Some Positive Ways to Deal With Negative Emotions

emotionsIn some earlier posts on emotions we learned that ways in which we often try to deal with emotions—such as trying to problem solve, control, or avoid them—tend to be counterproductive. We also looked at a number of more helpful ways we can deal with our emotions such as validation and acceptance.

The video below explains some of the consequences that arise when we aren’t careful about how we manage our emotions and other negative experiences, and how the way we react to our emotions can cause us to suffer:

 
 

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Cognitive Therapy and Challenging Negative Thoughts

When we’re feeling distressed about something or going through a difficult emotional experience it can feel like our thoughts are running out of control. Our minds start racing and we find ourselves dwelling in the past, worrying about the future, or just spinning our wheels trying to think ourelves out of our problems.

At times, our thoughts can become so powerful and consuming that it’s difficult to focus on anything else. Reading, being productive at work, or even just carrying on a conversation seems impossible. The thoughts become so persistent that nothing can distract us from them and nothing else can hold our attention, and it can feel like there isn’t anything we can do to slow down these thoughts or get some peace of mind.

Because it’s natural to want thoughts like these to go away and to have some control over what’s going on inside our heads, we often wind up trying to will these thoughts away and shut them out completely. But just like we can’t control our emotions, nor suppress our emotions, neither can we control or suppress our thoughts.

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You Can’t Control Your Emotions

emotionsIn a previous post we looked at what happens when we try to problem solve our emotions. It tends not to be very effective. So when problem solving our emotions fails, we often try to force ourselves to feel a certain way. We fight our emotions and try to control them to make ourselves feel the way we want to feel.

But fighting our emotions only makes them stronger. Next time you’re feeling anxious, try to force yourself to calm down and tell yourself you shouldn’t be so scared and see if that helps. It will likely just lead you to feel more anxious, and experience additional unpleasant emotions such as anger and frustration as well.

Next time you feel sad, tell yourself you are being stupid, that you need to cheer up, that you should be happy, don’t be so weak. Again, trying to control your emotions will only make them stronger.

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Cognitive Defusion and Letting Go of Thoughts

In a previous post we looked at some ways to practice letting go of thoughts, but it can often be difficult to let of thoughts because they have such a powerful pull, especially when the thoughts are related to a strong emotion.

In this post we’re going to look at some things you can do to get some separation from your thoughts when your emotions are particularly strong and you’re having some thoughts you’re finding hard to let go.

Steven Hayes, who developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), coined the term “cognitive fusion” to describe times when we are so tightly stuck to our thoughts, we become “fused” to them. When we’re experiencing cognitive fusion, we can’t separate ourselves from our thoughts. Our thoughts become our reality. We feel removed from the world outside of our thoughts, removed from our senses, from what we’re doing, and even from the people around us.

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Watching Thoughts and Letting Them Go

cloudsIn a recent post we looked at how mindfulness can help us let go of our thoughts when we get caught up in ruminating or worrying or just thinking in circles. Letting go of thoughts is never easy, however, and in this post we’ll look at how simply watching our thoughts can help us let them go.

Thoughts pop into our heads all the time, and usually we don’t pay any special attention to them: they enter and leave our minds all on their own, just like a car that drives into our line of sight, remains in our field of vision for a few moments, and then drives along and passes out of our line of sight again.

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How to Validate Your Emotions

emotionsIn previous posts we‘ve seen that many of the ways we try to deal with unpleasant emotions—such as trying to problem solve, control, or avoid them—don’t work. In fact, they tend to make our unpleasant emotions even stronger.

So what can we do when we’re experiencing difficult or painful emotions? Since emotions arise spontaneously and outside of our control we really have no choice but to practice acceptance of our emotions, be they pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

One of the most effective ways to help us accept our emotions is to validate them. In this post, we’ll look at why learning to validate our emotions is important, and how we can start doing it.

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How Not To Deal With Emotions

Emotions can be a great source of richness in our lives. However, when faced with overpowering negative emotions like sadness, guilt, fear and anger, our lives can seem overwhelming.

Most of us have never learned to deal with our emotions. Instead, as Sheri Van Dijk notes in The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Using DBT to Regain Control Of Your Emotions and Your Life:

Generally, if you’re experiencing an uncomfortable emotion, you don’t want it to stick around. That’s because it’s uncomfortable, of course. Ironically, this desire to get rid of unpleasant emotions can cause you to behave in ways that cause the emotion to stick around or even to become more intense.

Some of the most common ways we try to get rid of unpleasant emotions are by problems solving them, fighting or attempting to control our emotions, or trying to suppress or avoid them completely. In this post we’ll look at what happens when you try to problem-solve your emotions.

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Suppressing and Avoiding Emotions

emotionsIn previous posts we looked at what happens when we try to problem solve or control our emotions, neither of which tend to work. When we’ve giving up on trying to problem solve or control our emotions, our next step is often to try to suppress our emotions, or ignore them completely.
But this doesn’t work either. Maybe we can avoid our emotions for a while, but they keep coming back. Just like a child craving attention, our emotions won’t go away until we deal with them, and each time we try to ignore them, they come back louder and more intrusive.
In the Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Depression, based on Acceptance and Commitment therapy, Kirk Stroshal and Patricia Robinson note that:

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What Is Acceptance And Why Is It So Important?

mbsr acceptanceAcceptance can be a difficult notion to grasp. If you are suffering or in pain, the idea that you should practice acceptance can seem counterintuitive. So what do we mean by acceptance, and how is it beneficial?

In therapy, when we talk about acceptance, we are referring to acceptance of things such as:

  • external events outside our control
  • spontaneous emotions, thoughts and memories
  • uncertainty
  • pain or physical sensations

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Positive Psychology, Blessings and Three Good Things

A type of therapy called Positive Psychology, has been gaining popularity as research continues to demonstrate the effectiveness of positive psychology in helping people feel better and increase their well-being. Compared to many other approaches to therapy, positive psychology focuses less on identifying and fixing deficits, and more on recognizing and building on positives—looking at “What’s right with you?” instead of “What’s wrong with you?”

In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, Martin Seligman writes:

We think too much about what goes wrong and not enough about what goes right in our lives. Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. However, people tend to spend more time thinking about what is bad in life than is helpful. Worse, this focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.

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