Humans are emotional creatures; we experience a range of emotions, both positive and negative. According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Dictionary of Psychology, the definition of negative emotion is the following:
“An unpleasant, often disruptive, emotional reaction designed to express a negative effect. Negative emotion is not conducive to progress toward obtaining one’s goals. Examples are anger, envy, sadness, and fear.”
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When we receive upsetting news, face interpersonal conflict or stub our toe, we often experience these types of emotions. Emotional responses are a completely normal and healthy process; however, negative emotions are uncomfortable and can be difficult to manage.
We may bottle these feelings up, lash out, or use unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with them such as overeating or alcohol and/or substance abuse. Avoiding emotions can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.
Emotions are an intrinsic part of who we are. It’s inevitable we will feel angry, jealous, disappointed or upset at multiple points in our life. In this article, we explain some effective coping strategies for difficult emotions. Be sure to read the other parts of our emotions blog series to learn more.
Part 1: How Bottling Up Emotions Can Hurt Your Physical and Mental Health
Part 2: How To Cope With Difficult Emotions
Part 3: 10 Tips To Become Less Angry
Benefits of Emotion Regulation
The ability to regulate your emotions isn’t just beneficial for your mental health, it’s been found to affect both financial income and socioeconomic status. A study looked at the association between an individual’s ability to modify emotional expressive behavior in response to strong stimuli and their financial success and well-being.
The first experiment involved participants being exposed to an unpleasant acoustic startle. The results showed that those who could suppress their emotional reaction were more likely to be happy with their lives. In the second experiment, participants were exposed to a disgust-eliciting video.
The results showed that those who could enhance their emotional reaction were more likely to be happier, have more disposable income and have a higher socioeconomic status. The researchers concluded that emotional regulation is significantly associated with financial success and well-being.
Learn to Embrace Your Difficult Emotions
Learning to acknowledge and embrace your emotions is a crucial first step when coping with difficult feelings. Although it is uncomfortable, the next time you feel sad, unhappy, angry or terrible, sit with it and try to pinpoint the exact word or words to describe what you are feeling. Instead of trying to push down those feelings or distracting yourself, stay with the emotion and notice what is going on in your body. Ask yourself the following questions:
What types of body sensations am I experiencing?
How does feeling this way affect how I’m thinking right now?
Starting a journal is an effective way to help identify and understand your emotions. Writing down how you are feeling can release emotional tension and give you an outlet to express yourself. In addition, journalling can help you come up with solutions to the issues you are facing. When you read what you have written, it helps you make sense of what you are feeling.
Research has shown that putting words to our emotions is an effective way to regulate our emotions. This is also called affect labeling. Affect labeling can reduce distress in response to disturbing images and also has a positive impact on the physical body. For instance, affect labeling has been shown to improve autonomic responses such as reduced heart rate, decreased cardiac output, and increased total peripheral resistance following an emotionally charged event.
Stress Management & Difficult Emotions
When you are constantly feeling down or upset, it can cause chronic stress. Stress can affect our entire body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.
For instance, when your body is under prolonged stress, it can cause inflammation in the coronary arteries which increases your risk of a heart attack. Stress can affect your digestion and cause bloating, nausea, bowel muscle spasms and other gut discomforts.
When our physical health is unwell, it takes a toll on our emotional and mental well-being. Therefore, managing stress levels can be an effective way to cope with difficult emotions.
Life is busy and full of to-do lists. However, it’s important to make time in the day to take care of yourself. Doing little things to boost your mood can have a positive impact on your emotional health in the long term. Some examples include the following:
- Make a cup of your favorite tea
- Pamper yourself with a face mask or massage
- Read a good book
- Take a warm bath
- Meet up with friends and family for coffee or chat with them over the phone
- Schedule a date night
- Spend time with your pets
- Listen to music
- Participate in your hobbies such as drawing, painting, gardening, knitting, cooking, baking or writing
Meditation has been shown to be incredibly beneficial for our emotional well-being. An experimental study looked at mindfulness meditation in reducing anger. A group of subjects participated in mindfulness meditation for 5–10 minutes daily for one week. Using a self-reported scale, three different aspects of anger were measured including rumination, arousal and lengthiness.
The results showed that the group voluntarily maintained their meditation practice after participating in the sessions. In addition, their anger rumination significantly decreased after participation. The researchers concluded that mindfulness meditation is effective at improving mood in the short term and reducing rumination about angry events.
How we breathe can have a powerful effect on our mood and overall health. Breathing exercises have been shown to decrease heart rate and stabilize blood pressure. There are multiple types of breathing techniques that can help reduce stress including pursed lip breathing, deep breathing, and alternate nostril breathing.
Going for a walk is a healthy way to cope with emotions. It provides you with a change in scenery, gives you fresh air, improves your cardiovascular health, and exposes you to the beauty of nature. Exercise isn’t just a critical part of maintaining good health -It can help improve emotional resilience, reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety and general stress, increase coping self-efficacy, and improve the ability to cope with stress or a negative mood.
Plant Medicine and Shadow Work
Through a combination of shadow work and plant medicine, a licensed therapist can help you understand the repressed, negative and shameful parts of yourself. The integration process will allow you to get to the root of difficult and recurrent emotions that are negatively impacting your life. As a result, you can apply the lessons and help you learn to accept yourself as a whole and reduce the effect of emotional triggers.
A therapist can provide treatment options so you can feel better and manage your emotions. Check out our leading vetted psychedelic therapy directory for a mental health provider near you or online.
As you can see, there are many different ways to cope with difficult emotions. If you are overwhelmed and have trouble managing them, this may be a sign of an underlying mental health condition such as depression or anxiety. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about how you have been feeling.
- American Psychological Association. (2018, November 1). Stress Effects on the Body. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
- APA. (2023). APA Dictionary of Psychology. Dictionary.apa.org. https://dictionary.apa.org/negative-emotion
- Bernstein, E. E., & McNally, R. J. (2018). Exercise as a buffer against difficulties with emotion regulation: A pathway to emotional wellbeing. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 109, 29–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brat.2018.07.010
- Côté, S., Gyurak, A., & Levenson, R. W. (2010). The ability to regulate emotion is associated with greater well-being, income, and socioeconomic status. Emotion, 10(6), 923–933. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021156
- Harvard Health Publishing. (2018, April 13). Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response — Harvard Health. Harvard Health; Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
- Hirano, M., & Yukawa, S. (2013). The impact of mindfulness meditation on anger. The Japanese Journal of Psychology, 84(2), 93–102. https://doi.org/10.4992/jjpsy.84.93
- Torre, J. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2018). Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation. Emotion Review, 10(2), 116–124. https://doi.org/10.1177/1754073917742706