How to Deal With Negative Emotions

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Negative emotions are unpleasant and disruptive emotional reactions. Examples of negative emotions include sadness, fear, anger, or jealousy. These feelings aren't just unpleasant; they also make it hard to function in your normal daily life and interfere with your ability to accomplish goals.

It is important to note that no emotion, including a negative one, is inherently bad. It's perfectly normal to feel these things in certain contexts or situations. When these emotions are persistent and interfere with your ability to live your life normally, they become problematic.

Everyone feels negative emotions from time to time, but in some cases, these feelings might be a sign of a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

This article discusses the different types of negative emotions and what causes them. It also explores the unhealthy ways of coping you should avoid as well as some healthier ways of dealing with these difficult emotions.

Types of Negative Emotions

There are a number of different feelings that are often identified as negative emotions. While such feelings are often a normal reaction to certain experiences or events, these feelings tend to be distressing and unpleasant. Some common types of negative emotions include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Apathy
  • Contempt, hate, or disgust
  • Jealousy
  • Insecurity
  • Regret or guilt
  • Sadness, grief, or loneliness
  • Shame

Causes

Negative emotions can stem from a wide variety of sources. Sometimes they are the result of specific experiences or events. For example, you might feel upset that your favorite team didn't win a game or angry that your partner was late for a scheduled date.

However, negative emotions can also arise from:

  • Relationship conflict: Problems that arise from interpersonal relationships are a common cause of negative emotions. Such challenges can arise in relationships with friends, family, co-workers, or romantic partners.
  • Unmet needs: When your needs are not being fulfilled—whether these needs are physical, emotional, social, psychological, or spiritual in nature—it is normal to experience sadness, anger, loneliness, envy, and other distressing emotions.
  • Poor coping skills: Everyday stress can lead to a wide variety of upsetting feelings if you don't have the coping skills to manage it. Poor coping skills are not only an inefficient way to manage stress and negative emotions, they often end up making the problem worse or introducing new problems to the situation.

Recap

Negative emotions can be short-term reactions to the events that happen in your life, or they may stem from other underlying issues including unmet needs, relationship problems, or poor coping skills.

Unhealthy Ways of Coping

Unfortunately, people often turn to unhelpful or even destructive ways of coping with negative emotions. Some of these include:

  • Ignoring the emotions: Ignoring feelings (like "stuffing your anger") is not the healthiest way to deal with them. Generally speaking, that does not make them disappear but can cause them to come out differently. That's because your emotions signal that what you are doing in your life is or isn't working.
  • Ruminating on the emotion: Rumination involves dwelling on anger, resentment, and other uncomfortable feelings. This amplifies negative emotions, but it also brings health consequences. So it's essential to listen to your feelings and then take steps to let them go.
  • Withdrawal or avoidance: When something is distressing, you might find yourself trying to avoid it so that you don't have to experience those unpleasant emotions. If something causes you anxiety, for example, you might try to avoid the thing that is triggering those emotions. The problem is that this avoidance coping makes your negative emotions worse in the long run.
  • Destructive or risky behaviors: While you are not dealing with the emotions you are feeling, they can cause problems with your physical and emotional health. This is particularly true if you rely on risky behaviors such as substance use or self-harm to cope with distressing emotions.

Recap

Feeling angry or frustrated can be a signal that something needs to change. If you don’t change the situations or thought patterns that are causing these uncomfortable emotions, you will continue to be triggered by them.

How to Cope With Negative Emotions

Fortunately, there are more productive ways to deal with difficult emotions. These strategies can help you cope while also improving your ability to regulate your emotions.

Understand Your Emotions

Look within and pinpoint the situations creating stress and negative emotions in your life. Looking at the source of the feeling and your reaction can provide valuable information.

Negative emotions can come from a triggering event, such as an overwhelming workload. Your thoughts surrounding an event also play a role. The way that you interpret what happened can alter how you experience the event and whether or not it causes stress.

A key purpose of your emotions is to get you to see the problem, so you can make necessary changes.

Get Advice From the The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can learn to tolerate uncomfortable emotions.

Change What You Can

Once you better understand your emotions and what is causing them, you can start taking steps to address the problem. Minimizing or eliminating some of your stress triggers may make you feel negative emotions less frequently.

Some ways that you might accomplish this include

Not every source of stress can be changed or eliminated. It is essential to avoid ruminating about what you can't change and focus on what's within your control.

Find an Outlet

Making changes in your life can cut down on negative emotions, but it won't eliminate your stress triggers. As you make changes in your life to bring about less frustration, you will also need to find healthful outlets for dealing with these emotions.

  • Regular exercise can provide an emotional lift and an outlet for negative emotions.
  • Meditation can help you find some inner "space" to work with so your emotions don't feel overwhelming.
  • Finding opportunities for having fun and getting more laughter in your life can also change your perspective and relieve stress.

Remember that everyone's needs and abilities are different. The key is often to try a few other methods to find what works for you and your situation. Once you have found techniques that are right for you, you'll feel less overwhelmed when negative emotions arise.

Accept Your Emotions

Learning to accept negative emotions is also an effective way of managing these difficult feelings. Acceptance means acknowledging that we are feeling afraid, angry, sad, or frustrated. Instead of trying to avoid or suppress these feelings, you allow them to exist without dwelling on them.

Recap

When you accept your emotions, you stop trying to minimize or suppress them. Instead, you acknowledge they exist but recognize that these feelings are temporary and cannot harm you.

A Word From Verywell

Even if you tend to have a positive outlook, negative emotions will happen. Knowing how to manage these responses can help you feel better in the moment and the future.

Research has shown that tactics like suppressing your emotions are ineffective and can even be harmful. So instead of trying to ignore your feelings, finding ways to understand, accept, and reframe your emotions are often more helpful.

Negative emotions are normal and even expected. The goal isn't to repress these feelings but to find healthier ways of regulating them. Building these coping skills can lead to greater emotional resilience and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do negative emotions affect your health?

    Negative emotions can contribute to chronic stress. This prolonged stress is linked to a wide range of detrimental health effects, including reduced immunity, cardiovascular problems, anxiety, and depression. It has also been linked to conditions including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome.

  • How does smiling relieve negative emotions?

    Smiling, whether it is genuine or forced, can have a positive impact on your mood and well-being. One study found that even a fake, forced smile was helpful for reducing feelings of stress. And evidence also suggests that consciously making yourself smile can elevate your mood and "trick" your mind into experiencing more positive emotions.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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