Healthy Ways to Deal with Recurring Negative Emotions

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“Why do I keep feeling the same difficult emotions over and over, and what will make them stop?”

Difficult emotions like sadness, anger, fear, shame, guilt, regret, resentment, helplessness, and jealousy weigh us down and disrupt our lives. Ruminating on the same negative emotions for hours or even days can be highly upsetting, as the emotional drain interferes with daily functioning and robs you of the peace and happiness you deserve.

Negative emotions hit hard because they touch on what matters most to us, making us feel vulnerable or threatened. These emotions can be triggered by loads of stuff—like stress from work or school, arguments with friends or family, feeling let down or slighted, or seeing something that upsets us. They often show up when our expectations don’t match reality—it’s like our brain’s alarm system is telling us something’s not right.

When difficult emotions persist, it’s usually a sign of an underlying issue or unmet need that hasn’t been addressed. It could be unresolved stress, past trauma, or unhelpful thinking patterns we’ve succumbed to that reinforce these emotions. Essentially, your mind is signaling that something needs attention or change. 

Sometimes, the situation itself needs to change; other times, you must change how you look at the situation.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

NOTICE: This post was not created by a healthcare professional and is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used for medical purposes. If you are experiencing significant distress, please reach out to a qualified health professional immediately.. Advertising Disclosure: One of the ways we support this website is through links to affiliates, including Amazon (see page footer for details), where we make recommendations for books, resources, and other things we believe may help you (and for which we may receive small compensation).  Thanks for helping support our site by reading our blog posts

Can you stop negative emotions or at least keep them from being so devastating?

Sharon Salzberg is a prominent meditation teacher and bestselling author (check out Loving Kindness, Real Happiness, and Finding Your Way), renowned for her work in mindfulness and loving-kindness practices.  If anyone could stop negative emotions from showing up, you’d think it would be Sharon, but she recently posted on Facebook that she still struggles with this:

 “Even after meditating for fifty years, I’ve found that troublesome emotional issues don’t just disappear, but rather, I have an opportunity to relate differently to everything I’m going through … I’ve seen we have to allow the dignity of every feeling, without blaming ourselves or trying to push away anything. But we also don’t need to take every feeling to heart; identifying with it and imagining it is all we will ever feel.”

Sharon continues, “We can be with painful feelings differently, with compassion for ourselves instead of judgment. We can practice not to forget or overlook the joy and goodness that are also there. The wisdom of equanimity reminds us that we don’t have to get over how we’re feeling.   It takes courage to turn toward ourselves with compassion and tenderly hold both our fear and joy. Somehow, we have space for both to be true because they both are true.”

“We can be with painful feelings differently, with compassion for ourselves instead of judgment

Healthy ways to overcome recurring negative emotions

I’ve been meditating for over 20 years and teaching self-awareness and mindfulness for around 14. Like Sharon—and everyone else—I still face challenging negative emotions.

In fact, just recently, I received some very troubling feedback that had me stuck ruminating on negative thoughts and feeling the pain of the difficult emotions in ways that cut to my core.  

The situation that triggered my negative emotions involves working with someone where there’s simply a mismatch between what I want for my life and what I’m asked to do. Yet, for a number of reasons, I can’t leave the situation yet. This leaves me having to figure out how to cope in the meantime and find ways to prevent extreme emotional discomfort from overwhelming me. 

Caught up in so many recurring difficult emotions (including anger, guilt, shame, frustration, and resentment), I did what I always do: I turned to my “go-to” tools for dealing with tough emotions, which include meditation, affirmations, and journaling.

I also know that when negative emotions flare up, I tend to be hyper-self-critical, so I know I need to change my internal script to be compassionate and self-loving. So, I searched for some uplifting reading and came across Kristen Neff’s book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, which helped tremendously. 

My top "go to" techniques for handling difficult emotions

I just mentioned, affirmations, meditation and journaling are three of the tools I use for handling recurring negative emotions. Let’s dig a little deeper into how these techniques can help you address the emotional upheavals you experience.

Using affirmations for emotional pain relief

Practicing affirmations helps rewire your brain, shifting focus from negative to positive thoughts. It’s like training your mind to build a more optimistic outlook, reducing the power of recurring negative emotions and boosting your overall emotional resilience.

The most powerful affirmation that got me through my last emotional “storm” was this:  No storm lasts forever; this, too, shall pass.

Another favorite affirmation I use when uncomfortable feelings arise is one I learned from Louise Hay, author of several bestselling books, including You Can Heal Your Life, Power Thoughts, and Trust Life.  The affirmation goes like this:

“All is well.  Everything is working out for my highest good.  Out of this situation, only good will come.  I am safe.”

Using meditation to help with persistent emotional distress

Meditation helps by calming your mind, giving you space to observe and detach from negative emotions without judgment. It strengthens mindfulness, enabling better emotional regulation and reducing the intensity and frequency of those emotions over time. 

I don’t get fancy when it comes to meditation. In fact, my main meditation practice involves sitting in silence in a comfortable chair while I focus on my breath. When I notice my mind wandering (as it often does for me and for most meditators), I gently remind myself to return my focus to my breath.    

Sometimes I prefer to do guided meditations, and there are several ways you can do this, including through YouTube videos and audiobooks. I highly recommend the guided meditations from the following mindfulness experts:  

 

how meditation helps you handle recurring negative emotions

Using journaling to confront persistent feelings of anger, resentment, shame and other negative emotions

I often like to journal when I’m going through difficult emotions so I can unpack what’s really happening underneath the feelings I’m experiencing. I get started by asking basic questions:

  • What am I feeling right now?
  • What has triggered these emotions to arise in me?
  • Why are these feelings so upsetting to me?
  • What are the thoughts I have surrounding these feelings? Are these thoughts accurate or skewed?
  • Are there any lessons that I need to learn from these negative emotions?
  • What can I do to give myself the love and care  I need right now?

The logical mind gets overwhelmed by a rush of feelings that often accompany difficult emotions to process. Taking the time to sit down with pen in hand (or fingers to a keyboard if that’s what you prefer) and process the feelings can be cathartic.

When journaling for emotional relief,  I often find that the intensity of the emotions dissipates as my love and logic enter my mind; the process keeps me from being overwhelmed by distressing emotions that are longing to be heard.

journal prompts for processing negative and difficult emotions

Signs you may need to seek professional help

Sometimes, emotions are far too difficult and complex to unpack on your own. If that’s where you are right now, it’s important that you turn to a healthcare professional to help you work through the emotional challenges that you’re facing. 

Here are a few signs that you need to seek professional help for dealing with recurring or intense difficult emotions:

  • Persistent Sadness or Depression: Feelings of sadness or emptiness that don’t go away and start to interfere with your daily life.
  • Overwhelming Anxiety: Constant, intense anxiety or fear that disrupts your routine, work, or relationships.
  • Mood Swings: Extreme or rapid fluctuations in mood that are difficult to manage.
  • Withdrawal: Pulling away from social interactions, activities, or interests you once enjoyed.
  • Changes in Eating or Sleeping Habits: Significant weight loss or gain, insomnia, or oversleeping.
  • Substance Abuse: Using drugs, alcohol, or other substances in an attempt to cope with emotions.
  • Thoughts of Harm: Experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide or engaging in self-harming behavior.  [Call 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline immediately]
  • Difficulty Functioning: Struggling to cope with daily tasks, work responsibilities, or personal care.

If you’re not seeing any improvement in your emotional state despite trying self-help strategies, it’s important to seek professional help. A therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist can offer support and strategies tailored to your needs.

Practice self-love, self-kindness, and self-awareness to soothe and dissolve negative emotions

One of the most important lessons I was reminded of when going through my recent bout of extreme emotional distress was that self-kindness and self-love are key.  Self-love starts with self-kindness.  And, you need a strong self-love practice.  Also, when emotions are intense and painful, you must practice radical self-care—this is no time to be hard on yourself; you need some TLC!

Negative emotions can be a wake-up call, helping us reflect, grow, and understand ourselves better. They push us to address issues and strengthen resilience. So, listen to the complex emotions when they arise, but don’t necessarily believe all the thoughts that emerge; cultivate a strong sense of self-awareness so you better understand your emotional triggers. 

Everyone experiences negative emotions, but deciding to cling to the pain those emotions cause or take positive action to learn from them and let them pass is up to you.

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