The Key to Your Mental Health

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The key to emotional healthThere has been a trend over the past few decades to “iron-out” all those emotions that can make other people—including ourselves—uncomfortable. We are encouraged to adopt a warm, non-judgemental, quiet attitude towards life. Gone are the days when it was acceptable to have an adult temper tantrum or to voice negative opinions. By pursuing this ideal, we all thought we were helping to create a better world for everyone else and a healthier space in which to live our individual lives. Negative emotions, we were told, could help to erode our physical well-being.

Now, new research suggests that in fact, the opposite may be true. Shutting down so-called “bad emotions” could lead to illness and even an earlier death. A team of researchers reached their findings by first looking at traditional models of emotional interactions. These models emphasized the adverse effects of negative emotions on physical health. They then turned to the potential benefits that positive emotions could have on health. Finally, the researchers looked at what they call the “complex interplay” between negative and positive emotions that takes place in most of us. This is an emotional state of being in which you give space to positive emotions but allow negative emotions to get expressed as well.

When the research team measured the health impact of living with mixed emotions, they found that this state of being was strongly linked to better physical health. Not only that, approaching life with a complexity of good and bad emotions over the course of 10 years actually helped to stave off the typical declines in health that a person experiences as he or she gets older.

There you go—proof that you don’t have to behave in an emotionally perfect way. Let things get a little messy and express some of those so-called “bad emotions” like anger, negativity, or sadness.

There’s no point in feeling guilty about having these emotions, experts are now saying. Denying these emotions, rather than expressing them, is far more likely to get you in trouble both with your mental health and your physical health. It’s time to drop our cultural bias towards positive thinking and let a little reality in. No one is upbeat all the time and forcing this behavior on yourself can have unwanted, negative effects.

Life is complex, and although we all strive to see the good in everything, the truth is many life events trigger honest responses of anger, shame, guilt, jealousy, and regret. These emotions can help you to understand the things that happen in your life and can help you to grow emotionally. Just because you feel angry, for instance, doesn’t mean you’re a destructive force in the world.

Your anger, when expressed safely and evaluated, should lead you to positive action—ditto for negativity. Expressing negative thoughts helps you to identify the things you are unhappy with in your life. Once you have these issues out in the open, you can start to deal with them in a concrete way.

Denying your feelings can lead to emotional upset and ultimately, according to the researchers of this latest study, deteriorating physical health.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Hershfield, H.E., “When Feeling Bad Can Be Good: Mixed Emotions Benefit Physical Health Across Adulthood,” Soc Psychol Personal Sci. 2013 January; 4(1): 54–61.
Rodiquez T, “Feeling sad, mad, critical or otherwise awful? Surprise: negative emotions are essential for mental health,” Scientific American web site, June 5, 2013; http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=negative-emotions-key-well-being, last accessed Sept. 16, 2013.

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