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The importance of 'negative' emotions, and how to manage them effectively

Image of lego heads showing different negative emotions
Hello I'm Nik | Unsplash

Opinion by Alisa Volter

Anger. Fear. Disgust. Sadness. Jealousy. Often, we think of these feelings as 'bad', but in reality, they are just as important of 'good' emotions. Alisa Volter explains why, and how we can go about managing these so-called 'negative' emotions.

We often hear suggestions to change our negative thoughts and start thinking “positively”. However, recent studies show that this approach is outdated and experiencing all kinds of emotions is essential for us.

In fact, negative emotions are perfectly normal. And, even though they can be uncomfortable and hard to deal with, they play a huge role in our survival. The problem lies in how 'negative' is perceived.

Usually, when we think of something 'negative', we think of something bad and contrary to something that's good. In reality though, 'negative' emotions are neither good nor bad – they simply represent our reaction to occurring events or situations.

Understanding 'negative' emotions

There is a great spectrum of what are considered to be negative emotions. Some of the most common are sadness, anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and jealousy. Most of the time, expressing those emotions is not very welcomed in society, as they are perceived negatively or considered representative of bad manners. As a consequence, many of us choose to block our real feelings in order to be more accepted by others.

Often our body uses challenging emotions to signal that something is wrong. It makes us feel stressed or ill-at-ease, so we naturally will try to exit the situation that makes us feel that way.

  • Anger

Anger is a normal and healthy reaction of the body that usually presents in response to threats, mental or physical pain, or feelings of powerlessness. It can also indicate that you need a change in your life and you are not happy where you are right now.

Although many of us feel uncomfortable dealing with this emotion, suppressing anger is not a way out as it can lead to serious consequences. It is essential to remember how physical and mental health are intertwined with each other, therefore things like unresolved anger create stress, anxiety, and can even lead to depression or heart problems. Anger can also cause even more anger or result in passive aggression toward others.

  • Fear

Another challenging emotion is fear. It often appears when our body or mind does not feel safe. Fear is an essential biological reaction that is responsible for our survival and protection. Without fear, a human wouldn’t be able to sustain and protect itself in a world that is full of external dangers.

Blocking this emotion can lead to physical and mental illnesses. There is also a chance that, eventually, fear can turn into phobia which can negatively affect everyday life, making it more difficult to have a healthy, balanced life.

  • Sadness

Sadness usually presents alongside other feelings like anger, anxiety, stress, or grief. The mind uses sadness as a way to process unpleasant external events or information. It can also play a role in motivating a person to change their lifestyle, and seek help or comfort.

Dangers of emotional suppression

Generally, occasionally blocking emotions for a short period of time should not do any harm if they are resolved eventually. However, regular suppression of emotions is indeed an unhealthy trait that can cause various health issues and negatively influence our life.

There is a strong connection between body and mind and one will inevitably affect the other.

According to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester, emotional suppression has been linked to the risk of cancer development. Other research by the University of Texas found that bottled-up and unresolved emotions can lead to heart diseases, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and gastrointestinal health complications.

In addition to health issues, repressed emotions can adversely affect everyday life. A person who has been continuously ignoring or not recognising true emotions most likely will suffer from low energy levels and poor self-esteem. Furthermore, these people are more prone to aggression and violence.

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How to effectively manage negative emotions

It can feel scary at first to openly share your emotions, especially when you have been avoiding them most of your life. Being vulnerable can be difficult. Nevertheless, steps can be taken to successfully manage challenging emotions in a healthy manner.

1. Acknowledge your emotions

It is essential to understand what exactly you are feeling. Have an honest conversation with yourself and try to find the root of what has caused those emotions. Once you comprehend the situation better, be open and receptive to your feelings and try to listen to what they say.

It is good practice to take slow, deep breaths and have a few moments alone. In those moments, it is important to be honest and kind to yourself, as if you are talking to a good friend who is struggling.

2. Be honest and open about it

Whenever you feel sadness, anger, jealousy, or another negative emotion, don’t be afraid to express yourself. For example, if your flatmate makes you feel angry and uncomfortable as they often use your milk without permission, choosing to stay silent can lead to a build-up of anger that could eventually come out as a big explosion or as passive-aggression.

By talking honestly about how you feel, you are not only allowing yourself to feel better and more confident, but also helping others to understand you, your needs, and your boundaries.

You should never be afraid of speaking out as that creates even more distance within oneself. If you are struggling at the moment to confront people or openly express your emotions, you can start by sharing your feelings with someone you trust, like a good friend or a family member.

Sometimes, certain people will find it easier to write down their emotions rather than to talk about them. Although you can't replace a real conversation with writing, keeping a journal could be good practice for expressing feelings and emotions.

3. Keep learning about mental health

There are many good books written by specialists that can help to understand oneself better. The more knowledge and education you have on this topic, the more confident you will feel when dealing with problems. Once we understand what emotions are trying to tell us, we could actually learn how to work with them, not against them.

Talk to a professional

When you find yourself struggling to deal with your own emotions and thoughts, it is a great idea to reach out and receive professional help. Asking for help or starting therapy can be scary at first, yet it can bring so much understanding and awareness into your life which can be a great start towards a more healthy and balanced life.

It is important to note that nothing happens overnight. Learning and growing as a person is a continuous journey with many ups and downs. Like Roy Bennett wrote in his book The light in the Heart:

“Every challenge you face today makes you stronger tomorrow. The challenge of life is intended to make you better, not bitter.”


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