Do you tend to feel a lot of negative emotions? Do you feel bad about yourself? Or do you feel unhappy about your place in the world? The science has shown us that we actually have a lot of control over our feelings and well-being (take the well-being quiz to see where you’re at). So here are 7 science-based tips to help you feel better.
1. Strengthen Positive Connections in Your Brain
The more we use the parts of our brain that are responsible for positive things, the stronger those parts will get. Working with positive information, positive memories, and positive attention make all those things stronger. And building these more basic skills can help us be more effective at things like positive thinking, which makes us feel better. One way to use positive information more often is to memorize positive words. Researchers (Bradley & Lang, 1999) have even tested words to see which ones are the most positive. Check out my positivity workbook for a collection of positive words to use as your ‘word of the day’ or in memory games to build these positive connections.
2. Explore Your Emotional Goals
How do you define ‘feel better’? If you don’t know the answer, then how are you supposed to get there? Take a moment to ask yourself what exact emotions or experiences do you want to have when you ‘feel better’? Here are some emotions to reflect on. Try to identify the top 1 or 2 emotions you want to feel.
3. Pursue Your Desired Emotions
Once you know which emotions would make you feel better, you can better create an action plan for experiencing them. If you want to feel excitement, for example, plan a trip to do something new and invigorating. If, on the other hand, you want to feel relaxed, plan to get a massage, or learn how to engage in deep breathing. By knowing what your emotional goals are, you can more easily achieve them.
4. Practice Gratitude
When we’re not feeling good, it can be hard to be grateful for anything. But practicing gratitude for the things in our lives that are going well can help us feel better. By doing so, we shift our focus onto the good rather than the bad. You can write a gratitude journal or share your gratitude with others. Both of these are good ways to cultivate gratitude skills.
5. Try Not to Feel Bad About Feeling Bad
If you just want to feel bad for a little while, that’s okay. Negative emotions have important functions that actually help us take better care of ourselves. Sadness can help us get support from others, anxiety can help us prepare for threats, and anger can help us stand up for what we believe in. But just be careful that you’re not holding onto negative emotions that aren’t benefiting you. Let go of resentments and self-blame in exchange for taking actions to improve your life.
6. Treat Yourself Better
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can treat ourselves better for an article I recently wrote on knowing your worth. It’s not always easy to boost self-esteem or self-worth because we often set up our lives in ways that confirm what we already believe about ourselves. But we can start by being self-compassionate—by giving ourselves a break for not feeling good all the time. And we can feel even better by better understanding the people or experiences that make us feel bad and learning how to say ‘no’ to those people of experiences. By treating ourselves better in small ways, we can build momentum and self-efficacy that can hopefully help us feel better in time.
7. Shift Your Focus
We often feel worse after a breakup, job loss, or other rejection. If we focus on how we were rejected or failed, we’re likely only making it worse, stewing in our emotions until they become unbearable. Shifting our attention to something else can make a massive difference. If we’re up for it, we can shift to focusing on the positive things—we can savor the good times or imagine good things in our future. Or, we can simply focus on the present. Even picking up an object, like a pen, and naming everything we see, feel, and maybe even smell can help us shift our focus away from the negative.
This post was previously published on Psychology Today.
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