Can It Be Good to Feel Bad? (The benefits of negative emotions)
Last week I talked about why it’s worth the effort to focus on the good and promised that this week I would take a look at why it can be good to focus on the bad. While feeling good helps us think more broadly and consider more ideas, negative emotions focus our minds on the problem. They kick us into survival mode, providing us with anxiety and stress hormones that can give us the energy to deal with the problem. The trick is to not get so overwhelmed by the anxiety that it immobilizes us. This is where several deep breaths can be a big help. Let’s say you suddenly realize you only have 2 days to finish that big project and a wave of stress washes over you. That feeling of overwhelm can help you focus on finishing the project and give you the determination to get it done.
Feeling bad or upset can also be a signal that something is wrong; that we need to take action or make a change. The stress from realizing your project deadline is coming up fast is a signal you need to do something. Another signal could be feeling upset because you think your partner doesn’t appreciate you enough. Maybe it’s time to have a heart to heart talk with them, or it could be simply shifting your focus to the things they DO to show appreciation (like making you dinner). Feeling sad or upset about losing something important to us can also be a trigger, perhaps to remind us to feel grateful for what we still have.
Another example of when bad can be good is when the risk is high and it’s better to be more cautious. Instead of being optimistic that the roads aren’t too icy to go shopping, or that the campfire has died down enough to go to bed, or that your family knows where you are – – pay attention to that negative nagging doubt and worry. Scientists agree that there are times when we are better off feeling concerned or anxious.
So the next time your feeling frustrated, stressed, or down, consider what information your emotion is trying to tell you. If it serves a purpose, think of what it means and what you should do. Just don’t let it take you into a downward spiral.
Tina Hallis, Ph.D., is a professional speaker and consultant for The Positive Edge, a company dedicated to helping people and organizations fulfill their true potential using strategies from the science of Positive Psychology.