Defusing Negative Emotions

We like to think that our cognitive processes and rational thinking guide our everyday actions. That may be true. But it’s a mistake to discount the emotional components that also drive our actions, choices, and decisions.

That’s why it’s important not only to recognize and credit our emotions – and those of other people, of course – but also to find ways to operate as infrequently as possible from the negative side of our emotional spectrum.

To that end, here are some ways to recognize and alleviate negative emotions in your work and your life to which you may sometimes be subject:

Silver Linings in Frustration or Irritation

Frustration and irritation are often signs that you’re feeling caged, restricted, or otherwise unable to get what you want. These feelings may go away on their own, but until then, they can turn your mood dark, weaken your motivation, and even lead to unwarranted anger that can create new and long-lasting problems.

To prevent this, first pay attention to the causes that have generated your feelings of frustration or anger. Do they justify the depth of feeling you’re experiencing?

If they don’t, consider what else is going on inside you. You may be re-living a frustrating or irritating experience that the current situation brings up for you. If you are, try to isolate the current causes from unrelated emotional triggers. It’s important to limit your current feelings to fair responses to the current situation.

If your feelings are justified (or once they are, after the previous process dials down your feelings toward a proportionate response to the current situation), try to give at least some weight to any positive “silver lining” you can find in the frustrating or irritating situation.

For example, if something good or pleasurable that you want is delayed, perhaps you’ll derive even more enjoyment from it as a result of waiting longer. If someone has blocked a plan or a project you want to pursue, perhaps their objection has merit and will drive you to improve what you hope to do or accomplish.

It may also be helpful to reflect on previous moments of frustration or irritation that lasted only a short time and/or worked out satisfactorily.

A shift toward a proportional response and a positive angle on the current situation can go a long way toward defusing the frustration and irritation that might otherwise produce unnecessarily negative experiences.

Facing off Against Worry or Anxiety

Most of us are prone to feelings of worry or anxiety in a variety of situations. Unfortunately, these may be situations we’re likely to experience more than once, moments that include one or more of such elements as:

  • We’re going to be evaluated,
  • We need to perform at a high level,
  • We must attempt something difficult for the first time,
  • We care very much about achieving a desired result,

and so forth.

Worry and anxiety are fairly normal in such situations, but they nevertheless feel bad and also tend to hamper your performance.

To reduce or even eliminate these negative emotions, start by controlling your breathing. There are many breathing techniques that can help to calm your emotions and relax your body. Find ones that work well for you, and use them whenever necessary.

You may also find it helpful to explore your worries in detail. Identify the precise elements of the situation that worry you. What are the associated worst-case scenarios? How might you react to each of those scenarios to get your life back on a positive track?

In addition, kick your rational brain into gear and look for ways to remedy whatever might be triggering your feelings of worry or anxiety. Having a positive plan and taking positive action to mitigate worrisome situations through preparation and other strategies can significantly reduce your natural level of anxiety.

Soothing Anger or Aggravation

Because we’re heavily socialized to restrain or mask offensive behavior, feelings of anger or aggravation can easily build up inside us – largely unexpressed – until a triggering event breaks the dam and allows a vast amount of negative emotion to suddenly escape.

For this reason, it’s important to stay alert for small feelings of anger or aggravation and release them in relatively healthy ways before they build up.

Signposts of anger can include sarcasm, veiled or overt insults, muscle tension, negative thoughts, even self-denial or a desire for isolation.

To prevent the build-up of uncontrollable anger levels, it’s important to cultivate an easy-going attitude. Pick your battles wisely, and let relatively unimportant matters work themselves out however they do.

It’s also important to find constructive ways to release the small amounts of anger that you inevitably do experience. These can include breathing exercises, physical exertions or sports activities, creative outlets, and the like.

Since you can never live without experiencing some negative emotions, the sensible approach is to recognize and deal with them before they can grab control and steer you into a less productive, less successful course of action.

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