It’s only natural to try to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling down, but new research has found there may be something to just letting yourself wallow in the bad mood for a bit.
The research, which is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, used three studies to test the connection between a person’s emotional acceptance and psychological health. The researchers found that the pressure to feel positive can bum you out, while simply embracing a bad mood can make you feel better in the long run.
In the first study, more than 1,000 people were asked to fill out surveys that rated how strongly they agreed with such statements as “I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling the way that I’m feeling.” Study participants who didn’t feel bad about being upset enjoyed higher levels of well-being than those who felt bad about having negative emotions.
In the second study, more than 150 people were asked to give a three-minute videotaped speech to a group of judges about such skills as their communication abilities as part of a mock job application. The catch: They were given only two minutes to prep for the speech. Afterward, the participants were asked to rate their emotions. Those who tend to beat themselves up over negative emotions reported feeling more distressed than those who typically just accept bad feelings when they come up.
For the last study, more than 200 people were asked to keep a journal about their most taxing experiences over a two-week period. Researchers followed up six months later, and found that the people who tried to block out bad feelings had more symptoms of mood disorder than those who embraced negative feelings.
“Overall, these results suggest that individuals who accept rather than judge their mental experiences may attain better psychological health, in part because acceptance helps them experience less negative emotion in response to stressors,” the researchers concluded.
The concept that allowing yourself to feel bad makes you feel better down the road seems weird, but lead study author Brett Ford, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, tells Yahoo Beauty that there’s something to it. “Feeling negative is a natural response to stressors, and, in the short run, these negative emotions might actually help the individual respond to the stressor more successfully,” she says. (For example, getting nervous about a project’s looming due date can motivate you to actually meet that deadline.) “People don’t necessarily feel this way, though,” she says. “While some individuals accept their negative emotions and thoughts as natural, others judge these negative experiences and strive to change them.”
Theoretically, accepting negative emotions should help people from ruminating over them and allow them to eventually move beyond the bad feelings, Ford says. “In this way, acceptance might help people let their emotions run their naturally short-lived course, rather than perpetuating or exacerbating their own emotions,” she says. And accepting those bad feelings when they crop up instead of trying to brush them off or fight them may actually help people deal better with day-to-day stress and be more mentally healthy overall, Ford says. (It should be noted that depression is an entirely different topic. This study focused on moods.)
“Allow yourself to experience your feelings, without judging those feelings, and without trying to control or change them,” Ford advises. “Let your feelings run their course.” So, the next time you’re in a bad mood, try embracing it: It might end up lasting a much shorter time that you expect.
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