Negative emotions, including anger, anxiety and sadness, make us very uncomfortable. Because they’re literally, physiologically uncomfortable. So we deem them bad. Most of us also don’t have much experience with feeling these emotions. Which means we avoid and dread them even more.
We yearn for them to go away. After all, they’re useless, right? How could anything that feels this unpleasant, this hard, have a purpose?
Yet, all emotions are beneficial, according to Alice Boyes, Ph.D, in her latest book The Healthy Mind Toolkit: Simple Strategies to Get Out of Your Own Way and Enjoy Your Life. Here’s why:
- Anger energizes us and mobilizes us for action. It tells us when we need to put a boundary in place, or when to tighten a limit because someone has crossed a boundary. It spurs us to act when an injustice has occurred.
- Anxiety makes us focus on details, look out for things that can go wrong, motivates us to do right, and helps us avoid complacency.
- Boredom tells us that we need more novelty and challenge.
- Doubt makes us question what we’re doing, prepares us for change and propels us to work harder (or differently). It can even lead us to work more cooperatively with people who disagree with us.
- Envy, disappointment, and loneliness tell us what we want, and when we’ve veered off track in getting what we want.
- Sadness and grief cause us to pause and think deeply about our values and what’s important to us.
All emotions are important. It’s important that we treat them as such.
So the next time you’re feeling a negative emotion, instead of automatically getting even more frustrated or more upset because of it, take several deep, slow breaths, and consider why you might be feeling this way.
Consider what your emotions are trying (sometimes desperately) to communicate to you. Why am I so angry? What is making me so nervous? What is my sadness trying to say?
You can even speak directly to your emotions, and journal a kind of dialogue: Sadness, what are you trying to tell me? Envy, what do you really want me to know? Anxiety, what is bothering you so much?
It also can be helpful to jot down specific times when your emotions led to a big breakthrough, or to a small yet significant decision.
When your envy has shown you a career or project you’d really like to pursue. When your anger pushed you to speak up for a good friend. When your boredom led you to an assignment you can’t get enough of. When your sadness and loneliness led you to rethink (and end) a toxic friendship. When your anxiety spurred you to seek professional support, which has led to several eye-opening insights, which have led to several important changes.
Doing this may help you to see your emotions in a more positive light, to obtain your own “proof” of the power of negative emotions.
Your emotions are not your enemy. It might feel this way sometimes. But it’s actually the complete opposite. They’re messengers that are trying to help.