Acknowledging negative emotions makes us better equipped to cope with negative experiences
There’s something deeply satisfying about listening to sad songs when you’re feeling down. Picking a song list that matches your mood just feels right, and now research is suggesting that it may also help you feel better. There’s a point where acknowledging your sorrows can become full-blown moping, but experiments are finding that denial of negative feelings can make things significantly harder.
Seeing more than the sunny side
Of course, researchers couldn’t induce negative emotions by breaking up couples and causing pets to run away. Instead, they came up with three different experiments that let them study the relationship between how people acknowledged negative feelings and how well they coped with stress, difficulty and life in general. The first test was a simple survey with questions asking about people’s view of negative emotions. When coupled with outside emotional assessments, participants who accepted feeling bad sometimes probably spent less time feeling bad overall.
To test more acute stress, 150 participants were put through mock job interviews with two minutes of preparation. This wasn’t expected to be a pleasant experience for anyone, but participants were asked about how they felt about the interviews afterwards. Following the trend of the surveys, people who acknowledged and accepted negative feelings were generally less stressed by the interview experience. By allowing themselves the space to feel bad, bad experiences didn’t seem be so overwhelming when they came up.
Finally, 200 people were asked to keep a diary for two weeks about their most difficult experiences each day. Those diaries were then analyzed to see how much each writer acknowledged their own negative feelings when things didn’t go their way. Six months later, a follow-up evaluation looked at the writers’ mental health, and again found that people who accepted that life has its rough patches were generally better off, with fewer symptoms of mood disorders being turning up in their interviews.
Writing to reduce worry
An unrelated study from Michigan State University looked different, more direct form of acknowledging negativity. Chronic worriers aren’t in denial of negative feelings, but they do stress themselves trying to constantly control their worry. Researchers compared it to uncontrollable multitasking, effectively increasing a person’s cognitive load no matter what other tasks were at hand. To test how forms of engagement could make a difference in these cases, test participants were asked to either write about their feelings for eight minutes, or just what they got up to the day before.
After this brief writing exercise, all participants were given a computer based test that could assess accuracy and response times while sensors monitored their brain activity. People who wrote about their feelings didn’t become more accurate or faster, but the EEG sensors did find that they had an easier time performing at that level. It suggests that acknowledging anxiety in writing reduced the difficulty of controlling it moment by moment.
Source: Feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel worse by Yasmin Anwar, Berkeley News