Negative emotions aren’t pleasant, but they’re not bad. Anger, sadness, fear—these are all healthy normal emotions to experience. It’s when we believe them to be bad, something to be avoided at all costs, that these negative emotions become harmful. When anger is suppressed and turns to rage, it can tear a person’s life apart. When sadness bottles itself into depression, an unhealthy cycle begins leaving us feeling trapped in misery. When fear becomes anxiety, panic attacks can be paralyzing.
Rage, depression and anxiety can feed each other. We rage at our family and find after enough time they want nothing to do with us leaving us depressed over the loss and anxious over making new relationships for fear we’re going to lose them too.
Or we’re depressed for an extended period of time and begin to feel angry about it, bottling up both our sadness and anger in attempts to just feel better until we’re raging, if not at ourselves but at anyone and everyone around us, leaving us feeling anxious about whether or not we will ever feel better.
Crippling anxiety might keep us from living a “normal” life leading to a depression over the state of things and eventually a rage at ourselves or the world or God for giving us the anxiety in the first place.
These products of suppressed negative emotions grow the hole inside us. It becomes larger and larger as we try to avoid ever feeling angry, sad or fearful. We use substances, shopping, sex, anything that brings about a high or at the very least numbs us while we sit in the low to fill the hole, but in the long run, none of this works. What will finally close the hole and have us living a life that feels whole is to learn to experience these emotions in a healthy way.
Anger, sadness and fear tell us something we need to know. Anger tells us when we feel wronged. It is a reaction triggered by the fight or flight mode, letting us know we either need to fight to defend ourselves or to fight for what we believe in. Sadness tells us something in our life isn’t right. Sometimes this can be changed—like in the case of working in a job we hate—and sometimes it can’t—like with the death of a loved one or the ending of a relationship. Fear tells us we’re in danger or when we’re doing something not good for us. All are healthy and necessary for survival. It’s the byproducts of anger, sadness and fear that become the dangers themselves. But even then, we can learn a lot from our rage, depression and anxiety.
The first step is to reframe our thinking that experiencing these emotions is bad. Try to use these feelings as ways to grow your self awareness. After a rage, rather than beating yourself up and drinking half a bottle of vodka to forget the awful things you said or did, ask yourself, “what was I so angry about?” When you have that answer, start asking more questions: “what can I do to keep myself from getting so angry about this next time?” or “how can I change my reaction to what makes me angry?”
When you’re depressed, take a good honest look at your life and ask yourself if there’s something not right that can be changed. Are you in an unhealthy relationship? Do you hate your job? Do you want to move? Do you have an unhealthy habit that needs to be discarded?
If your answer is yes to any of these, start thinking about how you can change your situation. Leave the person hurting you or start standing up for yourself. Change jobs or find the positive in your job and choose to focus on that. Start saving money to move. Make a plan for cutting the unhealthy habits out of your life. If you look around and cannot see any root of the depression, find a therapist to talk to. If therapy isn’t an option, start making some lifestyle changes. Try getting more Vitamin D. Eat healthier. Start getting exercise. Listen to more upbeat music and start watching comedies on TV for a while.
Of course, when we’re depressed we’re not exactly motivated to do any of these things, but the change won’t start without the first step. Step 1) get out of bed. Step 2) tackle one thing at a time. Step 3) Don’t expect things to change overnight, give it time. Step 4) When one thing doesn’t work, don’t give up, try another. Step 5) When you fall off the wagon, forgive yourself and start again tomorrow.
When you’re anxious, ask yourself where is the fear coming from. After years of social anxiety, I learned that I’d been raised to believe I was an extrovert—because I am a friendly and chatty person in the right settings. If I didn’t want to go somewhere or go out, I was asked, “What’s wrong with you?” It wasn’t until I was thirty-three I finally figured out that I was not this outgoing social butterfly I’d believe myself to be since childhood. I am actually someone who quite prefers to be alone, and when in the right social settings for myself—one-on–one or small intimate gatherings—I am comfortable with myself. I do not like to be in a room full of strangers. I do not ever like being the center of attention. Now that my social anxiety has taught me who I am and how I prefer to be sociable, I’m a much happier person. I feel fine to decline invitations to gatherings I know I won’t be comfortable in and know when to say yes.
Of course, there are more serious forms of anxiety than simple social anxiety. And I suffered from many of those as well. The more complex the fear, the more difficult it might be to understand what our anxiety is telling us. But at the root of all anxiety is fear. And when we can uncover what we’re afraid of, we’re moving towards self awareness. For trauma-related anxiety, a good therapist is almost necessary. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my therapist and our sessions of EMDR.
Change cannot happen until we change something. The first thing to change when it comes to these negative emotions is how we feel about them. Stop believing them to be something bad and start accepting them as a healthy part of life. Then, start examining what they’re telling you. Next, begin changing how you respond to them. And throughout the entire process, use your breath to simply get through. All of these emotions will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system—the fight or flight mode—so breathe deep into your belly to bring a physical calmness while you work through your mental and emotional upsets.