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5 step process for dealing with negative emotions

Updated: Feb 3



I like to think of negative emotions as a way for our minds to let us know there is something we need to pay attention to. There's something that's not quite 'right' in our world, something that doesn't 'fit' or feels unresolved.


If we don't pay attention, we can end up feeling the emotion for longer than we need to and that can be unhealthy and certainly unhelpful!


If we take the hint and pay attention to what caused the emotion and how we responded to that, we can

  • learn what we need to learn to feel OK with what happened,

  • decide if there’s an action we need to take,

  • let the emotion go, as it will have served its purpose,

  • learn something useful that we can apply to similar situations in the future.

By using what we’ve learnt the next time something similar happens, we increase our chances of avoiding or feeling a less intense level of emotion. Helping us to keep a clearer head and make better choices on how we respond.


If you follow this process regularly and embed what you learn, it can

  • begin to alter what you perceive as 'something to pay attention to' so you begin to feel less negative emotion generally. Things that used to “set you off” won’t anymore.

  • enable you to become a master at regulating your emotions. A key element of emotional intelligence - a core life and leadership skill.

  • help you feel more positive more of the time.



5 step process for letting go of negative emotions


If you’re reflecting on something that happened in the past, put yourself back there as if it’s happening right now.


1. What are all the reasons for this feeling and what’s the impact?

  • Run through them all and if possible, write them down to get them out of your head


“I’m feeling <angry/ sad/ afraid/ guilty> because…..”


  • And notice if that feeling or situation caused you to act or behave in a specific way (at the time or later).

For example

  • I’m feeling angry because they shouldn’t have left me out and I confronted them and we ended up having an argument.

  • I’m feeling guilty because I realise from her reaction that I shouldn’t have said that.



2. Apply what you’ve learnt from doing this exercise before

If you follow this process often, you’ll soon build up a list of emotion-dissolving-learning.


And if you apply that learning often enough it will become your new automatic reaction.


In case what I’ve learnt can help you, I’ll be sharing my learning in later blogs.

  • Core learning that helps me release most emotions most of the time, and

  • Specific learning for each of the main emotions (I covered sadness in this blog).

If this step gets rid of the emotion, you’re done.

If not, carry on.



3. Take back control of your head!

You can't think clearly or learn anything when you're in the middle of a negative emotion. It’s like your mind’s been hijacked by your emotions. So you need to take some action to regain control.


You may even find that doing step 1 does the trick, but if not, here are some more options:

  • Let the emotion out safely (not always possible ‘in the moment’): scream, cry, hit a cushion, have a rant, swear profoundly for a while...whatever feels right,

  • Breathe deeply for a few minutes,

  • Imagine stepping out of your body, creating some distance between you and the situation, so you see yourself in it and can look at things objectively,

  • Have a chat with yourself, as you would if you were helping a friend calm down,

  • Find some space and gaze at the sky for while,

  • Do some exercise, yoga or meditation,

  • Listen to some music.

Once you feel a bit calmer and can think straight agin, carry on to step 4.



4. Learn and decide what to do


What do I need to learn to let the emotion go?

Is there something that I can, or need to, actually do?


Your learning should be positive, useful things that you can apply. Things that, if something really similar were to happen in the future would mean you would

  • respond in a more helpful way,

  • get a better result, and

  • wouldn’t feel this emotion again (at least as not intensely or for so long).

It might include something to say to yourself or others, something you will do next time or something you can or need to do now.


These questions may help

  • What assumptions are you making and what are you saying to yourself about that event that is causing you to feel this way?

  • What other explanations or options might there be that you've missed or discounted?

  • What part did you play in what led to you feeling this way? This isn’t always relevant, can be a bit uncomfortable when it is, but results in great learning!

For more ideas to help with this step, have a look at the other blogs in this series and these ones: Perspective, Focus, and Stress management.


If doing this puts you back in the emotion, repeat steps 2 and 3


Carry on until you can’t think of anything more, and the emotion has gone.


Capture your choices and learning and keep them handy for next time! Refine them over time as you learn what works from doing this process and testing it out.



5. Embed your learning / sense check your choices

Close your eyes or gaze into space and vividly imagine applying what you've learned and chosen. Make sure you can see yourself feeling better and getting a better result.

  • If you do this and imagine getting the same emotion or your choice of action doesn’t seem to work out, there’s more to learn or different options to explore, so go back to step 4.

  • If you find that one emotion has gone but another one has taken its place, go through the process again focusing on that new emotion.

Carry on until there is no negative emotion left and you’re happy with your choices.


Repeat. Apply your learning to at least 3 but preferably 7 imaginary scenarios.


The more mental and real practice you do,

the more automatic your new responses will become.


If you struggle to make this process work on your own, but like the idea of what it could do for you, then my Emotional Spring Clean or coaching can help. Book a free call to discuss.


And if you'd like to make sure you see all of my blogs, sign up here for my monthly email.

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