Positivity in low supply? Understant what causes negative emotions and learn how to deal with them.

Ever felt a hit of jealousy upon seeing your workmate flirting with the office eye candy? Or felt guilt for spilling wine on that shirt you borrowed (and couldn’t afford to dry clean)?

In pre-civilisation times these negative emotions would have paid off. In the age of sabre-toothed tigers and mammoths it was wise to be stressed, tense and alert; after all, being hypervigilant could save you from being eaten, but if your biggest stress right now is ensuring the bills are paid and your dishes are done, it would be seen more counterproductive to stress and worry.

What causes negative emotions?

“Negative emotions are, evolutionarily speaking, designed to warn us of danger or threat. Fear is useful in that it tells us to be careful, watch out for, or take action in the presence of a potential danger. Pain tells us that something is wrong and we need to attend to it. If we didn’t experience pain we would not know that our foot had been injured, for example, and it needed attending to. More complex emotions like regret, shame and guilt appear to be designed to keep us from straying outside, or harming our social group. In general though, it is better to have more positive emotions than negative ones for a sense of well-being,” says clinical psychologist Dr David Roland.

How to deal with negative emotions

With all the potential health benefits, it’s hard to classify unhappy emotions as ‘bad’, but if you have recognised that you’re feeling upset, there are things you can do to relieve the tension:

  • Exercise – especially activities that activate your left pre-frontal cortex, such as dancing or yoga.
  • Improving your social connection by talking to and seeing your friends and family more often.
  • Music.
  • Mindfulness meditation.
  • Journalling your feelings.
  • Touch and massage.
  • Medication – natural or prescribed.


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