On 13 June 2020, the Singapore government released an episode of “Stronger Together” which followed a graduating student, Lisa, on her job search journey in the face of adversity (govsingapore, 2020). It shed light on the challenges Lisa, and other fresh graduates, faced during this season such as societal expectations, family anticipation and also her own anxiety. The accumulation of all these factors led her to breakdown.
Especially in this current economy, there are a number of us who may feel like Lisa. Emotions such as fear, stress and worry begin to flood us to the point that we feel it is just too much to handle. Regardless of the emotions that is experienced, it is okay to feel them even though these emotions makes us uncomfortable. In fact, instead of dealing with them, we gravitate towards trying to repress these negative emotions and thoughts that we have.
Just like how our thoughts, can be both negative and positive. Positive emotions are emotions that we typically find pleasurable to experience (Ackerman, 2020), while, negative emotions is defined as “an unpleasant or unhappy emotion which is evoked in individuals to express a negative effect towards an event or a person” (Pam, 2013). If negative emotions are unpleasant for us to experience, why do we need negative emotions at all? This is because they still play an essential function for us.
Here are 2 reasons why negative emotions are important for us:
- Negative emotions are necessary
Negative emotions give us a counterpoint to positive emotions because without the negative emotions in our lives, would the positive emotions still feel as good? (Ackerman, 2020). Furthermore, negative emotions serve evolutionary purposes by encouraging us to act in ways that boost our chances of survival while helping us to grow and develop as people.
- Negative emotion is useful and helpful
Just as positive thoughts are not necessarily helpful or realistic, the same would apply for negative emotions. Negative emotions do not necessarily mean that they are unhelpful, they can also be useful and helpful for us.
This is because we are able to decide how these negative emotions affect us. And we can choose to allow these negative emotions to be helpful for us. For example, the emotion “stress” by definition, is considered a negative emotion as it serves as an unpleasant experience for us. However, stress is helpful as it motivates us to succeed (MacMillian, 2014). It acts as a booster for us to get things done. Because without the stress factor in place, we would lose the sense of urgency, causing us to procrastinate and be less productive (Higuera, 2018).
Negative emotions can be unhelpful
Negative emotions affects everyone and whether they are unhelpful or helpful to us. Using the same example of stress, stressing over your unemployment is normal and common. However, when we being to feel overwhelmed by the stress of our unemployment, the stress levels will go up and it may seem unbearable. Once it hits that point, the unhelpful effects of stress such as impaired performance, brain fog, feeling stuck in the situation, lack of sleep and the inability to complete daily task will come in (McGurran, 2018). Resulting in our negative emotions that were once helpful for us to become unhelpful.
It is also important to note that everyone’s threshold is different. Some of us handle negative emotions better than others. Hence, it important to discover where our threshold is when it comes to emotions so that we can better manage them.
What else can we do to make ourselves feel a little better and deal with these uncomfortable emotions more effectively? Firstly, it is important to note that our emotional experiences can be categorized into two domains:
This refers to the intensity of the emotion that we experience. It can range from calming or soothing, to exciting or agitating (Birkett, 2015). For example, high arousal emotions such as anger (agitating) can be invoked by the rejection of multiple job positions. In contrast, low arousal emotions such as disappointment could be invoked by the inability to be get a job.
To try this simple activity take a notebook or keep a record in your mobile phone. First, identify what is the situation, followed by the thought, then the emotion(s) that you are experiencing or experienced. Lastly, rate that identified emotion on a scale of 0 (zero being Not at All) to 10 (10 being Very Intense).
Situation – Applied to 50 job positions and have not heard back from any.
Thought – My resume must be lousy compared to my friends.
Feeling – Stress (6/10), Disappointed (6/10), Worried (7/10)
This refers to how positive or negative an emotion is (Birkett, 2015).
Emotional valence and emotional arousal come together to determine the effectiveness and the intensity of the emotions that we experience. These emotions will provide us with information on how we respond to the situation based on how we perceive the situation to be (i.e., good, bad, neutral, emergency etc.). The cognitive triangle tells us that our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours are deeply intertwined (Jordan, 2018). This theory suggests that our thoughts affect how we feel, or in other words, our thoughts become our feelings. Hence, if your thoughts are unhelpful (e.g., my resume must be lousy that is why I did not get a response from any of the hiring managers), the emotions that you experience will also be negative, and vice versa.
Emotions are part of us, and we can control how we want it to affect us. If we are unable to get rid of our unhelpful thoughts, we still are able to control how we let those unhelpful thoughts affect us. It is no doubt that unhelpful thoughts would result in us feeling negative. However, we are still able to take control on diverting these negative emotions into helpful emotions rather than unhelpful ones and therefore, using these negative emotions to our benefit.
Now that we have learned more about our thoughts and emotions, stay tuned for next week’s article as we learn now it affects our behavior. Remember to try out the example shared above too!
Camellia Wong (MA), Demi Ng
Ackerman, E. C. (2020, April 29). What are Positive and Negative Emotions and Do We Need Both? Retrieved from https://positivepsychology.com/positive-negative-emotions/
Birkett, A. (2015, October 14). Valence, Arousal, and How to Kindle and Emotional Fire. Retrieved from https://cxl.com/blog/valence-arousal-and-how-to-kindle-an-emotional-fire/
From Support to Success. (2020, June 13). Govsingapore. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pPeqYKU6QtI
Higuera, V. (2018, August 13). 4 Surprising Health Benefits of Stress. Retrieved from
MacMillan, A. (2014, August 18). 5 Weird Ways Stress Can Actually Be Good for You. Retrieved from https://www.health.com/condition/stress/5-weird-ways-stress-can-actually-be-good-for-you
McGurran, A. (2018, May 16). Why Do Some People Get More Stressed Than Others?
Pam, M. S. (2013, April 7). Negative emotion. Psychology Dictionary. Retrieved from https://psychologydictionary.org/negative-emotion/