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9 Ways to Overcome Negative Emotions

Photo by MAJ Aaron Haney
All emotions are pure which gather you and lift you up; that emotion is impure which seizes only one side of your being and so distorts you. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

My teenage years were difficult ones because I got bullied all the time.

The bullies called me names. They made fun of me. They spread rumors about me. They took my belongings and refused to return them to me. They once locked me in a classroom.

Not surprisingly, I became angry, resentful, fearful and depressed. I would cry myself to sleep, and I would dread the thought of having to face the bullies in school the following day.

Moreover, I developed a short temper and I’d react violently whenever I was provoked. I even allowed my emotions to overwhelm me to the point where I stopped talking.

It really scares me to think about the path I was headed down as a teenager!

I’m glad to say that the bullying eventually stopped, and that I overcame all of the hurt and pain I experienced.

Although I believe that bullying is never okay, I’ll admit that I did many annoying things, which indirectly encouraged the bullies to continue their behavior.

I’ll also take full responsibility for not disciplining my emotions and for not intentionally choosing to respond to the bullies in a better way.

I’ve since learned a lot about the importance of taking charge of my emotions. In this article, I’d like to share with you nine tips that have enabled me to keep my negative emotions in check.

1. Recognize the Power of Emotions

We like to think of ourselves as highly rational beings, but we’re usually not. We make impulsive decisions every day based on how we feel. We’ve all said and done things in the heat of the moment that we later regretted.

Being aware of how much influence our emotions have over our lives is the first step to taking charge of them.

2. Emotions Doesn’t Always Represent the Truth

Just because we feel a certain way doesn’t make it a reality. For example, we might feel that we’re a failure or that we’re unloved or that we’re stupid, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

Our feelings color our perception of reality. We need to understand, however, that these feelings can misrepresent the actual—and often less gloomy—state of affairs.

3. Avoid Toxic People

I’ve heard it said that we’re the average of the five people we spend most of our time with. This isn’t a scientific fact, but it’s a principle that holds true in general.

If we’re constantly hanging out with people who are angry, grumpy and discouraging, we’ll eventually become like them. It’s difficult to be in control of our emotions when we spend a lot of time with people who push our buttons in the wrong way.

4. Ask for Support

If we want to make any significant change in our lives, we’ll need the support of the people closest to us. Taking charge of our emotions definitely falls in that category.

Maybe you’re in a difficult situation where someone close to you is also someone who is a negative influence in your life. If that’s the case, you could try saying to this person, “I want to make a change in my life, and I need your support. You’re very important to me and I care about you deeply. But if you’re not able to support me, I think we need to limit our interactions.

This might seem a little harsh, but it’s necessary for your growth and development.

5. Use Words as a Tool to Feel Better

Words are powerful, and we can harness that power to change our emotional state. When we’re feeling down, we need to train ourselves to use our words to improve—and even transform—our situation, rather than merely describe it.

For instance, even if you’re feeling disappointed, you could choose to say, “I’m going to try again and I’m going to be successful this time around.” This will make you feel much more empowered than if you used words as a tool to describe your situation: “I’ve failed. I’m just not cut out for this.”

It takes discipline and practice in order for us to cultivate this habit, but it’s vital if we want to exert our will over our emotions.

6. The Underlying Message

In communication, it’s not what we say that matters; it’s what people hear. When we’re constantly frustrated and angry at work, our co-workers hear us saying, “I don’t like my job and I don’t like being around people like you.

When we’re frequently impatient with our family members, they hear us saying, “I refuse to be nice to you because you’re not important to me.

Once we become conscious of the indirect and unintended messages we communicate every time we fail to control our negative emotions, we’ll realize the importance of exercising self-control in this area.

7. Wait Two Seconds Before Responding

It’s amazing how big of a difference two seconds makes when we’re upset. Every time we respond immediately—and instinctively—to an unkind remark, our words reek of spite and malice.

If, on the other hand, we intentionally wait for at least two seconds before replying, it’s far more likely that we’ll respond in a measured way that will help the situation.

8. Take Care of Your Physical Needs.

In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz describe the four key areas of our life: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Loehr and Schwartz assert that we should strive to achieve optimality in each of those areas, and in the order listed.

This means that if we don’t attain physical optimality, it will be difficult to attain emotional optimality. If, for example, we’re sleep-deprived, it’s almost impossible not to be moody and irritable.

Thus, it’s essential that we take care of our physical needs—sleep, exercise, nutrition—if we want to be emotionally stable.

9. Ask “What’s one thing I could do right now?”

When we’re in an emotionally distressed state, sometimes it’s not helpful to be alone with our thoughts. This is because it’s too easy to allow ourselves to wallow in self-pity or to become overwhelmed by fear or hatred.

Instead, we could ask ourselves, “What’s one thing I could do right now?” This isn’t an attempt to ignore our problems; it’s a way to take our mind off of our problems temporarily so that we can gain perspective on our circumstances.

Additionally, taking action often changes our emotions in ways that thinking would never be able to.

Parting Words on Negative Emotions

Emotions are things of exquisite beauty. They form a huge part of what makes us human, and they enable us to be fully alive. Life would be incredibly dull if we weren’t able to experience such a breadth and depth of emotions!

But if we allow our emotions to swing us around wildly, we’ll end up hurting others and damaging relationships. We’re all on a journey of keeping our negative emotions in check so that we can lead lives of even greater abundance.

Let’s take the next step together. :)

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About the author

Daniel Wong is passionate about helping people to maximize their education, career and life. He is the author of The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success and he currently works as a project engineer. You can read his blog at Living Large and find him on Twitter.

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22 thoughts on 9 Ways to Overcome Negative Emotions

  1. Great tips. Thanks for sharing your personal experience, something that I can definitely use and suggest to the students I work with who have difficulty dealing with their negative emotions.

  2. Emotions are recordings of feelings. Feelings are a part of being alive, in the moment of life, and need to be fully experienced as they traverse your heart and soul. Emotions are not real. Emotions cause you to divert your attention from now, the only thing which is real. Be very careful when electing to wallow in an emotion, a pleasant one or painful one. No emotion is reality, and emotion robs you of the unique quality of life, being alive.

  3. This article came at such a good time for me because I had an argument with a family member this morning and I am still upset.

    I really appreciate your suggestion that instead of being alone with our thoughts we do something.

  4. Avoid toxic people. That has been the key to me, a sensitve and receptive soul, even when I’m not trying or wanting to be! I recently realized my tendency to attract cranky people into my life and soon after intentionally let them go, intentionally intended happy, healthy, balanced people into my life instead. Spot on, dude. Spot on.

  5. I really needed to read #4 (Ask for support). I’m at a point in my life where I’m needing to make some major changes, ones that directly conflict with some of my relationships. I’ve avoided the changes because I don’t want to harm the relationship…but you reminded me that it’s okay to take the positive steps. I guess if making positive changes in my life push someone away, they’re not meant to be there.

    Thanks for a great post!

  6. Hey Lawrence, I really hope the tips are useful for your students!

  7. Some people get over their negative emotions when they get tired. They will wake up someday and know that negative emotions are not helping them. This blog advice is very helpful and why wait to get tired if only you knew that there is a way to diminish negative emotions.

  8. Hi Daniel,

    It is perfectly understandable why you reacted the way you did to bullies. But I also agree we have to master our emotions no matter the causes for them. I won’t say my own teenage years has been easy and I too had to deal with and master my emotions. Thus I can relate to a lot of what you say.

    Life may give us a lot of challenges that we have to overcome and manage. But there is very little chance of making the best choices in any situation if we allow our negative emotions to cloud our judgement and ability to consider the bigger picture. That said, you have shared 9 powerful ways to overcome negative emotions. Here are some of the thoughts I had as I read through them.

    1. Recognize the Power of Emotions

    This is true and vital. If we are not aware of our emotions and the power it has, there is no way we can take steps to manage them well.

    2. Emotions Doesn’t Always Represent the Truth

    Indeed. As I mentioned earlier, emotions has the tendency to cloud our judgements. It makes it hard for us to discern the best choices to make in a given situation especially when it matters. Thus, instead of taking decisive action to resolve the issue, we may find ourselves crippled by our emotions.

    What I have learned to manage my negative emotions is to embrace them fully and to channel them in a safe and productive manner. If I am feeling sad and depressed over a heartbreak for example, I don’t try to suppress or fight it. This will only prolong the healing process for me. Instead I find a safe place like my room and allow my pain to overwhelm me. This helps me to hit rock bottom faster and from there the only way left for me is up.

    This I have found is the best way for me to let go and overcome my negative emotions. It is only when I run from them that they have an unnatural power and hold over me.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

  9. Hey William, wow you’ve clearly thought a lot about the power of emotions. Thanks for sharing your insights!

  10. Julie, I’m glad that my article could help you in some way. I hope everything worked out fine with your family member!

  11. twinkletea, good job avoiding toxic people! It sounds like something that should be so easy to do, but it’s really not.

  12. Kaylee, I appreciate your honest sharing. I hope you find out how to best handle that relationship– all the best :)

  13. dlysen, you’re completely right that you’ll get tired of not dealing with your negative emotions one day. Sooner is better than later!

  14. Irving the Vizier, you provided some really detailed comments! Thank you so much for sharing. You demonstrate a deep understanding of the power of emotions– I think you need to write a follow-up article :)

  15. Great post! Thank you for your insights. Once we master our emotions instead of them controlling us, our emotions can be used to magnify the focus of our intentions or prayers.

  16. I agree, Shari– emotions can definitely be harnessed so that your intentions become even more focused. Sounds like you’ve gone through quite a journey yourself!

  17. Mary

    Wonderful article. You hit the nail right on the head!

    Thank you for your insight!

  18. Barkha

    Damn your articles are awesome! I hope you will write more and more articles in future! :)

  19. Some great rules to live by for people of all ages.

    When you become depressed for the reasons you mention you need to know that you are not crazy. Depression is a real illness and should be afforded the same respect as any other disease. It is your body telling you that something is wrong, whether it is a chemical imbalance in the brain or unresolved emotions.

  20. Dan

    Thank you for this beautiful post. Emotions do have the power to elevate or destroy us, we have to treat them wisely.

  21. Katie

    Thank you for the great tips. Ever since my daughter was born five months ago, my husband and I have been arguing more frequently. I have been researching ways to control negative emotions. I am going to try waiting two seconds before responding (number 7).

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