How Negative Emotions Affect Us
Anger, frustration, fear, and other “negative emotions” are all part of the human experience. They can all lead to stress and are often seen as emotions to avoid, ignore, or otherwise dispute, but they can be healthy to experience. A better approach is to manage them without denying them, and there are several reasons for this. If you are experiencing severe symptoms of negative emotions, it could be an indication of a mental health disorder.
Managing Negative Emotions
The idea of “managing” negative emotions is a complex one. It doesn’t mean avoiding them—avoidance is a form of coping that attempts to do this, and it can often backfire. It also doesn’t mean letting these negative emotions wreak havoc on your life, relationships, and stress levels. Unmanaged anger, for example, can compel us to destroy relationships if we allow it to.
Managing negative emotions is more about embracing the fact that we are feeling them, determining why we are feeling this way, and allowing ourselves to receive the messages they are sending us before we release them and move forward.
Managing negative emotions also means not allowing them to overrun us. We can keep them under control without denying that we are feeling them.
Negative Emotions vs. Positive Emotions
When we talk about so-called negative emotions, it’s important to remember that these emotions, in and of themselves, aren’t harmful as in “bad.” Instead, it is more than they are in the realm of negativity instead of positivity.
Emotions aren’t necessarily good or bad; they are just states and signals that allow us to pay more attention to the events that create them. This can motivate us to make more of a specific experience or less, for example.
Unlike some emotions, negative emotions are not always pleasant to experience. But, like most emotions, they exist for a reason and can be pretty helpful to feel.
How Do Negative Emotions Affect Us?
Anger, fear, resentment, frustration, and anxiety are negative emotional states that many people experience regularly but try to avoid. And this is understandable—they are designed to make us uncomfortable.
- Negative Emotions Can Cause Stress: These negative emotional states can create extra stress in your body and mind. This is uncomfortable and can lead to health issues if the pressure becomes chronic or overwhelming. Nobody likes to feel uncomfortable, so it is natural to want to escape these feelings, and the dangers of unmanaged stress are real. However, there is a feeling that people sometimes have that these emotions will last forever or that the feelings themselves are the problem.
- They Also Provide Information: More often, these feelings are beneficial because they can also send us messages. For example:
- Anger and anxiety show that something needs to change, and perhaps our well-being has been threatened.
- Fear is an appeal to increase your level of safety.
- Frustration or resentment motivates us to change something in a relationship.
Negative emotions are there to alert us that something needs to change and motivate us to make that change.
- Even Positive Emotions Have Downsides: Positive psychologists also argue that while there are many benefits to positive emotional states like hope, joy, and gratitude, there are also adverse effects that can come from them. Optimism, for example, has been linked to many beneficial outcomes for health and happiness as well as a personal success.
Unchecked optimism, however, can lead to unrealistic expectations and even dangerous risks that can lead to loss and all of the negative feelings that can come with it. However, more uncomfortable emotional states like anxiety can lead to motivation to make changes that can create more success and avoid danger. Negative emotions are designed to keep us safe and motivate us to improve our lives, just as positive emotions are.
Strategies for Managing Negative Emotions
The field of positive psychology is experiencing a “second wave” of research focused not only on what makes us happy, resilient, and able to thrive but also on the dark side of happiness. As a result, experts have learned more about how our negative emotions affect us and what to do with them, and how we can remain emotionally healthy throughout the process.
Just as there are benefits to negative emotions, there are detriments to “false positivity,” where we shame ourselves for experiencing these natural states and try to deny them or force ourselves to pretend we feel more positive than we do. A better strategy is to accept and even embrace our negative states while also engaging in activities that can authentically counterbalance these uncomfortable emotions.
Several strategies have been explored and recommended to accept and process negative emotions, as well as emerging techniques that have been developed with this research in mind. As a result, a specific group of approaches is gaining popularity among therapists and coaches.
As outlined in research by Ceri Sims, these techniques have the acronym TEARS of HOPE. Here’s what this entails.
- T – Teach and learn: This means to embrace self-awareness and increase personal knowledge of your body and mind and how they are responding to stress and other emotional states. This allows you to understand when you are upset and why and better interpret the signals your body is sending.
- E – Express and enable sensory and embodied experiences: This one sounds a little more complicated, but it simply involves encouraging openness and curiosity within yourself to increase your acceptance of what comes.
- A – Accept and befriend: It can be highly beneficial to focus on increasing your self-compassion and tolerance for frustration actively.
- R – Re-appraise and re-frame: You can use cognitive-behavioral approaches to see things differently.
- S – Social support: This can involve the practice of loving-kindness meditation, which can expand your feelings of connection to others and your self-compassion while you invest in relationships.
- H – Hedonic well-being and happiness: Research shows that it can be highly beneficial to have a 3-to-1 ratio of positive vs. negative emotions, meaning that you add positive experiences to your life, focus on happy memories and savor successes, for example, to increase the amount of time you spend authentically feeling good.
- O – Observe and attend to Try to practice mindfulness and non-judgmentally attend to things in life.
- P – Physiology and behavioral changes: Focus on relaxation, breathing exercises, and self-care.
- E – Eudaimonia: Strive for goals in life and a sense of authenticity.
Other strategies are recommended to increase positive emotional states and personal resilience to stress and feelings of negativity so that negative emotional states don’t feel as overwhelming. Because of the research on positivity, we know that this can be a beneficial thing. So here are some additional strategies that can be used to cope with negative emotions.
- Best Possible Self Exercise: This involves envisioning—you guessed it—your best possible self and what that would look like. This exercise has been shown to lift the mood and bring a sense of optimism, bringing lasting benefits.6 This exercise can be done as a journaling exercise or simply a visualization technique, but involves envisioning your life in the future and challenging yourself to imagine the best possible life you can live, the best possible version of yourself that you can be. Research has shown that people who envision their best self for five minutes a day for two weeks experience a more positive mood and an increase in optimism compared to people who spent the same amount of time simply thinking about activities in their day. So for five minutes a day, this is an excellent use of time.
- Gratitude Letter or Visit: This activity involves expressing gratitude to people who have done kind things for you. This includes both minor and significant acts of kindness. This could be a letter to an elementary school teacher who inspired you to be your best or a visit to a neighbor to let them know how much you appreciate knowing they are there. It can be any letter or personal trip and conversation expressing to someone what they have done for you, what it has meant to you, and that you appreciate them. These expressions of gratitude bring significant benefits to the recipients, but even greater ones to the person expressing the gratitude. Most people who engage in this activity report that they still feel positive feelings from it days or weeks later.
- Taking a Mental Health Day: This is like taking a staycation. It involves creating a day filled with positive experiences that you’d have on vacation while minimizing the stress you’d have in your regular schedule. It operates under the same premise that the other positivity-building exercises follow—that an increase in positive emotional states can bring a greater sense of optimism and resilience—and it has the added benefit of minimizing stressors for the day. This can offer an excellent interruption from chronic stress and a chance to recover emotionally. To do this, create a day filled with activities that you enjoy.
Helpful Vs. Harmful – Ways To Manage Emotions
Negative emotions like fear, sadness, and anger are an essential part of life, and sometimes we struggle with dealing with them effectively. It can be tempting to act on what you’re feeling right away, but that often doesn’t fix the situation that caused the emotions. Instead, it may lead to more problems to deal with down the road.
Some of the harmful ways that people deal with negative emotions:
- Denial: Denial is when a person refuses to accept that anything is wrong or that help may be needed. For example, when people deny that they have complicated feelings, they can bottle up to the point that a person ends up “exploding” or acting out in a harmful way.
- Withdrawal: Withdrawal is when a person doesn’t want to be around or participate in activities with other people. This is different than wanting to be alone from time to time and can be a warning sign of depression. Some people may withdraw because being around others takes too much energy or feeling overwhelmed. Others may withdraw because they don’t think other people like them or want them to be around. In some cases, people who have behaviors they are ashamed of may withdraw so other people don’t find out about what they are doing. But withdrawal brings its problems: extreme loneliness, misunderstanding, anger, and distorted thinking. We need to interact with other people to keep us balanced.
- Bullying: Bullying is when a person uses force, threats, or ridicule to show power over others. People typically take part in bullying behavior because they don’t feel good about themselves, and making someone else feel bad makes them feel better about themselves or feel less alone. It is harmful to both the bully and the bullied person and does not address underlying issues.
- Self-Harm: Self-harm can take many forms, including cutting, starving oneself, binging and purging, or participating in dangerous behavior. Many people self-harm because it gives them control over emotional pain. While self-harming may bring temporary relief, these behaviors can become addictive and lead people to be more out of control and in more significant pain than ever.
- Substance Use: Substance use uses alcohol and other drugs to make a person feel better or numb about painful situations. Unfortunately, alcohol and drug use can damage the brain, requiring higher amounts of substances to get the same effect. This can make complicated feelings even worse and, in some cases, lead to suicidal thoughts or addiction. If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s use of drugs or alcohol, talk to a responsible adult right away to get help.
The good news is that with practice, everyone can better deal with their negative emotions in healthy ways. One way to deal with uncomfortable or unpleasant emotions is to remember PATH. PATH stands for:
Step 1: Pause: This step is crucial because instead of acting on feelings right away, you stop yourself and think things through. Then, count to 100 or say the alphabet backward.
Step 2: Acknowledge What You’re Feeling: For example, are you mad at someone, or are you sad because your feelings were hurt by what they did? Whatever you are feeling, it is ok to feel that way.
Step 3: Think: Now that you have taken a few moments to figure out what you are feeling think about making yourself feel better.
Step 4: Help: Take action to help yourself based upon what you came up with within the “Think” step.
If You Are Having Trouble Thinking Of Ways To Help Yourself, Try One (Or A Few) From This List:
- Read the story of someone you admire
- Watch a funny YouTube video
- Play with an animal
- Watch a movie you loved when you were younger
- Reorganize your room
- Make a list of places you want to travel
Address Your Basic Needs
- Eat a healthy snack
- Drink a glass of water
- Take a shower or bath
- Take a nap
- Draw how you’re feeling
- Make a gratitude list
- Punch a pillow
- Let yourself cry
- Rip paper into small pieces
- Make a list of solutions to problems – it can help brainstorm with a friend or family member.
- Make a list of your strengths. There are plenty of things about you that are awesome, no matter how down you are feeling at the moment.
- If a person has upset you, talk with them directly. Fill in the blanks to this sentence – “I feel ______ when (this happens) because ______. Next time, could you please ________.” Example: “I feel left out when there is no room at the lunch table, because then I don’t have friends to talk to. Next time can you please save me a seat?”
Volunteering/Acts of Kindness
- Do something nice for someone you know
- Help a stranger
- Volunteer your time
- Learn something new – there are tutorials for all kinds of hobbies online.
- Create – try a craft project, color, paint, or draw. Invite a friend to join you for added fun.
- Write – you could write a story, a poem, or an entry in a journal.
- Get active – dancing, running, or playing a sport are some excellent ways to get moving.
- Play a video game.
- Get a plant and start a garden.
- Practice belly breathing –put one hand on your stomach and start to inhale slowly. As you live in, imagine a balloon in your stomach filling up and continuing to inhale until the balloon is full. Put your other hand on your heart, feel your heartbeat, and hold your breath for 5 seconds. Now let your breath out slowly for 10 seconds – feel your belly flatten like a deflating balloon. Repeat this process 4 or 5 times, and you should notice your heartbeat slow down and your muscles relax.
- Listen to music, a podcast, or an audiobook.
- Unplug – turn off your phone, tablet, and computer for an hour or so.
- Try progressive muscle relaxation –clench your toes for a count of 5, then relax them for a count of 5, then move to your calves, then your thighs, then your abs, then your arms, then your neck.
- Play with Play-Doh.
- Go for a walk – feel the ground under your feet and the air on your skin. Focus on your senses.
- Find a guided meditation on YouTube.
- Do yoga – you can find videos on demand using your tv or online.
- Read a book.
Ask for Help
- Text a friend
- Ask someone to sit with you
- Call a family member
- Talk to an adult you trust
- Call a friend you haven’t talked to recently
- Contact mental healthcare professional for severe symptoms of negative emotions
We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about negative emotions and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and answer any of your questions.
Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.
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