Emotions play an important role in how we perceive and interact with the world around us. We each experience different emotions throughout our life and we experience them in response to changing situations. Similarly, different experiences in our lives incite different emotions to differing intensity. However, there are certain moments that subject us to negative life experiences, that tend to control our thoughts, feelings and actions. Such experiences interfere with our present moment awareness leaving us emotionally distressed.
Negative emotional experiences generate various stressors that become barriers in living life more happily and peacefully. Experiencing negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, anger, fear and grief often impact our physical as well as mental health. When you have difficulty in letting go of past emotional experiences, they lead to cognitive biases, poor self-esteem and insecurities. Holding on to such emotional states takes away your inner peace unless you heal yourself by becoming consciously more aware of your emotions.
“Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we have a clear picture of it.”– Benedict Spinoza
Emotions play a greater role in our well-being.
Every emotion is a message that guides us towards self-evolvement. They are important for a healthy mind and body connection. Emotions are a source of information as they bring our attention to what is going on around us. So in a way our emotional health is directly proportional to our ability to cope with both positive or negative. It has more to do with how well you regulate your emotions.
When you can better regulate your emotions, you are more in control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. They improve your coping skills and help you bounce back from setbacks when confronted with life’s challenges.
Being emotionally healthy doesn’t however mean avoiding negative emotions. Most of us fall into the trap of thinking that negative emotions are detrimental to our well being and treat them as a sign of low emotional intelligence. As a result, we often try to move away, or avoid emotions that make us feel bad or uncomfortable.
Trying to hide away from, or stopping them proves to be more harmful. The more you deny, suppress, or disregard, the more they keep you emotionally stuck. Unresolved emotions are not only bad for your overall well-being, but also are harmful when it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices and in building healthy relationships.
Positive nature of negative emotions
Changing how we feel is the motivation behind virtually all of our behaviours, yet, we are limited in our ability to deal with the negative emotional patterns that we habitually experience. No emotion is without purpose. It is when we begin to further explore and understand the purpose behind each emotion that we learn new ways to grow out of our unpleasant or painful past experiences.
While we label certain emotions negative, it is important to acknowledge that all emotions are completely normal to experience. Before you grow in awareness of your negative emotions, you should also seek to understand that emotions are completely normal to experience, be it negative or positive. Where positive emotions signal that all is well in our immediate environment, negative alert us to things that are not quite right.
Negative emotions instruct us that a change is needed and we need to act to create the change we want to. When we understand the positive message underlying of our negative emotions, we can really start to see how to regulate them better. For instance, most of us try to deny our fear or wallow in it as we consider it as negative. But it indicates us about potential dangers and is a way to prepare us to cope with consequences. Anxiety spurs us into action.
Anger indicates unfairness and lets us know that there is something that need to be addressed. It encourages us to reflect on what is frustrating and what we can do to restore peace. Similarly, sadness helps us pay more attention to detail as to what we care about most. Despair can be a useful reminder that we lack something. Guilt on the other hand acts as our moral compass. Overwhelm points to our need to prioritise.
Emotions vs Feelings
Though we all use emotion and feeling interchangeably, they both are different. Where emotions are low-level responses and have a stronger physical grounding, feeling is an extension of our emotions. Emotions are easier to measure objectively through physical cues. Whereas feelings are more subjective and are influenced by our personal experiences and interpretations.
Feelings often inform the role of our emotion and how we make judgment about a situation. Our emotions on the other provide us with feedback on the safety of our environment and our capacity to handle given situations. So in a way, negative emotions draw our attention to something not right, unpleasant or something that makes us fearful.
Since any emotion we experience is low-level reaction, you get to decide how you respond to them and not let them direct your behaviour. Acknowledging negative emotions is a healthy way to self regulate, however, there is a downside to dwelling in them too much. When emotions have wrong intensity, duration and frequency, they can be harmful. We end up ruminating over our past negative emotional experiences and this depletes our cognitive ability. Developing emotional awareness reduces the intensity of our negative emotions where we learn new ways to respond to negative experiences.
Growing in emotional awareness, you tend to access more joy and fulfilment
When you grow more aware of your emotions, you channel them constructively to address deeper needs and seek out positive outcomes. The key to grow in awareness is to recognise that you are in charge and not your emotions. Accepting your emotions and validating your feelings leads you on the path to build better resilience.
Coming to terms with difficult emotions such as anxiety and fear is important to build deeper connection with your authentic self and what you want to achieve. The more you learn to be aware of your emotional states, the better you will be at managing them. By growing in awareness, you gravitate towards finding better solutions to liberate from the challenges you might be facing.
Next time you experience a negative emotion, take a moment to notice any thoughts, feelings and behaviours that arise in reaction to this emotion. Become aware of any thought patterns that arise and accept these emotions and any subsequent thoughts, feelings and behaviours without judgment.
Cultivating beginners mind and a sense of curiosity helps you adapt a fresh perspective. Approach your life circumstances without assumptions and preconceptions. Have an open mind with no perceived notion of any situation. Notice if your perception of the situation changes by not attaching significant meaning to any particular interpretation.
Be aware of your physical sensations. Certain distressing emotions increase our body’s fight and flight responses. This in turn influences our thoughts and behaviours. Becoming more aware of which physical sensation is related to what emotion can help you learn how these feelings may contribute to negative thought and behavioural pattern.
Bring your negative emotions into a space of acceptance rather than being stuck in the mindset that they need to be avoided. Focus on their positive nature and accept them without making judgments. This leads to changing how you react to impulses. Accepting them as natural part of being human helps you you switch to positive ways of responding.
Treat yourself with compassion and kindness. Trust and validate all your feelings as genuine. Be mindful of your emotional experiences with daily mindfulness habit. Practicing few minutes a day can result in shifting your awareness of how you perceive your negative emotional states. Take time to be reflective of past experiences without repressing or ignoring them.
“When awareness is brought to an emotion, power is brought to your life.” — Tara Meyer Robson