Honking your way down the freeway, Facebook stalking your frenemies, and that stomach-churning feeling of never-ending anxiety could be killing you slowly.
Whether you realize (or admit) it or not, negative emotions crop up on the daily. When these feelings aren't dealt with, they can take a toll on your health. Consider any single moment your anger was severely triggered—most likely you felt your stomach drop and your heart pounding like a kick drum.
No wonder chronic fits of anger have been shown to cause a greater risk of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. Negative emotions like resentment, envy, disgust, and fear all boil down to anxiety and stress, which can impair your immune system for hours at a time, upset hormonal balance, and make you susceptible to those deadly conditions. A study has found that subjects grieving the loss of a partner doubled their risk of a heart attack or stroke—so dying of a broken heart may be more than just an expression.
But before you try to fake-smile your way to good health, know that negative emotions are appropriate and of course, healthy. The trick is to not only recognize when and why you’re feeling them, but to actually let yourself feel them. Sound hippie-dippie? Well, think about all the moments you stuffed your negative thoughts only to experience them in full force at the most inopportune moments—say, meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time. Not a good look.
When you’re feeling the pressure of some common negative emotions, just go with it, but try not to get stuck in a funk. Validating your feelings and then letting them go opens up an opportunity to replace those negative emotions with positive ones.It might not be easy at first, but practice makes perfect.
Resentment → Forgiveness
Resentment is basically a quiet version of anger, when you feel slighted and stew over it for hours, days, weeks, or even years. In the words of Nelson Mandela, "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." When you think about it that way, it seems like a futile approach, right? Remember that most things another person does are not worth robbing yourself of inner peace, so recognize your resentment, let it go, then replace it with forgiveness. In doing so, you’ll feel a weight lifted.
Envy → Gratitude
Things might look picture perfect in your neighbor’s life, but you're only getting half of the story. Social media is a breeding ground for jealousy and envy, because your digital friends are constantly humble bragging about the good stuff—and probably keeping their overdue credit card bills to themselves.
The secret to overcoming the green-eyed monster? Don’t hate—congratulate! Pass the props, because positivity will create good energy that will find it’s way back to you. As soon as the insidious feeling of envy starts to rear it’s ugly head, shake it off by remembering things you’re grateful for. The more you practice this, the greater your outlook will be in the long run. The grass is always greener, but you don’t have to be.
Disgust → Acceptance
Okay, there’s someone in your life who's working your last nerve. Their voice, the way they chew their food, even their email sign-off just annoys you. Totally normal. But think about how much energy it takes to feel those feelings day in and day out—that's a lot of time to spend judging someone who probably isn't going to change.
If you're being mistreated by someone, you don’t have to accept unacceptable behavior—speak up. But if this is a mere personality clash, try accepting that person as they are. They could be teaching you more than you know about your personal boundaries and flexibility.
Fear → Love
Even Taylor Swift gets stage fright. Mick Fanning, the surfer who had to fight off a shark in the middle of a surf competition, admits he was a wreck during and after the incident. Whether your worst fear is getting fired, losing the love of your life, or the groundless self-imposed idea that you’re not good enough, whatever happens, you’ll be better equipped to tackle what comes if you face your fear with love.
Yes, it sounds like a self-help book, but the person most in need of your love in a stressful situation is yourself. When you feel like you’re living in fear, instead of playing out an unwanted outcome in your head, re-frame your thinking to focus on what you do want. Basically, think positively and the good things will fall into place. You only need to deal with the bad things if they come, and that may never happen. If it does, be gentle with yourself and have confidence that you got this.
Illustration by Karley Koenig