Health

To Fix Stress, Put Yourself in the Hot Seat

Forget 'positive thinking,' says this expert — ask the tough questions instead

This presidential campaign season has taken a toll like no other. But now that the election’s over, what does the losing half do with all the remaining stress they’re still clearly feeling? Can they talk themselves down from the anxiety?

Then there’s other people who want and need to vent their negative frustrations to whoever will listen.

A plan of action will put your emotions to good use.

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Politics gives people an arena to vent negative frustrations, both conscious and unconscious, according to Denise Shull, a neuroscientist and president of ReThink Group, in New York City. Both sides of the partisan debate vilify the other.

“Both candidates [in the presidential race were] unusual and both tapped into emotions that people don’t normally like to admit they have,” Shull told LifeZette.

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Although the internet has become something of a hunting ground for trolls, Shull said most people don’t have a venue for expressing their frustrations. As a result, a lot of people voice their negative emotions through politics.

If you want to talk yourself down from negative emotions, you have to understand what those emotions are first. Repeating a mantra like, “Everything is going to be OK” might sound great in the abstract —but chances are it’s not going to help at all.

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“At their core, in their pure form, our negative emotions are meant to help us,” Shull said. “They’re meant to be a signal. So when we try to talk ourselves out of them, the signal gets louder. The brain is only satisfied if it knows it has gotten its message through to you. If it doesn’t get the message through to our conscious [mind], it makes the emotion get bigger and more intense and less manageable.”

At the heart of it, a mantra will fake people out, suppressing instead of addressing negative emotions. Rather, Shull suggested people ask themselves a set of questions: What am I really afraid of? What do I really think is going to happen? Where is this fear coming from? How realistic is it? What can I do if the worst case happens?

These questions will help people address deep-seated fears, understand their origin, and make a plan of action.

For those upset with the election results, getting more involved in their community might help enact the change they want. If they’re pleased by the results, they still might want to get involved more in the community. A plan of action will put emotions to good use.

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“This skill doesn’t rank high in admirable qualities these days. It’s not even a skill that’s valued at this point,” Shull said. “Everyone’s taught to keep thinking positive, and gloss over negative emotions. They don’t know how to do this, but it’s really a very effective way of managing emotions.”

Set the mantras aside for now. Instead, form a plan of action and put emotions to use.

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