Strategies for Coping with Painful Emotions
You can’t expect life to be 100% obstacle free simply because you are cultivating positivity. Indeed sadness, remorse, frustration, and stress are often natural (and healthy!) responses to the ordinary losses and struggles of human life.
Many people even report experiencing profound personal growth after difficult periods in their lives. But this period of growth only occurs when the negative emotions are dealt with in a healthy way.
Rather than getting caught up in the suffering (“I can’t stop going over what I did wrong”) or trying to mask the feelings (“I just try to push it out of my mind”), a responsible and productive way to deal with negative emotions is to accept them as a natural human response to pain.
When you find yourself struggling with a painful emotion, try one of these strategies:
- Drop the thoughts you are telling yourself about the situation and turn your awareness toward your body. What does this emotion feel like in your forehead, chest, gut, or legs? You don’t have to change any of the sensations; simply notice the energy of the emotion in your body. If you find yourself getting caught up in a sensation (“I don’t like the way this feels!”), take a few deep breaths before turning your attention, in a nonjudgmental way, back to the body. Try to maintain a feeling of gentleness and kindness toward yourself.
- Write out your feelings in a journal or notebook. Expressive writing has been scientifically shown to benefit trauma survivors, helping them to make sense of and accept their experiences. Putting emotions on the page can also trigger insight or a path of analysis that may not have manifested internally.
- Share your experience with a trusted friend. If writing doesn’t appeal to you, talking through your feelings with someone else can provide another opportunity to express yourself honestly and openly. The buffer of social support also increases feelings of confidence and trust, which help offset negativity.
- Think about the suffering of others. Painful emotions like fear, grief, or anger all have a claustrophobic effect—they can make you feel as if your suffering is unique to you. This feeling of alienation only intensifies the pain. But by contemplating the fact that whatever it is you’re feeling right now has been felt by millions of others at some point in their lives, you give yourself a break from the isolation of your own experience. Reflecting upon shared suffering also boosts your compassion, which has been proven to produce greater positivity and more meaningful connections with others.
Note: None of these strategies is designed to make the painful emotion disappear. These are simply tips for dealing with negativity in a productive way.