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Dealing with negative emotions

A young boy comforting his crying sister. From the Children’s Songbook, page 78, “I’m Trying to Be like Jesus”; watercolor illustration by Phyllis Luch, lds.org. Click on the image to go to the source.

Do you ever feel like crying? I do!

Ever feel mad at a family member? I do!

Ever feel disappointed because of something a child did? Me, too.

I read something recently that inspired me from an article entitled “Emotion and Addiction” about dealing with emotions. The author (Peter L. Howell, Psychologist, LDS Family Services, Melbourne, Australia) suggested that there are at least 8 ways to deal with negative emotions in healthy ways:

  1. Take time for negative feelings;
  2. Find productive ways to express negative feelings;
  3. Reduce self-condemnation;
  4. Identify and correct wrong beliefs;
  5. Seek to solve directly the problems that are causing feelings of distress;
  6. Serve others even while going through personal emotional struggles;
  7. Learn not to get stuck in negative emotions and suffering;
  8. Use the many resources the Church has made available on its various websites (For example, see addictionrecovery.lds.orgprovidentliving.orgovercomingpornography.org).

Feel and observe emotions

I especially was interested in the first suggestion. He wrote,

“Feel them and observe them. Such a process is the enemy of addiction. One cannot learn how to manage feelings without paying some attention to them. Sometimes negative emotions will pass if we simply allow ourselves to observe and experience them.”

This was a new and interesting thought to me! I like this thought: to take time to feel and observe. You do not have to dwell in a place of anger or sorrow, but you can feel, observe, take note, and wonder about it and then let it go.

Crying

I remember being in church one Christmas Day when the man who was speaking shared a quote from Charles Dickens. It was an extremely difficult day for me, and I felt very much like crying. His words brought me comfort:

“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”

Ever since then I have had a particularly soft place in my heart for allowing people room to cry. It can be so therapeutic. I love the song by Hilary Weeks, “Just Let Me Cry.”

Change your tune

I love the suggestion my mission president gave me decades ago: “It’s OK to be discouraged, but it’s not OK to stay that way.” I learned from a psychologist that you can turn negative feelings into positive ones simply by dwelling on positive thoughts for 15 minutes. It can be any positive thoughts! My go-to thought is, “That tree is so green! Isn’t it lovely? And the sky is so blue.” Etc.

Singing an uplifting song can get me going on changing thoughts, but mostly it’s the talking out loud about something positive, even when no one is around. Give thanks for the smallest things. Start thanking or praising your spouse or a child near you. It works! Try it!

Movement helps: exercise is an excellent mood changer. I love to walk, dance in the kitchen, run, swing on the swing set, ski, swim laps, ride a bike, do some yoga or ballet. Put on some upbeat music and dance!

My Finnish friend wrote an e-book that you might love that has great suggestions in it for turning that frown into a smile. It’s called Turn a Disaster Day Into a Total Success in 20 Minutes Or Less.  It’s a terrific quick (as in, you can skim it in 10 minutes) read. I highly recommend it!

Here are posts I’ve written related to negative emotions, crying, depression, and anxiety:

Water your own garden

Jesus wept

What will I do? (anxiety about the future)

So what does it feel like to be depressed?

Sometimes you cry

My Not-So-Fairy Tale Life

Happy Mother’s Day: Let’s just laugh about it

What Richard Paul Evans did to save his marriage

Awesome job, Priests!

Show up at ballet, and the TV cameras are coming

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