Every day, each of us experiences a vast range of emotions. Sometimes those emotions spur us to take positive action, such as donating to a charity or volunteering our time when tragedy strikes. Other times, they can lead us down an unproductive and even harmful path.
It’s easy to get caught up in negativity, but it’s also possible to clear your head and get your thoughts back on track. Here are five signs your feelings may be leading you down a worrisome path and some solutions to help you turn things around.
Your reaction is too long or too intense
You’re right to feel the emotions you do, experts says.
“Emotions are not good or bad,” says Phyllis Zilkha, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and consultant. “They are what they are, and they’re the result of you reacting to various situations.”
The problem is when an emotion continues to negatively affect you and your actions long after you should have moved on.
“For example, they went into a store, and they were badly treated so they’re angry and hurt. They need to be able to understand that that’s one piece of the day and that good things happened, too,” Zilkha says. “It’s about how to work on managing emotions. We’d all like to be hopeful and peaceful all the time, but this is not the world.”
Try putting all the events of your day into perspective.
You’re not sure what’s really going on
The ability to transition from an emotional high or low to an even keel comes from understanding what emotions are really about and where they come from.
“A lot of negative emotions are tied to our self-esteem and misperception of our talents,” says Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein, a psychologist and author. “It’s helpful to focus realistically on your true talents, interests, strengths and potential.”
Your best bet: Step back from a distressing situation and consider whether you're simply judging yourself and your abilities too harshly.
You don’t know what you should feel
Emotions don’t come with an on and off switch.
“A lot of people believe it’s easy to be happy,” Holstein says. “But all of the things that give us pleasure require deciding that, first, you’re entitled to this and, two, that you’re going to figure out how to make time and energy for it.”
For many, Holstein says, it’s easier to be miserable because they’ve had so much practice. Escaping negative emotions requires that you take a moment and decide whether this is how you want to feel right now. If the answer is no, the next step is to decide how you’d rather feel and focus on nurturing that emotion.
You lack a happiness plan
Like any skill, nurturing positive emotions – and letting go of those that are not – takes time and planning. For example, if working out at the gym lifts your spirits, you must decide to make time for those workouts, and plan how you will achieve that goal. Like exercise, “happiness has to be practiced,” Holstein says. “Most people do not permit themselves enough time to be happy.”
You’re not sure why you feel this way
Passing sadness or anxiety is a normal, natural reaction to a bad situation. But when the feeling doesn’t fade, is all-consuming or affects your work or relationships, the problem is much bigger than normal emotional swings.
“When you have an overwhelming emotion that you can’t attribute to anything, it’s important to have the courage to reach out and find people to help and get things answered,” Holstein says. “It is hard to do this completely on your own. Often people need the support of either a supportive professional or physician.”
Want more tips or advice? Find a counselor or behavioral health professional.