How To Move Through A Negative Emotion In 5 Steps

Published January 07, 2021 by Sheila Anne Murray

Ugh - isn’t it just the worst - being struck by a negative emotion such as frustration, panic, anger, sadness, worry, disappointment, or guilt? Maybe it’s an upcoming exam, a fight with a friend, a love interest who won’t text you back, consumption of news, or uncertainty about the future.

During times like these, it can be challenging to see the light on the other side of the feeling you’re currently experiencing. I’m here to provide five steps to moving through a negative emotion and back to equilibrium.

Girl seated, moving through negative emotion

1. Acknowledge the feeling in your body that’s bubbling up

This isn’t about numbing emotions or telling yourself you’re crazy for feeling them. By design, we are emotional beings that sometimes think. During a time when you are gripped by a negative feeling, it can be helpful to simply become the observer of your current situation. Notice and acknowledge the feeling that is bubbling up.  This may include awareness of the sensations in your body.

2. Name the emotion

Okay, this is one of my favorite tools to help clients to move through emotions, and to guide myself through, too! Did you know that naming an emotion can have powerful effects on your emotional state? Seemingly simple, naming an emotion can actually be complicated because we rarely feel just one thing at a time, and some of our emotions may contradict one another. My go-to for naming emotions is using a “feelings wheel” (just pop it in your search engine for many examples). Using a feelings wheel is like looking at a buffet of emotions and being able to take or leave what you need in the moment.

3. What is true about your situation?

This part may require some journaling. Take a pause and jot down what is true about the experience at hand.

Example: You’re stressed about an encounter with a friend — you might jot down exactly what happened from an objective point of view and what you know to be true about your relationship as a whole.

Often it can be challenging to separate fact from our personal feelings, so taking time to write down the truths can help us gain a more holistic picture, and move us through a negative emotion.

4. What choices do you have?

Knowing what you know now about how you’re feeling in your body, what emotions are in play, and what is true about your situation, what choices do you have? I recently did this exercise with a client and we reviewed both what her knee-jerk reaction would be to the situation, and the way that her “highest self” would want her to react.

5. How do you want to move forward?

Finally, if you’ve regained your footing and are feeling a bit more in balance, consider how you like to move forward. Perhaps you want to move through steps 1 - 4 once again; maybe you want to redirect your attention to something else exciting; or you may want to reach out to a person involved to have a conversation.

These 5 steps will help you to move through a negative emotion in a more streamlined way, offering you more time, energy, and cognitive space to live at your highest potential. If you enjoyed these 5 tips, you may enjoy checking out Yoga For Anxiety.


Sheila Anne