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how to cope with negative emotions

Updated: Sep 26, 2020

Although generating alternative thoughts can be helpful when challenging thinking traps, we can also use “standard” thoughts to handle many difficult emotions and situations.

Repeating these thoughts to yourself like a 'mantra' can reduce the intensity of your mood, and help you choose a more helpful response or behaviour in tough times.

Sometimes simply saying how you feel and why can make an emotion less intense.

"I am furious that my friend did not turn up as he promised."

"I am very lonely because my sister is out of town."

Often, we choose unhelpful behaviour because we respond based on how we feel. We often act to avoid unpleasant or difficult emotions by purposely avoiding a situation or person that triggered it. We might leave a situation we feel anxious about, or avoid a task because we feel overwhelmed by it.

Although generating alternative thoughts can be helpful when challenging thinking traps, we can also use “standard” thoughts to handle many difficult emotions and situations. Repeating these thoughts to yourself like a 'mantra' can reduce the intensity of your mood, and help you choose a more helpful response or behaviour in tough times.

Sometimes simply saying how you feel and why can make an emotion less intense.

"I am furious that my friend did not turn up as he promised."

"I am very lonely because my sister is out of town."

Try stating your mood and a coping thought aloud for even greater effect.

"I'm feeling really disappointed about this but it's been an opportunity to learn how to improve my game.""I'm feeling really sad but that's an emotion and does not have to dictate what I do."

Using self-talk or coping thoughts like these can help you to get through difficult or intense emotions so you can choose more helpful behaviours. Go to the next tab for more information about self-talk.

Feelings Are Not Facts

Remember, emotions do not necessarily reflect reality or fact. Emotional reasoning (a type of thinking trap) is when we rely on our emotions or feelings too much in deciding what is real or true. For example, feeling nervous or anxious before an exam does not necessarily mean that you don’t know any of the answers or that you will fail.

If you feel emotional reasoning taking over, the tips below might help:

· Recognise how you are feeling and name it as an emotion.

· Remind yourself that these emotions do not necessarily reflect reality.

· Get some perspective

How would you view the situation if you were less angry, stressed or sad? Ask your friends and family how they might feel.

· Pause

Give your emotion time to subside before you act. Review the situation when you are feeling the emotion less intensely.

· Rest

When you are tired you are more likely to use emotional reasoning. Rest allows you to think more clearly.

· De-stress

Stress has an impact on your general emotional state. Using a relaxation technique can help get you through stressful periods.

Helpful Thoughts

Though you may not believe these new thoughts or self-talk at first, if you keep going, they will become more real to you. Just like any skill, practice is essential! Select helpful thoughts from the list below to build a store of coping thoughts for yourself. You can also add your own coping thoughts if you wish.

Finishing Up

After you have finished working through the standard 6-8 weeks of this programme, you can continue to access it. It is helpful to return to these modules, as learning takes time and practise. Your supporter will no longer review your work. You can however use the site as usual, to write in your journal, and do activities, or exercises.

Hopefully you have gathered lots of information and ideas from this programme. You can make even more progress by using these new ideas in your everyday life.

Often, making small, gradual changes in your daily activities or thinking can help your mood.

CBT information and exercises are proven to be helpful with depression. You may also come across techniques from other sources to help you as you move forward.

Be realistic. Acknowledge that the skills you have learned are works-in-progress.

Some days it may be easier to apply what you have learned. Other days it may be harder. Be kind to yourself when it is not so easy, and practise to improve these skills.

Staying Well - Warning Signs

One of the most important parts of staying well is to stay in touch with how you are feeling. This includes knowing what triggers your anxiety and recognising your warning signs.

Warning signs are the early signs that your anxiety has been triggered.

For example, warning signs might include feeling physically tired, not sleeping well, or being irritable with loved ones. Being aware of your own warning signs means you can take action to prevent a full-blown episode of your anxiety from growing stronger and taking a strong hold of your life.

These early warning signs are an important message from your body and mind that you need to take action, reduce stress, and do things to keep well.

Planning For Wellness

For some people, the easiest way to plan for wellness is to organise “check in” dates on a calendar, or put together a “to-do” list, which allows for time to target specific goals. On the Tools page, you will find the Goals tool, which can help you set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound) goals for your ongoing recovery or plan to stay well.

Staying Well Plan

A staying well plan can be helpful in preventing future setbacks, or dealing proactively with setbacks when they do happen. Take a look at the sample answers below before moving to the Staying Well activity section to fill in your own.

A Sample Cycle: Staying Well



The first thing I usually notice when I start to feel anxious is that I am physically tired and become irritable with friends and family. I will watch out for these things and take action when they happen.



I need to keep myself occupied even if I am unemployed. I will keep up voluntary work and team sports, even if I sometimes do not feel like it.



I realise that my past experiences of being bullied in school may influence the difficulties I have now, but I will work on my present experience and acknowledge past experiences as just that - past.



In order to stay well I realise I need to stay in touch with my family and friends. I will call my sister once a week. I will meet up with my old work friends at least every two weeks. I will avoid too much socialising in the pub.



I know that I am particularly susceptible to feeling anxious when I am hungover, so I will work on reducing my drinking and use my alcohol/choices chart to remind myself of the link between drinking and my mood.



The emotions I find most difficult to cope with are apprehension and insecurity.



I often get headaches and a lot of tension in my muscles when I am anxious, so to stay well I need to keep doing relaxation exercises.



I realise I tend to avoid contact with people when I am feeling anxious and I also double check things a lot. I will make sure not to pretend to be busy but instead make an effort to keep up contact even when I am not feeling great.



I know now that I start worrying a lot when I am anxious. I will continue to use thought records, remind myself of my tendency to catastrophise and use this to help me challenge my negative thoughts. I will also mentally rehearse my coping phrase: "this is just an emotion and need not dictate what I do" while reminding myself that thoughts are not facts.

Other Things To Do

There are lots of things people find helpful in staying well. This article introduces you to just some techniques or activities but you may very well come across a number of other ways to help you stay well. Think about ones you might like to try yourself. The list below may help.


Diet, exercise and sleep are all important parts of staying well. You can use the Mood & Lifestyle Choices Monitor. at any time to find out if there are aspects of your daily routine are unhelpfully contributing to a low mood.


These are not just for when you are recovering from low mood or depression - we all need to regularly engage in these activities to stay well.


It is important to find a way to relax, this is different for everyone.

Finding and maintaining a supportive social network can be an especially important part of staying well.

Research suggests that having even one person to rely on, or talk to, can make a huge difference to people’s mental health.

Social isolation and reduced contact with others can be bad for physical health, mental health, and happiness.

Why not take a look at your social support network now and see who you can call on, or who is important in helping you to stay well.

Do Something For Someone Else

Don’t forget, social support is not all about having the opportunity to vent or discuss your difficulties. Listening to what another person has to say can also help you feel much better.

Social contact such as helping others, paying them a compliment, or soothing them is good for you. Research suggests that the happiest, most satisfied people are those who regularly support and help others. Why not think of a good deed that you can do for someone else and see how you both benefit!

Choose Who You Spend Time With

Be careful of the people you choose to spend time with, especially when you are feeling a little down. Although it can be helpful to spend time with friends when you are feeling distressed, some friends may not help your mood at all.

Avoid talking at length and repeatedly about your problems with a friend unless you are making some effort to challenge your thinking. We all need to vent and this can be a healthy response at first. But, venting in the same way can often make you feel worse.

Moving Forward

It's normal if your low mood or anxious feelings return occasionally. Do not be discouraged. Recovery is not about never feeling low or anxious. Rather, it is about building a more healthy and helpful response to situations, emotions, and thoughts. This is what can prevent you from getting sucked into the cycle of depression or anxiety.

Nobody is relaxed, calm, and happy all the time, but the key to being generally satisfied is to work on becoming realistic and resilient over time. One way to do this is to revisit parts of this programme. It can be helpful to set dates to review key information that you found useful.

At times, life is especially difficult or stressful. A certain emotional response may be inevitable, expected, or even helpful at these times. Remember that a mood or emotion is not inherently negative or 'bad.' An emotion may be difficult or upsetting, but it is our thoughts and actions that determine an emotion’s short and long-term impact on our lives.

Try to embrace each emotion. Each one adds to the full spectrum of your human experience.

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