Since my recent post about anger, I have had quite a few responses from people thanking me but also asking me for ways to deal with anger and other emotions on a daily basis.

Let me get one thing straight before we dive into that.

Emotions serve a purpose.
Avoiding them or repressing them only makes them (and your life) worse.

Unfortunately we are often not taught how to deal with emotions.

On the contrary, we are often told that being angry is not good and that there is no time or place for sadness, anxiety or fear.

We are taught

  • to be strong,
  • to move on,
  • to not be a sissy,
  • to stop whatever we are feeling,
  • to DO (or feel) something else.

So we spend half a lifetime dealing with our emotions by hiding them, covering them with something else, or only allowing them when we are alone and safe at home.

Funnily enough, expressing positive feelings is not necessarily fostered either! If you’re always happy and smiling people think there must be something wrong with you 🙂

But like with my anger, negative thoughts and emotions are a sign. They tell you that something is off, that a boundary has been crossed. And they are an opportunity: to look at yourself, analyse the situation and grow.

So let’s look at a few ways to ‘deal with’ your emotions so that they actually serve you:

Reframing your perspective

Your emotion is YOUR REACTION to something. Looking at the situation from another angle may help reframe the problem. Now this may be difficult when you’re in the heat of the moment, so it’s best if you remove yourself from that heat first!
What does it look like from the other’s person’s point of view?
How can you turn this negative into a positive?
How will this problem look tomorrow or 10 years from now?

Reframing your emotion

When we feel angry, sad or anxious, we consider it bad and not useful.
Yet, studies have shown that if you tell yourself your emotion is beneficial, you can channel your “nervous energy” into focus and motivation.
So tell yourself that this anger is good for you because it will help you move forward. Call your fear useful as it will allow you to step out of your comfort zone and grow.

Label your emotion

Isn’t that the same as Reframing? Nope. Reframing changes your focus to something useful. Labelling is much simpler: it gives your emotion a name, it voices it.
So next time you’re afraid of that spider, label and describe your emotion: ‘I’m frightened by the ugly, terrifying spider’.
Studies show that people who did that showed less fear the second time they were confronted with that spider. They were even getting closer to the spider than other test subjects and were sweating less.
Labelling is all about being in the moment and allowing yourself to experience whatever you’re experiencing.

Opposite action

When negative emotions pop up, we often have the tendency to do things that strengthen them. This is obviously not helpful and only ends up in a vicious circle.

  • Anger may cause us to be aggressive verbally or even physically.
  • Sadness may cause us to retreat and not want to do anything.
  • Fear may cause us to run away or avoid a situation.
  • Shame may cause us to hide.

Doing the exact opposite may of course feel counter intuitive. You don’t really feel like going out when you’re sad. Right?

Yet opposite actions have the advantage of usually ending that vicious circle!

No need to feel better, before taking action!

So when you’re angry at a person, do something kind for them.
When you’re afraid, try doing it anyway (or take a small step in that direction).
When you feel shameful, try sharing the feeling with a good friend.

The more you do this, the better you’ll get at it because you’ll start seeing the benefits.

Relieve stress

Obviously, negative emotions not only arise from stress but cause additional stress. So it is important to make sure that stress is reduced in such moments.
Check these 50 stress relievers that take 5 minutes or less.

Channel your emotions

It is quite known that the best songs were written when the artist was at his lowest. Or that painting helps you ‘throw it all on the canvas’. Or that dancing, exercising or getting otherwise physical helps relieve the tension that builds up from negative emotions.
Negative emotions are powerful fuel for creative expression or problem solving.

So go express your emotion, or simply get physical! It is a great way to get out of your head and into your body! Dance, paint, sing, write, talk about it, sit or walk in nature, take photos, meditate, cook, clean, work…

Sit with it

We do have a tendency to avoid the emotion or at least make it go away as soon as possible. Yet, emotions often need to be felt, passed through, for you to move on. So instead of doing any of the above immediately, try sitting with the emotion for a while. Time it (let’s say 30 minutes). Allow yourself to get angry, hit something, cry it all out. After 30 minutes, you will feel better. If not, go do one of the above. Make sure you limit the time you sit with it. When you binge watch your favourite series or mindlessly hang on your couch it’s not useful, it’s avoiding!

Ask a few questions

So here are a set of questions to ask yourself when any ‘negative’ emotions come up:

  • What is triggering my emotion?
  • What is my emotion telling me to do?
  • Is this a helpful response to this situation or not?
  • If helpful, let your emotion take course, let it build, do what it tells you to do, and see it as a source of motivation, learning and growth.
  • If unhelpful, find ways to relax and diminish excessive and unhealthy emotions so that you can take a step back and analyse it with a calm mind.