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Helpful Vs Harmful: Ways to Manage Emotions

photo of a beautiful young thoughtful beautiful girl sitting on the beachFor most humans, emotions are a fact of life. Without significant impairments to the brain and neural network (such as substance use disorder, autism spectrum disorder, etc.), your brain will create the hormonal and neurotransmitter responses that result in emotions. For the most part, that’s a great thing. Emotions provide the motivation and reward for living, for engaging in socially desirable behavior, and for doing things that are good for you. From that rush of “I finished a big project”, to feeling nice because you did something like taking the trash out for your mother, emotions promote desirable behavior. 

At the same time, emotions provide negative stimulus. Whether you engaged in socially undesirable behavior, are reacting to someone engaging in socially undesirable behavior, or are experiencing significant stress, your body uses negative emotions to try to prompt you out of bad situations. Yet, those situations are sometimes unescapable in modern society. For example, if you’re stressed about work, you can’t easily quit and find a new job. If you have money problems, you can’t just step out from under it. And, if you have a fight or break up with your partner or spouse, you have to deal with those emotions. That’s normal, natural, and healthy. But, there are always unhealthy ways to deal with and to manage emotions.

Creating healthy coping mechanisms, dealing with emotions in a healthy way, and building up your self-esteem are crucial to retaining and regaining your mental health. In fact, negative behaviors around dealing with emotions are one of the primary factors in mental health disorders and substance use disorders. 

Not Making Time to Feel Bad

If you brush emotions aside, refuse to deal with them, and ignore them, you’re engaging in unhealthy ways to manage emotions. It’s obviously logical that you might not want to make time to cry about a loss while at work. You might not want to show your kids that you’re stressed or frustrated. But, it’s important to acknowledge emotions.

Acknowledging emotions means:

  • Assessing the extent to which emotions feel bad and giving yourself a reasonable amount of time to feel bad
  • Assessing if there’s anything that will make you feel better or that will fix the situation that is making you feel bad and taking steps to resolve that (e.g., if you suffer from chronic stress related to being in debt, taking extreme steps to get out of debt faster such as by moving in with parents or a friend, might be a good call.
  • Taking time to feel emotions in a healthy way. E.g., taking a bath by yourself to deal with frustration. Using exercise or meditation to manage stress. Giving yourself time to openly talk about and discuss being sad and to allow your productivity to drop for a few weeks following a loss. 

You will experience emotions and some of them can be debilitating. It’s important not to let yourself get caught up in them for a long time. Coming home angry because of a traffic jam does no one any good. But you have to acknowledge that you were made to feel, to give yourself time to process that, and to move on. 

Indulging in Quick Coping Mechanisms

Quick coping mechanisms, often drugs, alcohol, sex, and food can make you feel better. But, self-medication is almost always negative in that it enforces negative behaviors, it doesn’t help you actually deal with the emotion, and it often creates more opportunities and room for more negative emotions. For example, self-medication is the most common response to chronic stress. You come home, you have a beer to unwind. You take an extra Xanax when the kids are being especially loud. You use anything you have to dull the emotion so you feel better. That very harmful “coping” mechanism will just dig you in deeper.

Coping with emotions in a healthy way means acknowledging them. It means looking at their root cause. And it means creating plans to resolve them where you can. Good coping mechanisms mean assessing what the problem is and what the short and long-term solutions are. “I’m always stressed when I get home from work because of the commute – I should look for a new job with less commute or where I can work from home – that isn’t feasible immediately, so I will schedule an hour to relax after I get home”.

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Using Blame and Denial

photo of an upset man blaming and avoiding his girlfriendBlame and denial are one of the worst ways to cope with an emotion. You feel bad, so you blame someone else for making you feel that way. Or, you feel bad, but you refuse to acknowledge that to other people, so you hide it. Both of these coping mechanisms result in avoidance of the emotion. They’re also significantly more common in men than in women. That’s important because men are often brought up to be tough and emotionless. The problem is that avoiding emotions doesn’t help them to go away, it just bottles them up, and it bottles up the pressure and stress you experience from them.

Processing emotions in a healthy way means acknowledging them. It means talking about them. It means sharing them and seeking social support. That can be especially difficult for men who don’t have a good idea of what to call emotions, how to talk about their mental health, or even where to start. But, treatment centers like 10 Acre Ranch can give you the tools to acknowledge, share, and manage your mental health.

Ignoring Your Physical Health 

The worse we feel, the less likely we are to take care of ourselves physically or mentally. Indulging in a pizza and staying in bed can feel great, for a bit. You’re welcome to take that indulgence for a bit. But when it becomes a habit, you’re actively hurting your mental health.

Your mental health is intrinsically tied to your physical health. That means good nutrition, regular exercise, and a clean house and person will help you to stay mentally healthy. Taking care of yourself, your responsibilities, and your nutrition are key parts of coping with emotions.

Not Taking Personal Responsibility for Your Emotions

Most of us think of emotions as something that “happens” to us. An event impacts us, we experience an emotion, and we just hang along for the ride. That’s why incidents of American men punching holes in drywall have become so common that it’s an international meme. The thing is, emotions aren’t a wild ride in which you have no control. Emotions are influenced by your thoughts, how you deal with them, how you react to them, and how you build yourself and your abilities up when you’re feeling well. Obviously, a person with good mental health and low stress will always be in a better position to respond well to emotions. But, you always have control over how you react.

Not taking personal responsibility for how you react to your emotions is incredibly harmful. It sets you up to make decisions and take actions that hurt your future wellbeing. Like destroying your walls, saying unpleasant things to a partner, or taking drugs or alcohol. Learning better behaviors can be difficult. In fact, many people can’t do so alone. But, with treatment including cognitive behavioral therapy designed to do just that, anyone can learn emotional and stress regulation. These skills will help, and they will improve how you experience and manage emotions.

No matter where you are in life, you will always experience negative emotions. Some of us struggle with those a lot more than others. But, if you’re experiencing persistent downs, struggle to cope with stress, or struggle to cope with anxiety, you may need help. 

If you or your loved-one struggles from mental health or substance abuse please contact us today and speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors. We’re here to help you recover.