Let go of the clutter of negative feelings

I recently read a blog post titled, “How to Stop Being Angry” by Peter Shankman. He offered 10 tips for letting go of anger and here’s number three:

Go find an animal. Go sit down on the floor and play with a dog or a cat for 10 minutes. Scientific study after scientific study has shown that playing with animals makes you happy, calmer, and better able to react well to life. Plus, they’re PUPPIES AND KITTENS!!!

This brought a smile to my face (I think I even chuckled out loud), and it also made me think about the similarities between physical and mental clutter. Just as excessive belongings can litter our space, so can emotions that do nothing to enhance our lives or the people around us. A continuous negative or foul mood can hang heavily around our necks like an albatross. When we walk around feeling angry or annoyed for long stretches of time, it can have a negative impact on our well-being, clutter our minds, and immobilize us.

Am I suggesting the only solution to mental clutter is to spend your days thinking about puppy dogs and rainbows? No, but it is helpful to find ways to head off those bad feelings before they take hold of you. And, perhaps more importantly, figuring out what triggers these emotions is a good way to start managing them successfully. These five strategies are often (okay, not always, but usually) successful at keeping emotions in check:

Be aware of your feelings

The first step to controlling your annoyance (or another negative emotion) is being aware of how you’re feeling. While it may seem that one would be very conscious of this, your mind can race and your thoughts can bounce about like electrons inside an atom, making it difficult to think clearly. So, make a concerted effort to think about exactly what you’re feeling in that moment. This can help you figure out what direction or course of action to take. Over time, you may come to notice that there are specific things that “rub you the wrong way,” and you’ll be able to find ways to control your emotions.

Try to remain calm

Instead letting anger boil inside of you, consider 10 reasons why someone would do or say something that gets under your skin. While you’re at it, think about 10 reasons why you may be feeling particularly sensitive. Pausing gives you the benefit of thinking rationally, can stop you from overreacting, and give you some time to calm down.

Step away from the situation

There are some people who are in our lives for the long haul and some we see often (e.g. coworkers) whom we would like to avoid but can’t. Still, that doesn’t mean you have to be in their presence when you’re feeling less-than-positive about them. Remove yourself from the situation, when possible. Excuse yourself for a few moments so you can regain your composure. Perhaps a breath of fresh air or a splash of cold water on your face will help you settle down and feel more prepared to not only deal with the how you’re feeling, but also come up with a strategy to interact well with the person that you’re having difficulty with.

Pretend to be happy

Push yourself to feel better. One way to do that is to put a smile on your face even though you may not want to. The facial feedback hypothesis states that facial movements can affect your emotions. Turning your frown upside down might actually put a positive spin on things. You may start out pretending to be happy, but there’s a possibility that you’ll end up actually feeling better.

Rethink the situation

If you can, re-frame the problem so things don’t seem so awful. Instead of thinking you’re in a conflict, think of the issue as a puzzle to be solved. If you spend more time coming up with ways to stay positive, there won’t be time for anger and frustration to fester.

If there’s someone in your life who repeatedly triggers negative feelings in you, your attempt to turn that around will be a process. You won’t change how you react or feel overnight and it may take a bit of practice. But, by using a combination of reflection and distraction, you’ll give yourself the opportunity to let go of negative thoughts. And, as I said earlier, it might not always work, but often these strategies do help you to let go of negative feelings so you can focus more on what matters to you.

10 Comments for “Let go of the clutter of negative feelings”

  1. posted by Matt on

    Great piece, and very timely indeed for those of us who are having busy/tough weeks. Thank you!

  2. posted by chippie on

    Gonna add some stuff to that.

    If the negativity/angst/anger/sadness/listlessness seem to last longer than they should (months), talk to a doctor. Sometimes brain chemistry contributes to anger and negativity, and adjusting the brain chemistry can support your ability to handle normal stuff and problems more gracefully in that case.

    I had a ‘chip on my shoulder’ for seven years before I realized that brain chemistry was involved, not just sleep issues or the work situation or whatever. I wish I had known it sooner. The difference is amazing.

    There are lots of other things you can do for short-term negativity also..
    * sleep well
    * eat healthy
    * exercise
    * do something escapist (read, movies, etc.)
    * wait for at least 4 hours before replying to the email

    …I’m sure there’s more as well..

  3. posted by Rebecca B. A. R. on

    Every week, when I go and volunteer at our local no-kill dog/cat shelter, I always come out in a better mood!

  4. posted by DivaJean on

    One thing that works for me is thinking about what I could be upset about if not for the current problem…

    And example of this would be- if I am mad about something happening at work, I turn my thinking around and wonder what it would be like if I had no job to worry about… which would be infinately worse.

  5. posted by cathleen on

    Not the real thing but great mental health break:

  6. posted by ceduke on

    I can have a short fuse, so lately I’ve been pushing myself to stop before I snap and ask myself “Is this going to irritate me in a week? A month? Will I even remember this then? That little exercise helps me keep a better perspective on small annoyances.

  7. posted by Lindsay on

    If you find yourself getting stuck at the first step, “Be aware of your feelings,” look into the possibility that you’re alexithymic. I’d been unknowingly suffering from this condition since my earliest childhood until I spent about five minutes with a good psychotherapist as an adult. Not everyone knows how to recognize and differentiate between feelings. It makes all the difference in the world to know that about yourself. It’s very much like the difference between always feeling stupid because you just can’t read as well as most people and finding out you’re dyslexic.

  8. posted by Michael Tannery on

    Working out and eating much healthier have greatly helped us. Also, it’s good to always have a mental list of things to do that can elevate your mood depending on your circumstances. For us, that includes meditating, listening to good music, driving around, volunteer work, hiking in the mountains, taking the dog to the dog park, watching a comedy flick at the local $2 theater, and many many other things. It’s like a bag of tricks that you keep handy.

  9. posted by MelD on

    Hm, 10 reasons why that person would say something to get under my skin?

    I would start with teenager, teenager, teenager… fortunately, they do grow out of it – if I didn’t have two other adult kids, I would be freaking out.

  10. posted by Shalin on

    At first, I recoiled at the suggestion of “Pretend to be happy” – I’m not a “fake it ’till you make it” kind of person. Still, after taking a look at the “facial feedback hypothesis” article (and putting a pen between my teeth for a few minutes), there does seem to be something to it.

    I’m more of a person that wants a gameplan, not a lollipop or even a coffee break, to solve something that’s frustrating me. But I’m pretty sure that the better the mood I’m in, the better my work will be, including a gameplan/solution to some issue.

    Thanks for this post 🙂

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