Feeling okay about feeling bad is good for your mental health

David R. Topor, PhD, MS-HPEd

When you have a negative emotion, are you upset or disappointed in yourself? Do you feel “bad” or “guilty” about this emotion? If so, you may be at risk for poorer longer-term psychological health.

A study in the July 2017 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at the psychological health of people who accept, rather than negatively judge, their emotional experiences. Researchers found that accepting these experiences led to fewer negative emotions when confronted with daily stressors.

The article reported on three separate, but related, studies that explored how accepting negative emotions, rather than reacting to them, affects a person’s psychological health.

The first study aimed to see whether accepting emotions was associated with greater psychological health, and if this association was moderated by several demographic variables. Undergraduate students at the University of California at Berkley completed evaluations to assess acceptance, stress level, and psychological health. The researchers found that accepting mental health experiences was associated with greater psychological health across a range of demographic variables including gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Further, results indicated that the benefits to psychological health were associated with accepting the emotions associated with a negative event, rather than the situation that triggered those emotions.

In the second study, the authors examined a potential explanation for how the tendency to accept negative emotions is related to psychological health. They explored whether accepting one’s mental experiences helps to decrease negative emotions when experiencing stressors. A consistent reduction in negative emotions should, in time, improve overall psychological health.

Again, a group of undergraduates completed questionnaires related to acceptance and to their emotional responses to a stressful task completed in the lab. Results indicated that by habitually accepting emotions and thoughts, people experienced a lower degree of negative emotion when in stressful situations.

Finally, the authors wanted to see if these results held up for people other than college students. They followed people in a Denver community for a six-month period. These study volunteers completed measures of acceptance, psychological health, and stress, and kept nightly diaries for two weeks identifying the degree of negative emotion felt when experiencing stressors that day.

Results indicated that people who habitually accept their emotional experiences were more likely to report greater psychological health six months later. This was true regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Further, people who accepted these emotions were less likely to respond negatively to stressors. That is, people who routinely accept their emotions and thoughts when under stress, experience less daily negative emotion during these times. This in turn is associated with increased psychological health six months later.

Taken together, these three studies highlight the benefits of accepting emotions and thoughts, rather than judging them, on psychological health. It seems like common sense. When a stressful situation causes negative emotions, accepting feelings of frustration or upset — rather than trying to pretend you’re not upset, or beating yourself up for feeling this way — reduces guilt and negative self-image. Over time, this will in turn lead to increased psychological health.

Comments:

  1. Lisa Butler

    This is the most awesome and great post has ever been read. It is all about negative emotion and guilty, an individual going through and facing in his life which can lead him to the dark sight. Negative thoughts and emotions generally arise when a person had gone through something really bad and uncertain in his or her life. It continuously struck the mind of that person and makes him or her completely disappointed. We should fight against the depression by facing it not by getting frustrated because of it. A person should also stay away from the environment in which he or she is undergoing through depression. Depression is the sigh of helplessness. Repression can be considered as a link to depression. Thus, one should find out how to be repressed by doing certain kind of activities to assure that depression will be totally vanished by doing so. The effect of depression has to be lowered down completely. A person can start meditation, yoga, various types of exercises and many such attempts to get rid of it totally. But, sometimes people are unable to lower down their level of anxiety and depression, in such cases, they can refer a psychic and undergo a psychic session once. Psychics possess an effective way how to fight from the depression and sorrows of a person’s life They can also have various other techniques and future prediction capabilities. This can help a person in various different ways.

  2. Jennifer Koro

    This reminds me of the kind of therapy in which you are asked to be aware of your negative emotions, their effect on your body, then accept them, and then try to let go of them.

  3. Claudia Biegel

    I know that accepting is very important but I find it almost impossible to accept a negative emotion when I think it is not appopriate. Like feeling bored on a holiday or feeling anger towards somebody you like and you don’t know why you feel that. Are there more people struggeling with this?
    Claudia

  4. Beata Lewis MD

    Yes, I totally agree with you. We should accept our condition instead of running from it. Everything can be cured nowadays. Very informative post.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Julian Maynard

    Distinguishing and comparing between accepting ones own emotions and thoughts and that of others would be helpful. Also, revealing what accepting ones emotions and thoughts actively looks like for readers’ identification with or measuring against would be helpful. Perhaps doing the same in contrast for judging would also enhance the practical value of an already good article. Thank you!

  6. Nebat Obadia Lugo

    I really appreciate what has been done i can sense this reality now because for situations that have had occurred to me which are in nature stressful in some states i found my self pretending and later on i experience the feeling of regretting and a sense of loss which reduce my efficiency of thing during my studies……..on the other hand when i have this attitude of not pretending automatically i always feel comfortable and relax…….thanks alots!

  7. nyamu james

    Accepting the situation as they are and doing what you like best suppress anxiety and depression.my way.

  8. G

    Repression is a link to depression. Express yourself. Find an alternate activity. Contemplate your navel, have an indulgence…pop corn, paint your nails, get a tattoo..you’ll distance yourself from the source of the psychological upset and find a better mental mindset. Namaste

  9. Gini Paulsen

    I respond to anxiety by addressing the source of that, and then also by reading. Marin Seligman described depression as “learned helplessness”, a situation in which we cannot change something that is causing us to be down. I tend to offset depression by some pleasurable activity (e.g., making jewelry.) And also by getting out of the specific environment in which I am feeling depressed (i.e., a hike).

  10. Shirley Anstis

    Accepting is better than pretending for sure and it’s good to have a study to cite for anyone who needs convincing. Thank you.

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