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What are Negative Emotions and How to Deal with Them?

What are Negative Emotions and How to Deal with Them?

Published on Feb 07, 2023

What are Negative Emotions and How to Deal with Them

We assume that negative emotions are always bad for our physical and mental health. But it is not quite that simple. The big question over here is how we express, suppress, or repress our not-so-good emotions. 

Avoiding or shoving down these emotions is not healthy. Instead of running away from our bad emotions, we should learn to deal with and process our negative emotions in healthy ways.

What are Negative Emotions?

Negative emotions can be defined as “unpleasant, disruptive, emotional reactions, to any situation or person.” They make you feel miserable and sad. They make you dislike yourself and others.

Emotions carry an underlying biological basis within our bodies. We get stimulated by things going on around our environment. Our brain responds to such simulations. As a result, emotions get triggered and make us enter into a state of arousal. This is how both positive and negative emotions come about.

In general, negative emotions can lower enthusiasm and satisfaction toward life. They also make it difficult to function in your normal daily life. They interfere with your ability to accomplish goals. However, that depends on how long we let them affect us and the ways we choose to cope with them. 

Over here, it is mention-worthy that no emotion, even a negative one, is inherently bad. It is alright to experience such feelings in certain contexts or situations. But such emotions become problematic when they are persistent, prolonged, and frequent. It can be a sign of mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety.

Negative emotions, while unpleasant, also have productive functions. Fear triggers a fight or flight reaction when we perceive any threat or danger. Jealousy helps to restore important social bonds in the face of threats. Sadness generates sympathy and facilitates pro-social behavior. 

This article discusses the different types of negative emotions along with what causes them. It talks about unhealthy ways of coping with these emotions. As an alternative, it also suggests some healthier ways of dealing with difficult emotions on your own.

9 Types of Negative Emotions 

There are different types of negative emotions. Such feelings may occur naturally as a normal reaction to certain experiences or events in life. They cause significant distress, if not addressed properly. Some common types of negative emotions are discussed below:

1. Sadness 

This refers to feelings of unhappiness or feeling down. It occurs in response to any loss, grief, discouragement, or disappointment. Persistent and prolonged periods of sadness lead to Depression.

2. Anger 

This negative emotion includes particular facial grimaces and body postures characteristic of action in the Sympathetic version of the Autonomic Nervous System. It is a fairly strong emotional reaction that accompanies a variety of situations such as being physically restrained or being interfered with. 

Other situations include having one’s possessions removed, being attacked, or being threatened. One may also tend to get angry when one sees or hears of actions that one considers morally repugnant.

3. Anxiety 

Anxiety can be defined as an unpleasant feeling triggered by the perception of impending danger, real or imagined. It is an emotional state with qualities of apprehension, dread, distress, and uneasiness.

4. Fear 

It is an unpleasant and strong emotion that assumes a specific feared object, person, or event.  

5. Apathy 

This refers to indifference and unresponsiveness with displaying less interest or reactivity to a situation than would normally be expected

6. Disgust 

It refers to a negative emotional state that follows exposure to any unpleasant stimulus. The stimulus does not carry any immediate physical threat. Disgust involves active rejection of the stimulus.

7. Jealousy 

It is a special form of anxiety that is assumed from a lack of sense of security in the affections of one who is loved. It is directed towards a rival or third party. This rival is perceived as garnering the affection of the object of love.

8. Insecurity 

This refers to feelings of uncertainty and unprotectedness. A lack of assurance prevails. Most psychological theorists argue that neurotic disorders stem from feelings of insecurity and anxiety.

9. Guilt 

A person is said to feel guilty when he/she believes to have violated the moral standards that he/she has internalized from society. It is a sort of self-administered punishment. Guilt is highly characteristic of patients suffering from Depression.

10. Shame 

It is similar to guilt, but here others’ knowledge about violating the internalized moral codes is a part of the concept.

Signs That You Are in the Grip of Negative Emotions

Some of the signs that indicate the presence of negative emotions in your psyche are as follows:

1. Negative emotions block rational and logical thinking 

We fail to see situations from their true perspective. When this occurs, we tend to see only what we want to see and remember only what we want to remember.

This only prolongs our anger or grief and prevents us from enjoying life. The longer this goes on, the more problematic it becomes. 

2. Negative emotions disrupt effective interpersonal adjustment 

These emotions disrupt your relationships with your spouse/ partner, family members, and friends.  In this way, we unknowingly hurt people around us. We get so emotionally overwhelmed that we fail to comprehend the viewpoints of others around us.

3. Negative emotions interfere with our goal-directed behavior 

They prevent us from achieving the targets/goals we have set for ourselves. Our emotional states take over our cognitive functioning.

We tend to focus more on those negative emotions and expend all of our energy and resources on them. Hence we are not left with adequate resources to pursue our goals.

4. Out-of-proportion reactions

Under the influence of negative emotions, we tend to react grossly out of proportion as per the demands of the situation. Dealing with negative emotions inappropriately can also be harmful – for example, expressing anger with violence.

5. Poor life satisfaction

Our general satisfaction with life gets reduced when we feel too much of negative emotions. We lose motivation and become lethargic towards performing activities of daily living.

It is quite a complex process. Often we do not have the skills to deal with these negative feelings. And that is why we find it hard to come up with them when we experience them.

Causes of Negative Emotions – 11 Points to Note

Negative emotions can stem from a wide variety of sources. Some of the causes have been described below:-  

1. Comparison with others

Especially in today’s world of competition and ever-increasing demand for everything, comparison with others has become so frequent. Comparing yourself to others will do you no good.

It highlights the disparities you perceive to have with others. If you compare yourself to others, give up doing it immediately. The only person you should measure yourself with is your past self.

2. Engaging in Negative affirmations 

Negative affirmations literally jeopardize your ability to become happy and succeed in life. If you go on repeating them, you start to believe in the wrong vision you created for yourself.

Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Repeating them over and over again makes you believe in the positive words. 

3. Poor coping skills

Everyday stress can lead to a wide variety of negative feelings. We require adequate coping mechanisms to deal with our everyday stress.

If we do not have the coping skills to manage it, we often end up making the problem worse. Even we introduce new problems to the situation due to poor coping skills

4. Conflicts in Interpersonal Relationships

Problems that arise from interpersonal conflicts are a common cause of negative emotions. Such conflicts can arise in relationships with friends, family, co-workers, or romantic partners.

5. Underrating your abilities 

During failures, we always tend to underestimate our abilities. If you fail, it means that you need to put more effort into it. Underestimating your competencies raises self-doubt and lowers your self-esteem.

This creates an environment where we feel bad or even worse. Shift your attention from all the negatives. Listen to the reasons why you can do it. It will surely impact your confidence and remove the bad energy from your mind.

6. Ruminating past mistakes

Whatever mistakes you have committed in the past, let them stay in the past. There is no need to contemplate your bygone mistakes. Learn from them. Make sure not to repeat them in the future. The real mistake occurs not when you commit it, but when you fail to rectify it.

7. Blaming others

Blaming others and holding others responsible for your mistakes and failure lead to an increase in negative emotions. Learn to accept your own mistakes. This will help you to address your shortcomings. Once you accept that your actions are responsible for things going around you, making a change for the better becomes a matter of time.

8. Staying around negative people 

Your environment has a huge impact on your thoughts and actions. If there are only negative people around you, you will spread the negativity just like they do.

Spend more time with happy, cheerful, and positive people. Positive people know how to spread positive influence by distancing themselves from negativity.

9. Seeking others’ approval

Nowadays, through socialization and social media influence, we have developed an unnatural need to seek for others’ approval. When you keep paying attention to how others perceive you, you become a slave.

You go against yourself to please others. The unavoidable consequence is a surge of difficult emotions that you definitely do not want to experience.

10. Complying too much

The ability to say no at the right moment defines a mature person. Plenty of adults still struggle to develop this skill. As a result, they end up getting overwhelmed with unnecessary commitments, excess obligations, and negative emotions. 

Never agree on something only to please others. This usually leads to problems and actually hurts both you and the other person involved. Assertively choosing between “yes” and “no” reflects your self-respect and confidence. These are the key elements for more positivity in your life.

11. When needs are not met

When the fulfillment of your needs gets frustrated—whether these needs are physical, emotional, social, psychological, or spiritual in nature—it is normal to experience negative emotions such as sadness, loneliness, grief, anger, etc.

Unhealthy Ways to Cope with Negative Emotions

Unfortunately, people often turn to unhealthy or even destructive ways of coping with negative emotions. While these might provide temporary relief, they typically aggravate problems in the long run. Here are some of the harmful and ineffective ways in which people deal with negative emotions:

1. Emotional Suppression

This involves not expressing your emotions both verbally and non-verbally.

2. Avoiding emotions 

While trying to avoid emotions, people often engage in unhealthy behaviors like indulging in drugs and alcohol. Some people may also engage in over-eating and under-eating.

When negative thoughts bombard us, we try to avoid them so that we do not have to experience those unpleasant emotions. Avoidance coping strategies are not at all healthy. They make us feel worse in the long run.

3. Ignoring Emotions

Ignoring feelings is not the healthiest way to deal with them. It will not make our problems disappear. On the contrary, it can cause them to come out differently.

Negative emotions provide us with the warning that what we are doing in our life is not working. Ignoring emotions will not bring about any changes. You continue to experience negative feelings.

4. Ruminating

Rumination refers to replaying negative thoughts in your mind over and over again. It makes us dwell on unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings. This worsens negative emotions. It also brings about negative health consequences. So it is essential to take steps and let them go.

5. Denial

Denial is when a person refuses to accept that anything is wrong or that he/she might need help. When people deny that they are having problematic feelings, those feelings keep on accumulating. It reaches up to a point where a person ends up “exploding”. He/she might also act out those pent-up emotions in harmful ways.

6. Withdrawal 

Withdrawal is when a person does not want to be around or participate in activities with other people. Some people may withdraw because being around others consumes too much of their energy. They might feel overwhelmed too. 

Others may think that people do not like them or want them to be around. In some cases, people may withdraw so that other people do not find out about what they are doing. But withdrawal brings its own problems such as Extreme loneliness, misunderstanding, anger, and distorted thinking. 

Too much withdrawal leads to point out towards Depression and other mental illnesses. 

7. Bullying

Here a person forces threats or ridicule to show power and dominance over others. People do so because they do not feel good about themselves. Physically and emotionally bullying others makes them feel better about themselves.

It may also make them feel less alone. The impact is harmful to both the bully and the person being bullied. It does not address the underlying root causes. 

8. Tendencies to Self-Harm 

Self-harm can include cutting, starving oneself, binging and purging, or participating in risky behaviors. Many people commit self-harm because they feel like they can take control of their emotional pain.

Self-harming may bring about temporary relief. However, these behaviors can become addictive as they make people feel out of control and in greater pain than ever.

9. Substance Use  

Alcohol and drug use can damage the brain, making it need higher amounts of substances to get the same effect. This is known as Drug Tolerance. This can make the situation even worse and in some cases, leads to suicidal thoughts or addiction.

Seek help from medical and mental health professionals, if you are concerned about your own or someone else’s use of drugs or alcohol.

How to Cope with Negative Emotions? (15 Best Practices)

There are a lot of healthy strategies we can use to control our negative emotions. We can decrease negative emotions and increase positive emotions through emotion regulation. The following section discusses some healthy and effective emotion regulation strategies. 

Here are 15 strategies to win over your negative emotions:-

1. Breathe and Practise Relaxation Techniques 

Your whole body stiffens up when negative emotions trigger your fight-flight mode. Your breathing becomes rapid and constricted. Take several slow, deep breaths. Repeat the words “calm” or “relax” to you while breathing. 

Relaxation will help you to regain self-control. You can also read, walk or talk to a friend to relax. Try the progressive muscle relaxation technique. This involves alternating contraction and relaxation of your body parts in a progressive manner. 

2. Accept and Understand Your Emotions

Learning to accept negative emotions is also an effective way of managing difficult feelings. Accept and acknowledge that it is okay to feel sad, afraid, angry, or frustrated. Do not try to avoid or suppress these feelings.

Otherwise, you allow them to exist. This will aggravate your emotional distress. Look within. Point out the situations responsible for creating such stress and negative emotions in your life. It can provide valuable information for future purposes.

3. Identify and Challenge the Thoughts that cause Emotional Upset 

Your feelings are directly linked directly to your thoughts. When your emotions start to overwhelm your rational judgment, you need to take a step back and explore the rationality of these thoughts. Try to “adjust” them. Replace them with positive alternatives. 

4. Search for Positives

Shift your focus from your immediate experience of negative emotions. Re-focus on whatever positives come out of your difficult experiences. It is critical to explore what you are taking away from this experience. That could truly help you in the future.

5. Consider Other Persons’ viewpoints

If you make efforts to identify with another’s viewpoint, particularly their needs want, thoughts, and feelings, your distressing feelings are likely to diminish. Become less self-centered. If you consider the other person and their self-interests, it can alter your thinking. It is likely to reduce your distressing feelings.

6. Become More Mindful 

Become aware of the particular feeling that has been aroused. Sit with it. Focus on the present. This will enable you to process it. Do not become immersed in it. Rather, process it and move past it. You do not need to act on it always.

Mindfully let the feeling be while detaching you from it. Eventually, it will leave on its own. Hopefully, it will get replaced by something much less negative.

7. Maintain reality checks

Do not get swayed away by your negative feelings. The moment you feel that your emotional reactions are getting overwhelmed, do a reality check. Bring yourself back to the here and now. Re-evaluate the situation. 

This will help you to cope much better in the present. Your past sensitivities can block your more mature, rational judgment. Try to be reasonable. Accept that bad feelings form an unavoidable part of life. Think of ways to make yourself feel better.

8. Self-compassion 

Experiencing negative emotions does not make you a bad, incompetent or unworthy person. Be kind, considerate, and forgiving of yourself. It can help you overcome your negative feelings.

Do something that affirms your self-worth. Do not take pity on yourself. It can become almost self-indulgent. It will prevent you from moving beyond your distress to a healthier emotional state. 

9. Stop Ruminating

Continuing to ruminate about your negative feelings interferes with reaching a more balanced understanding of them. Let them go. Do not blow things out of proportion by playing them time and again in your mind.

Not every source of stress can be changed or eliminated. It is essential to avoid ruminating about what you cannot help but change.  

10. Take Appropriate Measures

If you’re feeling lonely, lethargic, or apathetic, take the necessary actions. Doing relatively simple things can alter feelings that are making you down. Call and meet friends, and confide in adults whom you trust. 

Go for a walk or go shopping. Dance, bake, and do gardening. Participate in performing arts. Take power naps. Bathe with essential oils. Choose the actions that make you feel good.

11. Vent out

Venting out is sharing your feelings out loud. Talk with someone whom we can trust about sharing whatever is upsetting us. Write down your thoughts.  Journaling your thoughts and feelings can enable you to get at least temporary closure on the matter. 

It can even expand your perspective. You will find your situations less disturbing. However, it will not eliminate your stress triggers completely. Make changes in your life. Search for healthy outlets to deal with these emotions.

12. Cut down on job stress

Negative emotions can come from an overwhelming workload. Balance and distribute your workload. Take optimal work pressure. 

13. Bring about Realistic Changes

Once you better understand your emotions and what is causing them, start taking steps to address the problem.

Minimize or eliminate some of your stress triggers. Engage in reappraisal. Try to reframe a negative experience in a more positive light. Notice and hold onto positive emotions. Savor your positive emotions, as and when they occur.

14. Take Full Accountability for your Feelings

Your feelings belong exclusively to you. You can change them just by re-evaluating your perception of the situation. As long as you blame others for your emotional distress, you will be helpless to bring about any change in your feelings.

There’s no need to “hold onto” the words or deeds of another when they have made you feel bad. 

15. Exercise

 Lower your tension levels. Raise your feel-good chemicals through physical exercise. Exercise distracts you from the thoughts that keep you stuck in your feelings. It alters your brain chemistry by releasing endorphins. 

It allows you to physically vent the toxic, negative emotions.  Regular exercise can uplift your emotions. Physical exercises are also a source of a healthy outlet for negative emotions. Meditation can help you find some inner space to work with so that you do not feel emotionally overwhelmed easily. 

Self-help Ways to Process Your Negative Emotions 

Controlling our negative emotions might not actually be the best plan of action. That too is not at all times. Sometimes we need to process and reflect on them. We should not always act out our feelings at all times. 

In this way, they will stop causing problems in other areas of our lives. Make a list of your strengths. There are plenty of things about you that you are good at, no matter how down you are feeling at the moment.

Remember that emotions are unique to every individual. Everyone’s needs and abilities are different. Try and explore methods that work for you and your situation. Once you have found the right techniques for you, you will feel less overwhelmed when negative emotions arise

Consider the following instance – 

When someone mistreats us, we get angry. Do not act out your anger. Take a deep breath. Try to implement the emotion regulation strategy of acceptance. Henceforth, we might unintentionally cut our anger short. 

It shall protect us from any further misunderstanding or mistreatment. When we are feeling afraid, we selectively focus on possible threats. Experiencing an optimal level of anxiety actually helps improve our effort and performance 

Yet there is also another way to deal with negative or unpleasant emotions. Remember the word PATH. It is an acronym that stands for:

Step 1: Pause. 

Try not to act on your feelings right away. Stop yourself. Think between the lines. 

Step 2: Acknowledge your feelings

It is okay not to always feel good. Accept and acknowledge that.

Step 3: Think

Take a few moments. Figure out what exactly you are feeling. Think about how you can make yourself feel better.

Step 4: Help

Help yourself based on what you discovered in the “Think” step. Take necessary steps.

Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’ 

Everyone feels negative emotions from time to time. It is perfectly normal to feel these in certain contexts or situations. However, these emotions become problematic when they are persistent and interfere with your ability to function normally.

Even though negative emotions make us feel bad, there are benefits to negative emotions. They help us gain experiences that make us feel better and even thrive in the longer term. Sometimes, taking the good with the bad might be the best for our overall health. 

While we try to deal with negative emotions, we will possibly find some good from those difficult experiences.

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