The art of taming negative emotions: 10 ways to feel better

taming emotions

Are you struggling to get work done at home? Find yourself procrastinating?

Before you start googling ‘Time management techniques’, consider this . . .

According to Associate Professor Tim Pychyl, procrastination isn’t a time management issue. It’s actually an emotion management issue.

This means if you can get a better handle on your emotions, in particular anxiety, fear and overwhelm, then you can get a better handle on procrastination.

Your emotions are running the show

Most of us like to think our everyday behaviour is guided by rational decision making processes. But that’s just not the case.

Who’s running the show most of the time? Our emotions.

Our emotions affect pretty much everything we do (e.g. our ability to focus, think, learn, get stuff done and our interactions with others). Given this fact, it makes sense to get a better handle on them.

The problem is some emotions aren’t fun to feel.

Most of us haven’t been taught how to manage our emotions effectively. So we live in a world where the vast majority of people just sweep their feelings under the carpet and soldier on. But this comes at a cost to our wellbeing.

Psychologist Lidia Genovese (creator of the program Changing Tracks) states:

“It’s important for us to remember that all feelings are okay – whether they’re positive or negative. Feelings are important information telling us how a situation affects us. Sometimes feelings are messages we’re in danger. Usually though, feelings are just messages about the way we think about a situation.”

“We want to be more of aware of them, so we can understand what they are trying to tell us and use them to help make better decisions rather than worse ones.”

Here’s the thing about emotions . . .

When you name them, you tame them.

Talking about your emotions can help you grapple with them. Once you recognise what you’re feeling (“Oh . . .I’m feeling a bit flat”), you can then do something about it.

You can be in action to shift yourself out of a negative state and into a much better place.

How to shift negative emotions

Below are some simple actions that can help shift negative emotions.

1. Shinrin-yoku (Nature bathe)

Nature bathe

In Japan, doctors prescribe their patients Shrinrin-yoku: time in nature. Medical practitioner and researcher on nature bathing Dr Qing Li at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School explains:

“This is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world”.

He goes onto to state:

“… even a small amount of time in nature can have an impact on our health. A two-hour forest bath will help you to unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment and de-stress and relax you.”

2. Do a 3-minute tidy

There’s something quite soothing and liberating about tidying up a pile of mess. As Keith Bradford states in his book Life Hacks:

“When you’re feeling down or depressed, do some cleaning. Straightening out the physical aspects of your life can also bring clarity to the mental ones.”

But don’t try tackling the whole house or an entire room all at once. Just select one small messy area of your house, set a timer for 3 minutes and do as much as you can in that time.

3. Have a healthy snack

Feeling hangry (i.e. hungry and angry)? Low on energy? Chances are your blood sugar levels are low. And they need a boost! So it’s time to perk yourself up with some snacks.

My favourite energy boosting snack is a homemade smoothie. But if smoothies aren’t really your thing, try these healthy snack ideas:

• Homemade popcorn (avoid the chemical packet stuff, make your own here)
• A piece of fruit
• Some veggie sticks with dip
• A date with nut butter
• A handful of mixed nuts

4. Take a nap

power nap

Find a comfy position, block the light (eye mask and/or close curtains) and say to yourself, “Sleepy time!”. Don’t worry about falling into a deep sleep. The fact you’re resting is what will lead to a reduction in stress and mental fatigue.

5. Have a shower

Find yourself still in your pyjamas or track pants at lunch time? Force yourself to have a shower, get dressed in clean clothes and put on some shoes. Feeling clean can give you a boost in productivity and make you feel so much better.

6. Crank up the music and move

Dancing is a great way to discharge any weird energy and emotions running through your body. So jump on Spotify or YouTube and find a song that you like. Now turn up the volume, close the door and dance! If you’re unsure what dance moves to do, just jump up and down on the spot.

Don’t like dancing? No problem!

Find some other form of movement you like doing and weave it into your day. It could be walking the dog, vacuuming the floor or a bike ride.

Bottom line is this: for your own sanity, you need to move everyday.

7. Power pose

Research by Amy Cuddy has found striking a power pose for just 2 minutes can decrease stress and boost your confidence. Find a boss style pose that feels good for you and try holding it for 2 minutes. This may feel like a really long time, so I like to play some music and switch poses at the one-minute mark.

8. Talk to your brain in a gentle way

Research shows giving yourself a hard time and negative self talk (e.g. “You’re stupid! Pull yourself together!”) isn’t particularly motivating. It actually has the opposite effect (i.e. making you feel unmotivated).

In his book Everything Is F*cked: A Book about Hope, Mark Manson suggests we talk to our ‘feeling brain’ in a gentle way. He says:

“Instead of bombarding the Feeling Brain with facts and reason, start by asking how it’s feeling. Say something like, “Hey Feeling Brain, how do you feel about going to the gym today?” or “How do you feel about changing careers?” or “How do you feel about selling everything and moving to Tahiti?”

Treat your brain like a friend you respect and admire. Be kind to it.

9. Breathe deeply (repeat three times)

Think of this strategy as a mini mindfulness meditation. Research shows by practising meditation on a regular basis you can decrease stress and improve your ability to regulate your emotions and focus.

“I’m no good at meditation!”, I hear you say.

But as Mark Manson says:

“There is no getting good. That’s the whole point. You are supposed to suck at it. Just accept the suckage. Embrace the suckage. Love the suckage.”

On that note, here’s how this mini meditation works . . .

Finished doing a task? Before you rush off to do the next thing on your list, pause and take a deep breath in. Then sigh the breath out. Do this two more times. Breathing in . . . Breathing out . . . breathing in . . . and out . . .

Do this whenever you feel like. Aim to do it 20+ times a day.

10. Activate your senses

Activate your senses

In Monash University’s free online course Mindfulness for Wellbeing and Peak Performance the following exercise is recommended:

1. Pause for a moment
2. Look around and notice 3 things that you can see
3. Listen carefully and notice 3 things that you can hear
4. Notice 3 things that you can feel in contact with your body (e.g. clothing on your legs and your feet on the ground)

This simple activity helps you to activate your senses, get grounded in you body and come back to the present moment.

Other ways you can activate your senses include: holding an ice-block, smelling some herbs from the garden, or doing some simple stretches.

To sum up

We find ourselves in challenging times, so it’s easy for our emotions to go a little haywire from time to time. If you find yourself feeling a little bit off, instead of beating yourself up, be in action. Try these simple self care strategies to help bring yourself back into balance and regain a sense of control over your life.

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