The Difference Between Suppressing Bad Feelings and Shifting Our Thinking
This past week, I was talking with a manager who, like so many of us, is now working from home. She shared that she actually enjoys her new situation. She enjoys the flexibility and the opportunity to spend more time with her little ones and her spouse. She enjoys the slower pace of her usually busy life. And she’s finding a new sense of priorities in her life. She commented how she has it so good compared to so many other people who are struggling to work remotely.
And yet, she still feels incredibly stressed! She apologized to me, saying she “must be weird” for feeling this way considering all the positives in her life right now. I told her she sounded completely normal. I shared what I’ve learned from Positive Psychology and explained that her feelings are a perfect example of how our brains are wired to focus on the negative, whether it’s something that happened in the past, is happening now, or might happen in the future. I also told her she shouldn’t feel weird or bad for being so stressed.
As I thought about our conversation, it reminded me how we often hear that we shouldn’t suppress or judge our negative emotions. I used to be confused about how this advice fits with the idea that we can choose our thoughts and shift our thinking away from bad feelings. But as I’ve learned more and noticed these experiences in my own life, I’ve started to realize the difference.
Avoiding and judging certain emotions means we see them as bad and think that it’s bad to have them. We might even think we’re a bad person if we experience them. So instead, we try to pretend they don’t exist. But these feelings aren’t bad. They’re there to give us information, and if we don’t acknowledge them, we miss out on their valuable message.
For example, being stressed commonly means we need to change something. It could be changing a situation we don’t like by finding a different approach in what we’re doing or in what we’re thinking; it could be changing a relationship by having a critical conversation; it could be changing our expectations by having a conversation with ourselves, and the list goes on.
The problem is that we can get stuck replaying the thoughts that make us worried and stressed. After we figure out the message, we need to shift our thinking and let go of the negative thoughts. Letting go is much easier if we’re also taking good care of ourselves and keeping our positivity battery charged.
What feelings do you need to acknowledge and “listen” to?