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Reducing Negative Emotions and Increasing Positive Emotions

By Deborah Etienne-Ward

It is not normal or even possible to experience positive emotions all the time and be rid of negative emotions. This is because positive and negative emotions serve an evolutionary function by making us feel good after adaptive behaviours and not so good after maladaptive behaviours. With that said there are steps that we can take to reduce our susceptibility to feeling down. These include:

Treating Physical Illness– When we are physically unwell we are at greater risk of experiencing negative emotions.

Balanced Eating– Eating a balanced diet of adequate regularity and quantity can help to make you feel good. Mood can also be improved by consuming ‘sometimes’ foods in moderation. For example a hot chocolate might help to make you feel calm. In contrast restricting our eating or participating in ‘fad diets’ can have a negative impact on our mood. We have all experienced that state of being ‘hangry’ (hungry angry), but food restriction can also lead us to feel down, anxious, agitated, and cause us to have mood swings.

Avoid Taking Mood Altering Drugs– Alcohol and drugs can lower your resistance to negative emotions. Many drugs heighten your mood in the short term, however, lead to depressed feelings in the longer term.

Sleep– An adequate amount of sleep (not too much and not too little) can help to promote positive mood. The amount of sleep that we require differs on an individual basis, however, for an adult, 7-9 hours is usually recommended.

Exercise– Aerobic exercise in moderation (such as a 30 minute walk) can be helpful to prevent emotions (especially anxiety) from becoming overwhelming. Pairing exercise with social activities can be helpful to increase motivation for exercise.

In addition to these suggestions, doing one enjoyable activity each day also helps to build positive emotions. Positive experiences do not have to take a lot of time. Some examples are: soaking in a bathtub, listening to music, reading a book, practicing yoga, talking to friends, buying some flowers, playing XBOX, watching TV, or getting a massage. Furthermore, engaging in tasks that provide a sense of accomplishment can also help to build positive emotion. For example you might choose to tackle something on your to-do list.

Making positive changes takes time. Today, give yourself permission to make one small change towards building your resistance to negative emotions. Whether the change is deciding to leave the office and get out in your lunch break, going for a 30 minute walk, having that dessert with dinner, or going to bed early so that you get adequate sleep, make it your priority for the day.

For some people it can be difficult to make these changes and engage in these activities, particularly if you are suffering from mental health conditions. If your illness prevents your from completing these tasks, you may wish to engage with a psychologist. Please contact the BodyMatters team if you would like further information.

References

Linehen, M.M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

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