This entry is part 3 of 9 in the series Feel Positive in Tough Times

Power Skill 2

Let go of negativity and create positive responses

Develop your emotion regulation skills. 


There isn’t very much that we have direct control over in our lives. For example, we cannot control other people, the weather, and traffic. Though it may seem complicated, we can control our reactions to the many things we have no control over. 

If you feel like you have no control over your reactions and emotions, have no fear. There are specific things you can begin doing that will improve your ability to walk through your feelings in a productive way mindfully. 

Having the ability to regulate emotions means responding to all levels of emotional situations in a way that helps you rather than hurts you. The development of this skill will lead to more resilience by providing a way to feel emotions without letting them control their behavior. 

The inability to regulate emotions leads to troubled relationships and shame because it doesn’t directly address the core emotions. Working on emotion regulation will help you identify emotions and react to situations reasonably. It will help you address what is causing your suffering without engulfing you in negativity. 


Re-Frame the Situation 

There are several things you can do to strengthen your ability to regulate your emotions. A great way to begin this practice is by implementing a concept called “cognitive reappraisal.” This involves changing your perspective on a negative situation into a positive one.

It’s easy to assume that the worst thing possible is going to happen. We tell ourselves stories about the semantics of emails, the odd looks we get, and what the future holds for us. It’s easy to wonder what the next unfortunate thing will be. 

This habit creates unnecessary suffering and frequently leads to further negative emotions rather than good ones. It’s impossible to mind-read, and we cannot tell the future. By attempting to do so, more frustration comes, and it’s challenging to handle. Instead, look at the situation objectively to consider other scenarios. 

For example, imagine you’re having dinner with your family, and someone gives you a look that seems frustrated or annoyed. Immediately, your mind may start racing to the possible things that could be wrong. You play through everything you’ve ever said or done that could have caused this person to look at you that way. 

If you believe these negative things so much, you’ll notice heightened negative emotions and a poor attitude. Thoughts begin to flood, and your behavior may be influenced. 

Instead of assuming anything about what might have caused this situation, you can pause to take a step back and re-frame your perspective. 

Rather than having the thought, “They are mad at me for no reason,” you could re-frame that idea and consider the view, “They might be having an off night, or that look was not intentional.” By thinking of these things differently, you’ll feel your anxiety lessen, and your emotions will not turn into something too powerful to keep track of. 

When you find that you’re feeling strong emotions, you don’t have to push them down and tell them not to exist. 


Allow Negative Emotions 

It’s important to understand that all emotions are valid. If you tell yourself that there are emotions you’re not allowed to feel, those emotions won’t go away. Instead, they’ll make their way into the ways you speak to yourself, behave, and regulate emotions in the future. 

If you can practice accepting your emotions, you’ll notice that it’s easier to feel them. Acceptance doesn’t mean that you have to be pleased with your feelings. It doesn’t mean that you have to be at peace with the current situation. Accepting your emotions simply means that you’re acknowledging the truth of what you feel. 

Rather than trying to push down your emotions, it helps if you can label them instead. When you can label what you’re feeling as an emotion, you can say to yourself, “Right now, I am feeling anger.”  You’ll notice a new separateness begin to form where the feeling doesn’t feel so much like it’s controlling you.

It isn’t always easy to acknowledge your emotions and not do anything in reaction to them. One way to develop this skill further is by practicing mindfulness skills.

Mindfulness encourages non-judgmental awareness and will help you sit with your feelings rather than react to them. 


Practice these mindfulness skills for emotion regulation:

 1. Observe your breathing. Set a timer for three minutes and simply become aware of your breath. You don’t need to breathe in a certain way or force yourself to think of anything in particular. If you can spend time simply noticing your breath, you’ll begin to feel calm. When your mind wanders, just go back to focus on your breathing.

2. Spend ten minutes of coloring. Whether or not you consider yourself creative, coloring in a coloring book is a great way to focus on one thing instead of getting swallowed up in emotions.

3. Play a musical instrument. Whether you want to learn a musical instrument, or you already play one, sitting down to create music is a great way to practice mindfulness. It’s also helpful to write songs that can help you process your emotions in creative ways.

4. Getting outside is a path to mindfulness when you do it with intention.  Go for a walk in a park or in your neighborhood, observing nature to notice simply.  Observe your surroundings and name the things you see, hear, or smell.

5. Visualize your emotions floating by like clouds, or like leaves on a slow stream. Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful place that is serene and comforting. Next, imagine an animal or object gently passing by. Place one of your emotions on each of those things and watch that emotion peacefully float onward. 

Mindfulness helps to tether us to the present moment. These skills build resilience, and they enhance your quality of life. A practice of mindfulness habits will help strengthen your brain function and remind you of the excellent coping skills in the future. 


Increase Positive Emotions 

Whether you’re in a time of distress or time of peacefulness, it’s essential to have positive experiences. Sometimes we get lost in the hustle and bustle of life, and we forget to have fun on purpose. By doing things to have a good time, you’re setting yourself up for success in the future. 

1. Having positive memories helps give hope when times are difficult.

If you’re struggling, try doing something you’ve previously enjoyed. Give yourself permission to do something that brings you joy, even if things feel like they’re falling apart around you.

 You can increase positive emotions by doing things that you enjoy. You can watch your favorite stand-up comedian, go on a hike in the woods, or enjoy a cooking class. If you can’t think of anything you like, start by going on a walk or taking a shower and being mindful while doing so. 

Practicing gratitude brings about positivity, even when it’s hard to stay positive.


2. Make a gratitude list each day and see what happens in your attitude. You don’t have to come up with grand things to be grateful for. If you like the pen, you write with, be thankful for that pen. If you’re having a bad day and can’t think of anything, practice being grateful for the oxygen or your pet or your favorite meal. 

You can change your current outlook by balancing your negative thoughts with some positive thoughts.

For example, if you’re thinking, “I will never understand this,” you can replace that thought with, “I am excited to keep learning.” This offers a shift in perspective that will help with tolerating emotional distress. 

Knowing how to regulate your emotions is a powerful tool for resilience. This skill offers the ability to sit with feelings and move on from them without making impulsive decisions.

When you’re going through a stressful period of life, it can feel like everything is out of control. However, you can control your reactions.