Holding on to negative emotions for longer than you need to can really affect your daily life. Over time, it can affect your long-term health too. But there are ways to let go of negative emotions and move forward. Here are some tips.
This info is about letting go of negative emotions, like anger, sadness, resentment, and frustration. The advice given here is for people dealing with everyday life stresses. The advice isn't meant for people coping with the effects of abuse, violence, or other trauma. If that's you, you still might find some tips here that you can use. But recovering from trauma may involve trying different strategies and getting help from a mental health professional.
- Identify the emotion.
Is it anger? Jealousy? Resentment? Sometimes when emotions are high, it can be easy to feel like you're angry when, if you look closely, you're actually more frustrated or disappointed than anything. Being able to identify emotions accurately is a big part of learning how to handle them.
- Remember that emotions aren't "bad" or "good".
Negative emotions may be hard or uncomfortable, but they're still important. For example, fear is often seen as a negative emotion. But fear can also help keep you safe from danger. And anger can alert you to something that needs to change. When you feel a strong emotion, try to think about what the emotion is telling you. If you can find the "message" behind the emotion, you can understand it better.
- Feel the feeling for a bit, without judgment.
Look closely at the feeling, but don't act on it. See if you can take a step back from the feeling to see it more clearly. Paying attention to how you feel can help you accept the emotion and then give yourself permission to let it go. Try writing down what you notice about the feeling. What happens in your body? Do your shoulders tense? Or do you get a hot feeling behind your eyes?
- Offer yourself some perspective.
Think about whether you'll feel the same way in the future as you do right now. Will you feel the same way a week from now? A month from now? A year from now? Or you can help coach yourself through a feeling by saying things like, "This is hard, but feeding my anger isn't going to change the situation." Or "I've felt this way before. Feelings come and go, and this one will pass too."
- Practice releasing the emotion (and releasing yourself from its grasp).
Letting go of an emotion isn't the same as ignoring it or trying to escape from it. It means that after you acknowledge and accept an emotion, you don't need to keep carrying it. Here are some techniques that can help with calming intense emotions and releasing negative ones. Some may work better or feel more comfortable to you than others. Give them a try, and see which seem like the right fit for you.
- Controlled breathing exercises. For example, inhale through your nose for a count of 3, hold the breath for a count of 2, and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 4. Repeat this cycle 5 times.
- The "cleansing breath." Take a deep breath in through your nose. Imagine the air coming into your body as new, clean, and cool. Then, as you exhale the air out, imagine it carrying out all of the tension or negative feelings inside of you.
- Mindful visualization. Close your eyes, and imagine you're sitting in a movie theater. Look up at the screen and see the emotion you want to release written in big letters, with an image below it of what that emotion feels like to you. Then imagine the words and image slowly fading off of the screen until they disappear. Next, imagine a word and an image slowly reappearing on the screen. But this time, the word and image describe a pleasant feeling or a calm state of being.
Recognizing your emotions and learning how to get past those that aren't helping you is a skill. So you might not be a pro at it right away. That's okay. With some time and practice, your skills will get stronger.
If you're still having a hard time after you've practiced for a while, think about getting some help from a counselor. A counselor can help you process your emotions and help you learn strategies that work best for you.
Current as of: June 16, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health