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How to Deal With Negative Emotions

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How to Deal With Negative Emotions

Apr 14, 2020

Feelings of anxiety, being overwhelmed and ambiguity of the future can be common during a crisis, and it's human nature to avoid those emotions. But psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Chan says it's better to embrace the negative emotions you may have during times of uncertainties.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Uncertainty, fear, sadness, maybe even a feeling things are not going to be okay, those are all very natural reactions to the uncertain times we're currently living in. And if you are experiencing those or other negative emotions, what should you do about those? Dr. Benjamin Chan is a psychiatrist at University of Utah Health. What advice do you have?

Dr. Chan: So right now, my advice, my counsel is to embrace the negative emotions. We really struggle, as humans, evading, avoiding negative emotions. They don't feel good. It's uncomfortable. But right now we're going through an unprecedented crisis, where people are going to feel anxious, overwhelmed, the ambiguity of the future. And instead of running away from the negative emotions, embrace it. It's okay to feel angry. It's okay to feel scared, overwhelmed at times. So don't suppress those emotions. Embrace them temporarily and then what we talk about in mental health is to embrace positive coping skills.

Interviewer: All right. And what are we talking about when a psychiatrist says "positive coping skills?"

Dr. Chan: So positive coping skills, I would say, are things, activities, experiences that take us away from our current situation temporarily and bring us that feeling of joy, bring us that feeling of control.

Interviewer: When you talk about finding something that can bring you some joy, for some people it's exercise, right? That's a coping skill for them. If somebody isn't necessarily an exerciser, what are some other options for some coping skills? Are you talking about hobbies? What are we talking about?

Dr. Chan: For most people, getting some fresh air, going for a walk, tending to the pets, children going for a walk, that is supreme. So yes, I would recognize that's probably the most positive coping skill people have adopted during this time. But it can be hobbies. It can be reading books. It can be connecting with people that you haven't connected with. And actually, pick up the phone and call someone and just talk about what they're feeling, experiencing. That's been really beautiful. And then projects around the house. You can say hobbies. For a lot of people, like we have these things that we should be doing in our house, and we have put it off, put it off. So I have furniture I need to deconstruct and reconstruct. I have spring cleaning to do. There's all these projects that can be done. And again, it feels really satisfying to do something that I have put off for two, three years and to start doing that at home.

Interviewer: So it sounds like doing things where you can get a feel of satisfaction or success is really key, even though you might not feel like starting that project. Kind of like running is for me. Once I get going, I'm always glad that I did.

Dr. Chan: Yeah. Exactly, right. That's an excellent point. So I like the running analogy. When we look back to where we came from after a run, like think how long you went, like the journey to get there. And you went up that hill, down that hill, and then how you feel afterwards. You have that endorphin high of finishing a run, and you sleep better, you feel better. The same could be applied to those projects, those hobbies around the house. Because how many times have we walked through the garage, seen the pile of junk that we need to go through, what needs to be recycled, what needs to be thrown away, actually taking the time to do it, and then looking at that? Just like that run, like look at what you have accomplished. And you set aside an hour or two to do that, and now your garage is cleaner.

Interviewer: All right. So don't be afraid to embrace the negative emotions and then do a project, whether it's . . .

Dr. Chan: So you look at the body of work, the evidence, the literature, as you will, these type of activities have really helped people's outlook, mental health, well-being. And so these are incredibly important for us to adopt.