3 tips for coping when you’re feeling bad

Posted on September 25th, by Dr Rob Yeung .

What kind of emotions do you tend to experience when you feel bad? Are you prone to anger or depression? Or are you someone who gets tense and anxious a lot? I frequently run masterclasses and webinars for client organisations on how employees as well as leaders can help to protect their mental health. Often, the individuals that I coach on a one-to-one basis benefit from advice on handling their emotions, too.

Here are three steps you can follow to feel more in control of your emotions when you’re feeling bad.

1. Notice your feeling with curiosity rather than judgement

A lot of people punish themselves for feeling bad. In their minds, they may tell themselves harshly worded messages such as:

  • “Why am I so rubbish that I feel like this?”
  • “I should be able to control myself better than this!”
  • “I’m so angry with myself for getting this way.”

Unfortunately, telling yourself off for feeling the way you do may only serve to make you feel worse. There may be an external trigger such as a person or a problem in the real world that has made you feel bad (e.g., anxious, depressed, or whatever else you may be feeling). You could think of that trigger as the primary cause of feeling bad. But punishing yourself can then become a secondary cause, which may add an additional layer to your bad feelings. Essentially, by punishing yourself, you may only be making yourself feel bad for feeling bad.

So, when you do feel bad, simply notice your feeling with a sense of curiosity as opposed to judgement and self-punishment. Try to notice your feelings and sensations with a sense of “Hmm, this is interesting” – try to experience it without commenting on whether you should feel this way or not. Imagine yourself a scientist commenting on what’s going on in your mind as well as your body. For instance, if you feel any tightness in your body or physical tingling or other sensations, just notice them as if you were one scientist pointing it out to another scientist.

2. Name the emotion you’re feeling

Studies have shown that simply naming a negative emotion can help to reduce its power over you. Complete the sentence: “I am experiencing a feeling of…” Then insert the appropriate noun, e.g. “anxiety”, “depression”, “sadness”, “irritation”, etc.

It’s an incredibly simple technique. It takes only a few seconds to do. But studies have repeatedly shown that this labelling technique increases activation in the rational parts of the brain and reduces activation in the emotional parts of the brain. So, it can help to take the edge off of strong emotions.

3. Do something in the real world

Psychological techniques can help to reduce the power that your feelings have over you. But, it can often be a good idea to do things in the real world to restore your emotional equilibrium, your sense of Centredness, and composure, too.

So, have a quick think about what you could do for just a few minutes. Often, doing some physical activity can be a great way to feel better. I have clients who put on a favourite song – perhaps a calming song if they are feeling tense or an upbeat song if they are feeling down. Going for a brisk 5-minute walk – even if it’s just around the block or even around the office – can often help to reduce negative emotions. Or, even deciding to look out of a window and deliberately notice details in the world around you may help you to feel less bad. If you feel up to it, you could make a plan for tackling the situation or problem that has made you feel bad. The point is: don’t just sit and dwell on your feelings. Do something for a while.

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