The pressure to feel optimistic can make you feel depressed, while embracing your darker moods can actually make you feel better in the long run, according to new research.
“We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds to better psychological health,” said study lead author Iris Mauss, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.
At this point, the researchers can only speculate why accepting their emotions without joy can calm them, like dark clouds rushing past the sun and out of sight.
“Maybe if you have an accepting attitude toward negative emotions, you’re not paying as much attention to them,” Mauss said. “And maybe, if you constantly judge your emotions, the negativity can build up.”
The study, conducted at UC Berkeley and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, tested the link between emotional acceptance and psychological health in more than 1,300 adults in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Denver, Co. metropolitan area.
The results suggest that people who commonly resist acknowledging their darkest emotions, or judge them harshly, may end up feeling more psychologically stressed.
In contrast, those who generally allow such gloomy feelings as sadness, disappointment, and resentment to run their course reported fewer symptoms of mood disorders than those who criticized or rejected them, even after six months.
“It turns out that how we deal with our own negative emotional reactions is really important to our overall well-being,” said lead study author Brett Ford, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. “People who accept these emotions without judging them or trying to change them can cope with their stress more successfully.”
Three separate studies were conducted in various groups, both in the laboratory and online, taking into account age, gender, socioeconomic status, and other demographic variables.
“It’s easier to have an accepting attitude if you lead a pampered life, so we ruled out socioeconomic status and major life stressors that could skew the results,” Mauss said.
In the first study, more than 1,000 participants completed surveys rating how strongly they agreed with statements such as “I tell myself that I shouldn’t feel the way I do.” Those who, as a rule, did not feel bad about feeling bad showed higher levels of well-being than their less receptive peers.
Then, in a lab setting, more than 150 participants were tasked with delivering a three-minute videotaped speech to a panel of judges as part of a mock job application, promoting their communication skills and other relevant qualifications. . They were given two minutes to prepare.
After completing the task, the participants rated their emotions about the ordeal. Unsurprisingly, the group that normally avoided negative feelings reported more distress than their more receptive peers.
In the final study, more than 200 people wrote in a journal about their most demanding experiences over a two-week period. When asked about their psychological health six months later, the chroniclers who normally avoided negative emotions reported more symptoms of mood disorders than their non-judgmental peers.
Next, the researchers plan to look at factors such as culture and education to better understand why some people are more accepting of emotional ups and downs than others.
“By asking parents about their attitudes about their children’s emotions, we can predict how their children feel about their emotions and how that might affect their children’s mental health,” Mauss said.
Source: UC Berkeley
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