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How Negative Emotions Help

You might use the word "negative" to describe more difficult or unpleasant emotions like sadness, fear, anger, confusion, or stress. But it doesn't mean those emotions are bad or you shouldn't have them. 

All emotions tell us something about ourselves and our situation, even negative ones.

How Do Negative Emotions Help?

Negative emotions can warn you of threats or challenges that you may need to deal with. For example, fear can alert you to possible danger. It's a signal that you might need to protect yourself. Angry feelings can warn you that someone is crossing a boundary or violating your trust. Anger can be a signal that you might need to stand up for yourself. 

Negative emotions focus your awareness on a problem that you might have to handle quickly. Paying attention to and even welcoming negative emotions can be a way to cope.

How Can I Use Negative Emotions for Good?

Try using negative emotions to your advantage. For example, if you’re stressed about an upcoming test, notice your reaction. Are you dreading, complaining, or worrying about it? You now have the signal that this situation needs your attention, and you can find ways to make it better.

Let stress remind you to study well in advance. Or you could get some extra help from your teacher, parents, or a friend. Perhaps you need do something to relax your body or think more positively about the test. After all, nobody feels stressed out by thoughts about doing well on a test. Chances are that if you do something to cope, you'll keep your stress from spinning out of control.

What if I Have Too Many Negative Emotions?

Too many negative emotions can make you feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or exhausted. Problems might seem too big to handle. If this happens, talk with a trusted adult like a parent, teacher, or coach.

If there isn’t an adult to turn to, reach out to a confidential helpline. These are free and available 24 hours a day:

Reviewed by: Lisa M. Buckloh, PhD
Date Reviewed: Jun 1, 2023

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