The Power of Feeling Down: A recent article in the Health & Wellness section of the Wall Street Journal explains the upside of feeling down, and explains ways that negative emotions can be harnessed to create positive change. If we pay attention to feelings that are uncomfortable or make us unhappy, they can help us pin point what is wrong in our life and motivate us to seek change.
However, not all negative emotions have this potential for positivity. “Empty” emotions such as hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair usually signal depression and are nearly impossible to use to one’s advantage. If you have these feelings, and they persist for longer than two weeks, it is advised the you seek professional help.
Beneficial negative feelings that can be used to create positive changes in life include guilt, anger, sadness, anxiety, envy, and loneliness. These should be seen as warning signs that we need to protect ourselves from bad behavior, whether it be our own or someone else’s.
In order to turn these feelings into positive transformations, the first step is to correctly identify the emotion. Then, you must devise a way to change your behavior in order to alleviate the feeling. Here are some techniques that should allow you to do just that:
The Power of Feeling Down Step #1: Label the Feeling
Name the feeling with one word (Ex: “I’m angry” or “I’m sad”). If you are struggling to recognize the feeling, try to use your body as a barometer. Breathe deeply for five to ten breaths. If your heart is racing, then you are likely anxious. If you have a heavy feeling in your chest, then that indicates sadness. If your jaw feels tense, that is telling you that you are angry about something.
The Power of Feeling Down Step #2: Pros and Cons List
You need to weight the consequences to truly know if changing your behavior will result in you feeling better. Identify the behavior that caused the negative emotion. Write down all of the ways the behavior made you feel good on one side, and all of the ways it made you feel bad on the other. After this exercise, ask yourself if the pros are worth the cons. If the answer is no, then you can be certain that a change will be the right course of action.
The Power of Feeling Down Step #3: Listen for “Should
It is important to listen to the critic in your head that is constantly telling us what we should do. Ever find yourself listening to someone talk about their new promotion, and how it is going to enhance their life? Maybe after some time you begin to like that person less and less. You are envious.
What is your inner critic telling you in moments like this? Should you start working harder to impress your boss, or begin the search for a new job? Your inner critic is telling you what action to take.
The Power of Feeling Down Step #4: Imagine a Redo
Try to recreate in your mind the event that triggered the negative emotion. Imagine yourself taking a different course of action. What would you have done differently to feel better now?
Maybe you feel lonely after spending an entire weekend as a recluse. Redo the weekend in your mind. What you reach out to friends to hang out? Would you have taken yourself out to dinner? Plan on doing things going forward.
The Power of Feeling Down Step #5: Talk to a Child
Imagine a child who is feeling the same way you are. How would you help them understand those feelings, and how to avoid them in the future? It wouldn’t do any good to blame or dismiss the child. Instead, you would listen carefully and speak gently. Your explanations would be simple. This is how you need to speak to yourself.
Thinking of a child in distress is a useful way to awaken a compassionate response. You want to help them understand that what they are feeling is normal, and you want to help them cope.
The Power of Feeling Down Step #6: Take Baby Steps
Change is hard, and trying to alter your behavior too rapidly can lead to cognitive dissonance- a discrepancy in what you’re thinking and how you’re behaving. You need to go through this process slowly, just as you would if you were training for a triathlon.
Identify ways you should behave that will lead you to feeling better. Take small steps consistently toward this goal, and eventually big changes will result.
Bernstein, Elizabeth. "The Power of Feeling Down." The Wall Street Journal[New York City] 23 Aug. 2016, Health and Wellness sec.: D1-D2. Print.