I’m fascinated by the volume of people who assume every negative emotion is automatically bad and needs to be eliminated at any cost. Most people have a preconceived idea that in order to be happy you must never (or rarely) have negative emotions. The fact of the matter is quite the contrary. In order to live a happy and balance life, you have to behave in a way that promotes feeling good often, while simultaneously thinking rational to feel healthy negative emotions (HNE’s).
The overwhelming majority of people I come into contact with report believing any type of negative emotion is problematic. Because of this misconception, I want to eliminate the mystery between what is a healthy and unhealthy negative emotion, so you know the difference between the two. Most importantly I want you to be aware that sometimes it’s ok to not be okay, and HNE’s are actually adaptive and helpful. We don’t have to be happy all the time.
A HNE is based on rational thinking. Sometimes it can be hard to tell whether you’re thinking rational or not. Rational thinking resides in science and logic, and can be undoubtedly proven true across time and culture. To make it easier for you, I think it’s best to observe your behavior when you experience a negative emotion, to find out which type you’re dealing with.
HNE’s encourage behaviors that help you solve problems. They also allow you to cope with them when they cannot be solved. With healthy anxiety (concern) you’ll most likely have the sensation of butterflies in your stomach, but it’ll motivate you to confront the situation, and problem-solve preemptively to minimize the likelihood of your worst fear coming true. The emotional sensation is still unpleasant, but it’s adaptive and healthy because it puts your feet to the fire so you roll up your sleeves, and start problem-solving.
An unhealthy negative emotion (UNE) is based on irrational beliefs. When you have an UNE, you’re thinking in extremes, and it creates a behavior that makes dealing with the problem even more difficult. For example, if you’re experiencing unhealthy anxiety (anxiety), your behavior will most likely be avoidance or procrastination, and you’ll be talking yourself out of coping. You will also suffer from unhelpful physical health symptoms such as excellerated heart rate, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, under or over eating, panic attacks and sometimes your mind “going blank.”
The next time you feel any type of negative emotion, take a step back and think about your reaction to it. Are you behaving in a way that’s helpful? Is the negative emotion you’re experiencing motivating you to fix something that’s going wrong, or is it blocking you from doing so? If you find you’re in a HNE, let yourself feel this way. Don’t strive to stuff your feelings, or attempt to only feel good all the time— that’s unrealistic. Let yourself go through it. Allow the negative emotion to motivate you to fix the problem and cope with it. Most importantly remember that negative emotions never last for ever, and this too shall pass like all the other negative emotions before it.