Emotions can make you feel like you’re on a roller coaster sometimes. In the course of one day you can experience a range of emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, excitement, nervousness, confusion, anxiety – you name it, you can feel it. The negative emotions are undoubtedly the hardest to deal with, but they are just as much a part of life as the positive ones. So, we must learn to take the bad with the good, and cope with it all so we can be our happiest selves.
If you’re experiencing a negative emotion right now, here are 8 steps you can take to handle it:
1. Recognize and name the emotion.
The first step to handling an emotion is recognizing it. Everybody has their own unique ability to express their emotions, but this step is not about expressing it to anyone, it is just about recognition. Name the emotion in your own head. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m really happy right now. Be a dispassionate observer, looking at yourself from outside the situation and making an assessment.
2. Notice how the emotion is affecting your behavior.
Stop to notice how the emotion is affecting your behavior. For example, if you’re angry, you might be talking loudly, quickly, or using profanities. You may stand with your arms or legs crossed. If you’re feeling sad, you may be listening to sad music, crying, or lying in bed. It’s the same with positive emotions. If you’re feeling excited, you may be singing or dancing, talking loudly, or smiling. Recognizing how your emotion is affecting your behavior is super important.
3. Tell yourself the emotion won’t last forever.
Emotions don’t typically stick around. (Of course, if you are experiencing an extended period of sadness, you may want to talk to a professional.) That’s why it can feel like we are on emotional roller coasters sometimes. We’re good, we’re bad, we’re good again, we’re bad again. If you’re feeling something negative, make sure to keep in mind that it won’t last forever, just like physical pain. Eventually, a broken bone will heal, and the same goes for emotions. Maybe you’re feeling unsettled today. Tomorrow, you’ll likely feel different. Unfortunately, this step is also true for positive emotions. You don’t need to remind yourself of that every day, but it’s probably helpful to keep in the back of your mind.
4. Figure out what is causing the emotion.
Once you’ve recognized and named the emotion, noticed how it’s affecting your behavior, and told yourself it won’t last forever, the next step is to determine where the emotion came from. Don’t blame yourself or anyone for the emotion; just try to identify its root. Maybe you got a nasty email from your ex-boyfriend. Maybe your supervisor said something snarky about your work. Maybe it’s something more subtle, like spilling coffee on your new coat. Or maybe it’s something huge, like the death of a friend or family member. Whatever it is, try to identify it. If it is more than one thing, that’s okay. Find all the potential causes of the emotion.
5. Accept the emotion.
What’s this step? Acceptance. This emotion is what you feel right now. It just is – like it, love it, or hate it. This is what you’ve got. You can’t change it. You have to live with it, so you may as well accept it. It doesn’t define you and it’s going away soon anyway, but, for the moment, just accept it for what it is. Tell yourself that you are feeling whatever you are supposed to be feeling. Even if it’s not the best feeling. That will definitely help.
6. Remind yourself that the emotion will pass.
After accepting the emotion, remind yourself one more time that it will pass. Don’t ever forget this step! In fact, slip this step in between the other steps as many times as you need. This is key. If you’re feeling unhappy right this second, it does not mean you are going to feel unhappy for the rest of your life!
7. Snap back into the present moment.
Now that you’ve recognized and named the emotion, noticed how it’s affecting your behavior, told yourself it won’t last forever, figured out what is causing the emotion, accepted it, and reminded yourself one more time that it will pass, it’s time to get back to whatever you were doing. If you need a quick break first, take it – go for a walk; do some pushups or jumping jacks; call a friend or a family member if you have the time. Do whatever you need to do to bring yourself back to the present moment. Your emotion is just a feeling. It does not define who you are. Bring yourself back to your present moment, to your here and now.
8. Learn from the emotion.
If the emotion you experienced was negative, there might be a reason for it. It could be a red flag for something that is causing uneasiness within you. Of course, the opposite is also true. It might just have been a completely normal and healthy negative emotion. Take the steps you need to take to handle the emotion and move on, but don’t just ignore it. File it away in your brain so that you can retrieve any useful information about it for your future self.
There! Now you can handle any negative emotion that comes at you – sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety. You are a superhero. You can do anything. You have power. You have control of your life. You make decisions for yourself. You determine what you need. You are your best friend.
Article by Allison Mandel, Lifehack