It is not uncommon to see viral videos of people in Singapore engaged in petty fights on social media nowadays. It is perhaps a symptom of a deeper issue we’re facing in Singapore – stress and pent up emotions, which manifests itself in ugly ways when they’re suppressed.
It’s probably the reason why Fragment Room, a business that allows people to vent their frustrations physically on objects by smashing and destroying them, had more than a hundred customers within a week of their opening in 2017.
But breaking things may not necessarily be the only way to manage our negative emotions. There are ways and techniques to channel these emotions in ways that isn’t detrimental to our well-being.
There are three common ways we usually deal with negative emotions – Suppression, Distraction and Reappraisal.
One way to regulate our emotions is to inhibit the expression of our inner feelings. This is known as suppression.
The common expression of ‘smiling on the outside but crying inside’ is a good example of how one might use this strategy.
It should come as no surprise that suppressing negative emotions is correlated to decreased self-esteem and greater anxiety.
Indeed, suppression is not the best emotion regulation strategy. Instead of helping us overcome those negative emotions, it will cause us to feel even more negative with all these emotions pent up within us.
How then can we regulate negative emotions? There are two other strategies that we propose using. First, a temporary measure would be to distract ourselves.
Distraction refers to keeping our mind occupied with thoughts other than those negative ones.
A lot of times this strategy is used as a temporary break to consolidate thoughts before moving forward, but it can also be used as an escape route to avoid confronting a situation.
Distraction itself is not a bad regulation strategy, but how we use it is key.
There are 3 strategies for distraction to be effective.
Give yourself a break from the situation. This is an important step to make sure that you do not get overwhelmed with the situation.
Set aside a time for yourself to think about the situation. Other than the allotted time, do not ruminate and worry about the situation.
Write down your worries and concerns. You’ll be surprised to find that writing your worries down helps to alleviate your worries in your mind.
These 3 strategies used together can help you to take a pause and move forward better, instead of just running from the problem. The best solution that we recommend would be to reappraise the situation by looking at it differently.
The last commonly used emotion regulation strategy is reappraisal. If we give a different meaning to an event, a different emotion and action follow.
According to the ABC model popularised by Martin Seligman, our beliefs (B) interpret an activating event (A), resulting in consequent emotions and actions (C). Hence, A -> B -> C.
Most of the time we only see the cause (the activating event) and the effect (our consequent emotions), and we fail to see the important link, which is our beliefs.
Reappraising an event is changing our beliefs to bring about a different meaning to the event. This ultimately influences our emotions and actions taken.
Below is a simple some ways to reappraise an event:
What proof do we have that our thinking is right?
What is another way of thinking?
What does your thinking imply?
Is it useful to think this way?
Reappraisal is also known as disputing. Check out our blog on Resilience for more about this.
Fix, Not Break
Positive psychologist Martin Seligman once said that “life inflicts the same setbacks and tragedies on the optimist as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better”.
Everyone would have met with setbacks and troubles in their lives, but what set asides the optimist from the pessimist is their mindset and consequently the way they handle their emotions.
Instead of relying on breaking and smashing things to release our pent-up emotions, we can instead choose to handle our emotions at an earlier stage.
While distraction is only a temporary measure, when used in the right way it can help us better recollect our thoughts and regulate our emotions. This can prevent us from getting too overwhelmed by any situation and helps us to calmly think through our next step.
Reappraisal is however the best strategy to handling negative thoughts and emotions. Many times, we do not know the innate reason for our negative feelings. By identifying the beliefs that cause us to feel negatively and choosing to relook at the problems we face using a different mindset and attitude, our emotions will also change to be more positive.
Then we might just be able to look at our troubles with a smile instead of a frown.