Have you ever stopped to think about how you tend to react when you feel bad? Or if your behavior really helps you feel better? The truth is, sometimes we don’t know how to effectively manage our negative emotions. Or if we do know how, there is lots of room for improvement.
Here’s an example: we all know that person who goes out drinking and partying to get over a painful breakup. They may be able to distract themselves from the situation at first. But in the long term, have they managed to fix anything? Do they get better by using other strategies?
Classifying different ways of managing negative emotions
Emotional regulation encompasses a whole series of processes. We exercise influence over our emotions by using these processes. They help us control how we feel them and express them. In other words, we are talking about how we modulate our emotions. This can be adaptive (beneficial and functional) or non-adaptive (dysfunctional). But how do we know which help us and which don’t?
Before we answer that, let’s look at the different ways that we practice emotional regulation. On one hand, we can try to manage negative emotions by using active strategies. Some examples are positive reevaluation of the situation, planning what we have to do, pursuing personal development, trying to resolve the problem, and expressing what we feel.
On the other hand, we can use more passive strategies as well. We can resign ourselves to the situation, get depressed, or let things be without trying to find a solution.
Lastly, we have avoidance strategies. This is when we try to deny what has happened, distance ourselves from it, or mentally disconnect . We might even even try temporary solutions that help with our anxiety but not the cause (like eating or drinking to feel better).
What doesn’t work to manage negative emotions?
Dysfunctional emotional regulation strategies make us feel less emotionally stable. They also give perhaps too much importance to our negative emotions and make them difficult to get rid of. The results of improper regulation vary widely, but none of them are positive. For example: anger management problems, anxiety, or depression.
As we mentioned before, two types of bad strategies are avoidance and passive strategies. When we feel bad, it is counterproductive to try to deny what happened.
There is one exception, and that is when when we receive news that causes an intense emotional impact. In these cases, denial can be helpful at first, acting as a retainer wall for the emotional impact. Nevertheless, even in these types of situations, eventually we have to abandon this strategy and adopt others.
Brooding on the subject isn’t helpful either. It isn’t good to focus on how terrible everything is and feel bad for ourselves. Self-awareness is important because it gives us information we need to act, but it can become dangerous if we give into the temptation to wallow in our self-pity and not act.
The same thing happens if we try to forget what is happening by drinking, doing drugs, or eating excessively. All of these strategies ease our discomfort for a little while. However, they are only band-aids that will quickly fall off. And when they do, we will need bigger ones.
The reality is that none of these strategies helps us effectively manage negative emotions, and in the long-term, the feelings are last longer and get worse.
What does help us manage negative emotions?
If the above list of strategies doesn’t help us regulate negative emotions, what are the right strategies? They are those that imply active confrontation of what has happened to us. One is to reinterpret the situation in a positive way. This is one of the most important. Looking for a solution to the problem and making it happen is another important one. Stopping to think, without falling into inaction.
In addition, it is helpful to access positive emotions to help us get balanced again. It is also important to express our emotions and look for social support. That is, as long as we know that the ultimate responsibility to make decisions is in our hands.
The reality is that carrying out all of these emotional regulation strategies might mean some extra effort on our part. After all, they take action. But they are a necessary part of making sure that these negative emotions don’t become chronic. Learn how to effectively manage your negative emotions!