Almost everyone knows the expression, “Don’t worry. Be happy.” The idea might be catchy, but it is certainly not good advice. And yet, someone in your past had probably told you not to worry at a time when you were at your lowest – when you didn’t feel happy.

Chances are, that expression made you feel worse. That’s when “toxic positivity” enters the scene. But the truth is, sometimes life just isn’t cupcakes and rainbows.

And by trying to act like nothing is wrong, you’re just spreading your misery. It can make you feel even worse. Good news! You can work through your feelings without making yourself feel worse.

What can you do to work through difficult emotions? Try these:

  1. Uncover what you’re feeling. Stepping back to check in with your mood can clue you in to what’s happening inside. For example, it’s natural to feel upset, sad, or even angry if a person disappoints you.
    • When you begin to feel those things, take note of your emotions. Once you know your feelings, you can think logically about the situation. Perhaps your friend experienced an emergency and had to cancel plans with you.
    • Analyzing the entire situation like this can help you determine the best way to move forward. You’ll also feel better.
  2. Allow yourself to feel it all. The human brain tries to avoid pain, not feel it. That’s why when we experience pain, we tend to numb ourselves with distractions or eat candy bars instead. But facing your emotions is the only way to work through them.
    • So, next time you begin to experience difficult emotions, don’t rush to “fix” them. Take all the time you need to feel your feelings all the way. You can then think through how you can approach the situation more constructively.
    • Studies indicate that a person that allows himself to feel his emotions all the way finds it easier to loosen the grip of the emotions.
  3. Work at regulating your feelings, not repressing them. Instead of avoiding your emotions, work on controlling them when you feel them. For instance, if you feel angry, take a few deep breaths, and try to calm down.
    • Don’t try to repress your feelings, bury them, or take action that you’ll later regret. Doing so will only make them feel more substantial. A healthy emotional expression involves finding a balance between repressing your feelings and letting loose.
    • When you allow yourself to experience your emotions in this balanced way, you fully express yourself.
  4. Don’t beat yourself up for not feeling happy and excited all the time. We all have mood swings. That doesn’t mean you’re weak or unsuccessful. What it means is that your emotions are alive and constantly changing.
    • The most optimistic people feel negative emotions sometimes. The ups and downs are what make you human. Instead of working at eliminating your negative feelings, increase the positive ones.
    • And punishing yourself for every damaging episode won’t help you cultivate more positive emotions.
  5. Be realistic but entertain your hopes. Being optimistic about the future does not mean you won’t experience any problematic emotions. A person can feel negative about certain aspects of their life and still be hopeful for the future.
    • For example, you may feel worried that the pandemic is causing so many problems. But you can still believe that things will get better, and that life will get better. If there’s one thing that’s constant in life, it’s that it changes.
    • So even when you’re feeling sad or angry, try not to hold onto those negative emotions forever. You’ll only be hurting yourself.

Working through difficult emotions takes time, effort, and patience. It could take you a week or months. Remember, however, that you don’t need perfection to adjust your feelings.

As long as you’re working at it, you’ll slowly see positive changes in your emotional health. And remember, if you need to vent, you can usually find people who will be there to listen and support you.

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