Emotions – Distress Tolerance. YouTube.com. Retrieved May 6, 2022 from https://youtu.be/puoddnGTAJk 

*Kos, B. (2017). A simple trick to express negative emotions in a mature way. Google. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.google.com/amp/s/agileleanlife.com/how-to-express-negative-emotions/amp/ 

*Lonczak, H. S. (2021, December 7). How to express your emotions in a healthy way: 30 practical tips. PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://positivepsychology.com/express-emotions/ 

*Riopel, L. (2021, November 25). 15 most interesting self compassion research findings (incl.. theory). PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://positivepsychology.com/self-compassion-research/  

*Mead, E. (2022, March 25). What are negative emotions and how to control them? PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://positivepsychology.com/negative-emotions/  

*Scott, E. (2022, February 16). Can embracing emotional negativity make you happier? Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/embrace-negative-emotions-4158317 

*Scott, E. (2022, March 31). How to deal with Negative Emotions. Verywell Mind. Retrieved May 6, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-should-i-deal-with-negative-emotions-3144603

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