By Robin Silver
We all know that life has its ups and downs. Sometimes there are extended periods where everything seems to be going our way—every day is a great hair day, every idea is a winner, we don’t even hit any red lights on our commute! Other times we may experience stretches where it seems a raincloud is following us everywhere we go.
Negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, or disgust, are inexorable parts of the human experience. While it is inevitable that hardship will sometimes find us, there are ways to make the dark times easier and more tolerable to help us through until we reach the blue skies ahead.
Work It Out
The physical benefits of exercise are obvious; the mental health benefits of exercise are more subtle but just as profound. Studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as antidepressant treatments for people with mild to moderate clinical depression. Exercise can help soothe anxiety and relieve tension and stress by adding a boost of endorphins to the system. As Elle Woods so aptly stated in Legally Blonde: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.”
Physical manifestations of stress can be helped by regular exercise as well. Muscle tension, shallow breathing, and interrupted or unrestful sleep can all be symptoms of someone struggling with negative emotions. While exercise may not solve the underlying problem, it can help alleviate the physical embodiment of a bad mood, and leave you better equipped to deal with it.
Sometimes we find ourselves in frustrating situations that are out of our control. Finding an exercise that helps both mental focus and relieves some bodily tensions might not solve your problem, but can definitely help it have less of a detrimental impact on your body or your mind. Kickboxing or kung fu might be a great option if you find yourself needing to get out some aggression. If you are sad or overwhelmed, perhaps it is best to try something with a focus on breathing, such as tai chi or yoga.
Embrace the Darkness
Every emotion, even the terrible feeling ones, serve a purpose. While it’s natural to not want to confront difficult feelings head-on, sometimes, when it comes to a dark time in life, the annoying old adage is true—“the only way out is through.” When we try to ignore or dismiss our negative emotions, it can actually make our situation worse. If we want to live a full life, we have to be willing to plunge into the darkness that lives within every single one of us.
It is good to be aware of the difference between feeling your feelings and rumination. Rumination is when something upsetting becomes an obsession, and you can’t think about anything else. In such states, you may want to seek out guidance from a trusted friend or mental health professional. For better or worse, negative feelings are not the problem—it is our reactions to them, and the coping mechanisms we use, that determine the outcome.
Sometimes a bad feeling is your subconscious’s way of sending you a warning signal, helping you to recognise threats or prepare against potential dangers. Simply saying “no bad vibes” and dismissing anything that feels uncomfortable is not the way to gain true contentedness in life. Hiding from your negative feelings is likely to just bring more pain further down the road.
Negative emotions can be helpful to navigate through difficult situations—if we can pinpoint what those feelings are, we can use them to figure out the best course of action. In this way, negative emotions may help motivate us into affirmative action. Ironically, this is a crucial step on the path that will ultimately lead to an overall greater sense of well-being, life satisfaction, and healthier, more open and honest relationships.
Sometimes we may find ourselves experiencing a flood of a particularly bad feeling. Maybe a slight inconvenience is causing outsized rage or seeing a cute puppy after your beloved pup passed away brings you to tears and despair. The question is then: what is happening within your own mind and heart to colour everything in this way?
Trying to force yourself to be happy all the time can be as detrimental to your well-being as feeling sad or angry all the time. One crucial thing that practising meditation can teach you is detachment. This means acknowledging the negative emotions and allowing them to tell us what they need to before releasing them.
In owning our negativity, mindfulness is key. There are ways to deal with negativity that can help numb and desensitise you from how horrible you are feeling, and there are ways to deal with negativity that can help you mature and grow as a human being. The bad times are inevitable, but how you deal with it is your decision. Start the new year on the right note, happy 2020 to you!