No Hard Feelings: Negative Emotions And How To Control Them
Have you ever royally messed up in a relationship and immediately felt horrible? Perhaps your stomach felt like it was full of cement and you felt a sense of dread, anxiety, and maybe even anger. However you might describe the sensation you were feeling, it probably didn’t feel very great, and you wanted it to go away. To think about it another way, recall the sensations you felt when kissing your current partner for the first time, perhaps you were buzzing with excitement and anticipation.
Emotions happen on the inside
You experience emotions all day long, but have you ever paused to consider what they are? People commonly use the words “emotions” and “feelings” interchangeably. We experience emotions based on various events that happen both inside (thoughts and memories) and outside (external events) and process them internally. These emotions that bubble up are a response to what we see, hear, imagine or perceive.
Sensations are what happens outside of our bodies—when we feel hot, cold, pain, or itchy. We usually also feel physical sensations as a result of experiencing emotions.
There’s a difference between our physiological sensations and our emotional response to how we perceive events and what we tell ourselves for all events—positive and negative, whether they happen in our environment or within ourselves.
Those emotions might be distinctly uncomfortable, and the good news is that they’re not bad, wrong, or inappropriate, but simply not comfortable and a natural part of being human. Emotions give us data that’s impossible to perceive in any other way than with judgment—good, bad, positive, negative.
Here, we’re going to explore how to manage our negative emotions.
It’s not all in your head
All emotions lead to a physical response that we feel in our bodies. This is why perhaps when you have a big presentation coming up at work or a sexy date you notice yourself maybe sweating more, your pulse racing, or even your stomach getting upset. We can only feel emotions as a result of our perception of our experience.
The next time you notice emotions creeping up, whether you’re feeling elated, excited, scared, or downright furious, pause to separate the idea of perception and reality. When you do this, you can clue into why your body is reacting this way and then work to manage the emotions you don’t want to experience.
Negative emotions outlast positive emotions
Humans have evolved to be fearful creatures—it’s what kept us alive and from becoming a lion’s lunch. While the threat of becoming a side of fresh meat is pretty slim these days, our brains haven’t completely caught up to reality.
Our bodies will generally react with more intensity to negative stimuli than to positive stimuli. Our brains have separate (but interacting) systems for both the positive and negative. Since negative stimuli create more neural activity than positive ones, negative stimuli are also easier for us to perceive—It happens much faster than positive ones too.
The smoke detector of your brain, the amygdala(e)—two small almond-shaped areas on each side of your head, use about two-thirds of their neurons to find bad news, so they’re ready to quickly go negative. Once the smoke alarm goes off in your head, these negative experiences are stored in your memory faster than a lion can eat you for lunch. When compared with positive experiences, these often need to be part of our awareness for a dozen or more seconds to transfer from our short-term to long-term memory. Ouch.
We can use this information to control our emotions
This is fantastic news! We have the power to master our emotions and help them work for us. Here are some ways you can manage your emotions:
1. Limit the intensity of negative emotions and prolong positive emotions
Do this by changing your thoughts before, during, or after an adverse experience. This is easier said than done, of course, you can learn more about how to change your thoughts here.
2. Shift your focus for relief
When you can focus on something that feels slightly better than the emotion you’re feeling, your brain and your body will reap the benefits. Do your best to shift your focus to something that feels neutral, like sunshine, leaves, or the sidewalk. When you hang out in that neutral space more often, you’ll be more able to gradually move deliberately towards what feels better.
As you practice this, keep in mind a common mistake is to attempt to leap from something that feels really, really bad to something that’s supposed to feel really, really good—Like from rage to joy. That’s likely not going to work. It’s too big of a gap to bridge. A more effective way that works every time with my clients is moving from:
– Anger to sadness
– Then from sadness to frustration
– Then from frustration to forgiveness
– Then from forgiveness to hope
– Then from hope to excitement
– Then from excitement to fun
– Then from fun to joy
Your emotional transition from where you are to what feels better may be different, and that’s okay (perfect, actually)! By the time you land on an emotion similar to frustration, you’re probably feeling much better.
3. Words have power.
The language we use throughout our day-to-day is powerful, especially as it relates to how we feel and perceive our experience. Consider these words:
Feels good, right?
Now think of the word, “murder.” Different emotion, right? To stay on the upside of the emotional hierarchy, make a conscious effort to only use words that will support what you want to feel. Since the unconscious mind doesn’t process negatives directly, the messages you send to it will be the words you say minus the “nots,” which are the filler words that we often think are helping us to say what we want, when in reality they’re helping us to say what we don’t want.
Here’s an example. If I tell you not to think of a pink elephant, I’m willing to bet a big fat rosy elephant is stomping through your mind right now. That’s how it works. You can’t remove it from your mind without first thinking about it. Go ahead and think or talk about the thing you wish to happen and how you want to feel using words that support your desired outcome.
Our unconscious mind is always listening and taking what we say or think as marching orders. It doesn’t process our negative thoughts and words and then turn them into positive, feel-good emotions. It will process the essence of your thought and emotions as reality so don’t speak your worst case scenario—I mean, say it the way you want it.
4. Put all emotions in perspective
Remind yourself that whatever you’re feeling will eventually stop. It’ll cease even faster if you do something about it. Thinking to yourself, “This too shall pass,” or remind yourself of at least one similar situation that started out poorly but eventually resolved itself when you’re in the middle of a crap sandwich.
5. Milk the feel-good emotions
This is a powerful exercise! When you stumble on a moment of joy (or other feel-good emotion), begin to dissect it in a way so that you can focus on each specific component that enhances the positive emotion. It could be an event, person, or thing—focus on the particular details of how much joy you feel (or other positive emotion) as a result of the precise details of that event, person, or thing. Then ask yourself, “What else brings me joy (or other positive emotion)?” and focus on that. You can repeat this process until you’re having a Julie Andrews Sound of Music moment and people around you ask to have some of what you’re having. This all creates massive positive shifts at your unconscious level.
6. Go on a positivity acid trip
I know, how many times have you heard you need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Because it works! We take so much for granted. Simple things like the internet, technology, hair brushes, and nail clippers or big things like waking up next to the one we love, being a parent, or having huge business success. For example, as I prepare a meal, I make a deliberate effort to sincerely appreciate everything and everyone involved in the food my family is consuming. I show appreciation for the farmer, the seed, the water, the sun, the soil, the machinery, and think of the people who are employed as a result and appreciate that my consumption contributes to them providing for their families.
Keep the good vibes flowing and start with just five minutes a day focused solely on positive emotions. Maybe for you this means busting a move to your favorite tune, meditating, walking in nature, or breathing slowly.
Ultimately, all of this work can change your view of the world. It leads to identifying what feels right and can lead to a greater sense of well-being. The whole purpose of this work is to learn to have more control of your emotional responses and build momentum in the direction of what you want.
By practicing all of these techniques, you’ll do more than just feel better in the moment. You’ll retrain your focus in a way that will affect your unconscious mind tremendously!
The more you shift your attention, the more the unconscious mind will present you with experiences aligned with that focus.
There are scientific studies that explain all the reasons why positive emotions are good for our health. It’s not about sweeping the icky or uncomfortable parts of our lives under the rug or repressing these emotions because some are very useful and important.
This practice is about reducing the biological bias we have towards negative emotions and learning to lean more towards positive emotions when it’s appropriate. This is about having more resources so we can make empowered choices. Negative emotions cloud our thinking and slow us down, and positive emotions allow us to make more empowering decisions.
Are you having a hard time coming out of the spiral of negative emotions? Let’s chat and see if private coaching could be right for you.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like these:
- 6 Ways To Rewrite Your Negative Thoughts—Starting Today
- Change Your Beliefs, Change Your Life
- Snap Out of It! 3 Foolproof Techniques to Feel Better Fast!
I'm Brenda Terry. I'm a personal development trainer and master coach who works with go-getters like you who want to achieve big results in your business and personal life.
If you're excited and ready to play bigger in business and kill it in life, I help you identify and change beliefs, patterns, and behaviors that aren't supporting your goals so you can make more money, find more joy, better manage relationships, and communicate more effectively.
I'm here to help you make the powerful, effective shifts you're craving- faster than you ever thought possible.