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Don’t Suppress Your Negative Emotions

By: Eileen Guo

Addressing anger or sadness at home or in a relationship can be difficult, but beneficial. It’s no secret that suppressing emotions can be damaging to health. Studies show that people who don’t address their emotions experience lower overall well-being, including physical symptoms like headaches and generally stronger stress responses. According to one 2019 paper, people who don’t manage their emotions are more likely to display substance abuse, poor nutrition, lack of exercise and poor sleep, all of which can cross over to your workplace and impact performance. In other words, if you’re not well in life, you won’t do well at work.

Embracing negative emotions isn’t about expressing your discouragement or anger in unhealthy ways. It’s about processing them and learning to integrate negative feelings with positive ones, so you can move forward with resilience.

 Acknowledge your feelings.

If you’re not used to allowing your emotions surface, it may take a bit of practice. Begin by developing a willingness to accept your uncomfortable feelings in the moment instead of immediately switching the subject. For example, if you find your heart racing and palms sweating after you bomb a presentation, resist the urge to escape that feeling by jumping into another project right off the bat. Disappointment can feel overwhelming, certainly. But the first step to breaking the habit of repressing feelings is challenging yourself to sit with them longer.

Name your emotions.

When you feel out of sorts at work, are you simply mad, or could you be offended, embarrassed or disappointed? Finding what’s beneath the surface of your emotion is one key to figuring out how to manage it. Labeling emotions is effective because it’s far easier to be overwhelmed than to run away from an emotion you can’t name. When you can call out what a feeling is, it becomes more realistic to manage. Contrarily, incorrectly diagnosing emotions leads us to respond incorrectly. 

Reappraise the situation.

Finding the good in scenarios that yield undesirable emotions is another way to train yourself not to avoid negative feelings at work. If you can shift your perspective to see the positive side, which researchers call “reappraisal,” you won’t be so discouraged or overwhelmed when those feelings come. 

It’s easy to give preferential treatment to positive emotions like excitement and joy, especially when we’ve been conditioned to put on a happy face and move on. “Fake it till you make it” is a phrase that many of us hear on a daily basis. Putting up a facade for too long becomes more and more detrimental to the point where we don’t know our own feelings anymore. Running away from messier feelings can have negative repercussions on our physical and mental health; avoidance also keeps us from opportunities to strengthen our character and improve our work performance. 

Remember: Negative emotions aren’t the enemy; we just have to develop a taste for them.

About Eileen Guo

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