Depression is very common in youth who have T1D, if you are a parent who is concerned that your child may be having a difficult time, there is treatment and resources available.
Depression can happen when work and life become overwhelming. If you are feeling some of the physical symptoms of depression treatment is available.
The authors of the study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, looked at the correlation between toxicity in the workplace and symptoms of insomnia, a common symptom of clinical depression. They wanted to know how, or via which mechanism, incivility in the workplace negatively affected employees’ sleep quality, as there has been limited research into this factor.
What Is Workplace Incivility?
Workplace civility, as described by McKinsey and Company, is “the accumulation of thoughtless actions that leave employees feeling disrespected—intentionally ignored, undermined by colleagues, or publicly belittled by an insensitive manager.” It has also been defined as “low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect.”
Why Quality of Sleep Matters
Sleep is a critical factor in our overall well-being, including our work performance. It has long been established that poor quality of sleep has significant implications for both our physical and psychological well-being.
For example, insufficient sleep increases a person’s risk of developing serious medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, lack of sleep over time has been associated with a shortened lifespan.
Effects of Negative Rumination
In examining the indirect effects of workplace incivility on symptoms of insomnia and thus overall health, the determining mechanism was found to be negative rumination, or the mentally replaying of an event or disturbing interaction with a co-worker long after the workday has ended.
“Workplace toxicity leads to adverse effects in part by stimulating people to ruminate on their negative work experiences.” according to the authors. “Negative rumination represents an active cognitive preoccupation with work events, either in an attempt to solve work problems or anticipate future work problems.”
Given that most of us spend the better part of our days and our energy at work, increasing hostility in the workplace doesn’t bode well for our emotional or physical well-being. Research over the past 20 years has associated toxic work environments with increased depression, substance use, and health issues among employees. Further research has shown that organizations are suffering as well. Some of these adverse effects include decreased productivity, lower levels of employee commitment and increased turnover.
Coping Techniques to Reduce Effects of Workplace Incivility
The good news is that sufficient recovery or coping techniques may be able to mitigate the negative effects of a toxic work environment on employee well-being. In particular, relaxation and psychological detachment. The ability to psychologically detach from work during non-work hours and relaxation were shown to be the two mitigating factors that determined how workers were affected or not by a negative work environment.
Employees who were better able to detach psychologically are able to relax after work and sleep better even in the face of workplace incivility. Below are descriptions of these recovery experiences and how they were shown to reduce the negative effects and enable employees to thrive in the most toxic of work environments.
Psychological detachment represents an avoidance of work-related thoughts, actions or emotions. Some of the items used in the study to measure employees’ levels of psychological detachment in the evenings including the following: “I didn’t think about work at all” and “I distanced myself from my work.” Those who were able to detach themselves mentally from this cycle do not suffer as much sleep disruption as those who are less capable of detachment.
Detachment can be fostered through a variety of specific activities, including exercise. Planning future events such as vacations or weekend outings with family or friends are examples of positive distractions outside of work.
It should come as no surprise that prioritizing work-life balance was shown to be another effective buffer against the detrimental effects of workplace incivility. Relaxation has long been associated with fewer health complaints and less exhaustion and need for recovery.
As hypothesized by the authors of the study, relaxation during non-work time served as an important moderator of the relationship between negative work rumination and insomnia symptoms. Additionally, it has been identified as a moderator between work characteristics and occupational well-being, between time demands and exhaustion, and between job insecurity and need for recovery from work. Relaxation provides an opportunity for individuals to halt work-related demands, which is critical for restoring individuals to their pre-stressor state.
Some activities outside of the office that can foster recovery include volunteering, meditation, taking a walk, listening to music, and spending time with friends and other positive social supports.
How Organizations Can Address Workplace Incivility
Based on the results of the study, the authors suggest the following interventions that companies can address to reduce workplace incivility.
- Raise awareness
- Ensure protection for employees
- Ensure accountability
- Train and model appropriate behavior
- Train supervisors on aggression-prevention behaviors
- Improve emotional resilience skills
- Offer training on recovery from work, mindfulness practices, emotional/social intelligence skills
A Word From Verywell
You may not be able to control certain events during work hours or the characteristics of your workplace environment. However, what you do have control over is how you choose to cope. Most importantly, finding time to relax, spending time with friends and family, and engaging in activities that will shift your focus away from work during non-work hours.
If you find that you are still experiencing distressful symptoms and that they are interfering with your functioning, it may be a good idea to speak to a therapist who can help you learn additional strategies for coping.
If despite having done all you can still nothing has changed, it might be time to consider the possibility of removing yourself from the toxic environment and looking for a new, more fulfilling and less distressful job. Your health may depend on it.
Someone experiencing smiling depression would — from the outside —appear happy or content to others. On the inside however, they would be experiencing the distressful symptoms of depression.
Depression affects everyone differently and has a variety of symptoms, the most distinguished being deep, prolonged sadness. Other classic symptoms include:
- changes in appetite, weight, and sleeping
- fatigue or lethargy
- feelings of hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, and low self-worth
- loss of interest or pleasure in doing things that were once enjoyed
Someone with smiling depression may experience some or all of the above, but in public, these symptoms would be mostly — if not completely — absent. To someone looking from the outside, a person with smiling depression might look like:
- an active, high-functioning individual
- someone holding down a steady job, with a healthy family and social life
- a person appearing to be cheerful, optimistic, and generally happy
If you’re experiencing depression yet continue to smile and put on a façade, you may feel:
- like showing signs of depression would be a sign of weakness
- like you would burden anyone by expressing your true feelings
- that you don’t have depression at all, because you’re “fine”
- that others have it worse, so what do you have to complain about?
- that the world would be better off without you
A typical depressive symptom is having incredibly low energy and finding it hard to even make it out of bed in the morning. In smiling depression, energy levels may not be affected (except when a person is alone).
Because of this, the risk of suicide may be higher. People with major depression sometimes feel suicidal but many don’t have the energy to act on these thoughts. But someone with smiling depression might have the energy and motivation to follow through.
Depression doesn’t just affect adults, it also affects millions of children and adolescents.
Some of the symptoms that accompany childhood depression include irritability, social withdrawal, and low energy. Children with depression may also struggle to manage their behavior.
In 2013, 11 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds experienced a major depressive episode. Many younger children are also diagnosed with depressive disorders, such as persistent depressive disorder or disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, every year.
Children with depression may require a slightly different approach to discipline. Here are seven tips for disciplining a depressed child.
Work With Your Child’s Treatment Team
If you suspect your child has depression, speak to his pediatrician or a mental health professional. Depression is treatable, but without appropriate intervention, it may get worse. Treatment may include therapy, parent training, or medication.
Work with treatment providers to learn about the steps you can take to best support your child’s mental health. Inquire about the specific strategies you should use to address behavior problems like non-compliance and disrespect.
Establish Healthy Rules
All kids need rules, but children with depression sometimes require specific rules that support a healthy lifestyle. A depressed child may want to stay up late and sleep all day, or he may want to spend all of his time playing video games because he lacks the energy to play outside.
Set limits on electronics and discourage your child from sleeping during the day. You may also need to create rules about personal hygiene as children with depression sometimes don’t want to shower or change their clothes. Keep your household rules simple, and emphasize the importance of being healthy.
Provide Structure to Your Child’s Day
Kids with depression often struggle to fill their time with meaningful activities. For example, a child may sit in his room all day, or he may put off doing his chores as long as possible.
Create a simple schedule that provides structure to your child’s day. Set aside time for homework, chores, and other responsibilities and allow him to have limited electronics time once his work is done. Children with depression sometimes struggle with sleep issues, so it’s important to establish a healthy bedtime routine as well.
Catch Your Child Being Good
Positive discipline is most effective for children with depression. Look for opportunities to praise your child by saying things like, “You did a great job cleaning your room today,” or, “Thank you for helping me clean up after dinner.” Praise will encourage your child to keep up the good work.
Create a Reward System
Rather than focus on taking away privileges for misbehavior, emphasize to your child that he can earn rewards for good behavior. A behavior chart or a token economy system can motivate depressed kids.
Choose one or two behaviors to work on first—like taking a shower before 7 p.m. If he follows through, let him earn a token or sticker that can be exchanged for bigger rewards, like a trip to the park. Or, provide small, immediate rewards for compliance, like 15 minutes to play on the computer.
Separate Your Child’s Emotion from the Behavior
Discipline your child’s child’s behavior, not his emotions. Don’t scold him for being angry or lecture him about being in a bad mood. Instead, send the message that emotions are OK, it’s what he chooses to do with those emotions that matters. Teach him healthy coping strategies so he can deal with uncomfortable feelings, like anger, frustration, embarrassment, or sadness.
Consider the Implications of Negative Consequences
Children with depression need negative consequences for breaking the rules, but you should choose those consequences carefully. Taking away your child’s ability to socialize with friends, for example, could make his depression worse.
Short-term consequences, like time-out, can be very effective for younger children with depression. Consequences that take place over several days, like being grounded for a week, can backfire because children with depression may lose their motivation to earn their privileges back.
Are depression and diabetes related?
The simple answer: yes.
Research shows that if you have diabetes, your risk of developing depression more than doubles. In fact, some studies show, that it could be as high as four times more likely.
And while this information may seem like just one more thing to worry about, it’s important to address and discuss, because doing so has the potential of improving your quality of life. And who doesn’t want that?
Someone once said, “Diabetes is a full-time job that you didn’t apply for, you can’t quit and there’s no vacation or pay.” (We’re nodding.) Agreed — no one lined up for the diabetes merry-go-round or the diabetes loop-dee-loop, because diabetes isn’t fun. Actually, it’s a royal pain. And you never get a break.
You know the drill: count carbs, administer insulin, (factor in activity, stress and consider what’s happened before), monitor blood sugars, rest, eat or compensate.
And no matter how vigilant you are and how meticulously carbs are counted and insulin accordingly dosed, you’ll get the rogue BGL, the unexpected zinger that just makes you feel like chucking that juice box or screaming or crying or crawling into a ball and giving up because sometimes you can’t be perfect — no, you aren’t perfect and this diabetes thing is hard, really hard and just when you think you got it right and you’re really hitting your stride … you’re tested, you’re thrown and have to try again then again and again. It’s no wonder the chronic condition can cause anxiety, feelings of frustration and even hopelessness.
Diabetes isn’t just a physical challenge with serious implications; it’s also emotionally demanding and can be extremely difficult to navigate mentally. That’s why the most effective treatments for Type 1 include medical care as well as psychological care.
Everyone at some stage of their life will experience “feeling down.” It’s important to note though, that depression is more than feeling “bummed out.” It’s a persistent feeling (lasting more than two weeks) of sadness or loss of interest, among other symptoms. It can be debilitating, life-altering and throw you down the rabbit hole of self-doubt. It also can be subtle. Perhaps you hadn’t really noticed, and it’s a loved one who’s mentioned the changes, has noted that things aren’t “okay”. Whichever way, don’t worry; take heed! You’ve made it here and you aren’t the first.
If you’re experiencing symptoms in at least three of the following categories, you may be depressed:
Things you may do …
- Stop doing things you used to enjoy
- Have trouble getting things done
- Are unable to focus
- Remain in your home for long periods of time
- Pull away from loved ones
- Use alcohol or sedatives excessively
Things you may think …
- “I’m worthless”
- “I’m not good enough”
- “I deserve to feel like this”
- “I will never be happy”
- “This is my fault”
- “Life is not worth living”
Things you may feel …
Things you may experience physically:
- Feeling sick and run down
- Having headaches and body pains
- Having an upset stomach
- Irritabile bowels
- Insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Extreme weight changes and appetite changes
Note: This is just a short list of symptoms you may be experiencing if you’re depressed. Consult a mental health professional for proper assessment and treatment.
Did you say, yes to all of them? Say, yes to none? Either way: keep reading.
Your mental health affects how you deal with your physical health, so if you become depressed, you’re less likely to manage your diabetes well, which can lead to complications and poor health in general. Essentially, both aspects of care are paramount and affect your well-being in tandem, so don’t neglect either today or tomorrow!
Dr. Diana Naranjo, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Studies and Dr. Korey Hood, Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford University, work exclusively with diabetes patients and believe that in terms of having optimal mental health with diabetes, depression prevention is key. If you know you are at a higher risk of developing depression or an anxiety disorder, being proactive can also improve your quality of life in the long run.
Planning ahead is all a part of self-care and can include reaching out to the support sources of friends, family, community groups and your credentialed diabetes educator or therapist.
If you have diabetes, it’s normal to experience a wide range of emotions as well as suffer physical setbacks. Especially right after diagnosis, many people report grieving for their health from before and the life they had previously. This is also true for parents or caregivers of those diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
The bottom line is that your mental health matters — early in the game and later on — so talking to a health professional can help. Treating your depression or anxiety may require more than talk therapy though. Some people are genetically predisposed to developing mental illness while life circumstances and stress can bring the onset of symptoms. Treatment could include short-term or long-term medication in conjunction with other forms of therapy.
Be sure to ask your therapist if he or she has had experience with clients who have Type 1. If not — and this is most likely the case — you can provide your mental health caregiver with additional information to help her or him understand what Type 1 is and the difficulties you face daily.
“Remember, you’re interviewing and hiring your therapist,” says Dr. Korey Hood. “And the discussion of mental health should not be separate from the discussion about your diabetes.”
In addition to working with a mental healthcare provider, try implementing the following in terms of self-care to help maintain a healthy mental state:
- Join a community, reach out to other T1D groups and share your story
- Ask questions of others, learn more about diabetes and depression
- Perform moderate physical activity (consult your doctor about what would be a healthy level of exercise)
- Eat healthy foods
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit your alcohol use
If you think you or someone you know might be contemplating suicide, reach out for additional help here:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline Or call 1 (800) 273-8255 (United States)
Just as much as blood glucose levels are important information in managing your diabetes successfully, so are feelings. Remember that you aren’t alone and there are people out there who understand and have been there. Reach out. Be proactive. And talk about it. There is a wide range of mental health treatments available, so consult a expert today to learn how you can improve your quality of life.
Verified by Dr. Mark Heyman, Director of the Center for Diabetes and Mental Health (CDMH) in Solana Beach, CA. Mark received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from The George Washington University and completed his clinical training at UCSD School of Medicine.
Do You Dread Having to Wake Up in the Mornings and Face the Day? 3 Ways to Beat Morning Depression
Do you experience feelings of fatigue, extreme sadness or hopelessness first thing every morning? Perhaps these feelings fade as the day goes on, but they’re back again next morning.
You could be experiencing a symptom of depression known as diurnal variation of mood, commonly referred to as morning depression. People experiencing diurnal mood variation feel worse in the morning but gradually improve as the day goes on. Hence the name morning depression.
A specific cause of morning depression has not been clearly identified but there are thought to be a number of contributing factors. Some research suggests that morning depression may be a consequence of disturbed sleep-cycles or circadian rhythms, an internal body clock that signals, among other things, the sleep-wake cycle. Two hormones, melatonin and cortisol are important for this cycle. Melatonin helps you sleep while cortisol is released upon waking up. If melatonin is released during the day, you tend to feel tired and drained when you wake up. On the other hand, if cortisol is released during the night, you may suffer from disturbed sleep patterns.
Other factors thought to contribute to morning depression include recent changes in life circumstances such as the break-up of a relationship or the death of a loved one, a family history of depression, medical conditions such as chronic pain, anxiety, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and substance addiction.
How to deal with your morning depression
If you are depressed, or think you might be depressed, it is important to consult a mental health professional for expert guidance. However the following coping strategies may help you to begin your day in a more relaxed and calm manner.
#1 Sleep Well
Since poor sleep cycles are thought to be a contributing factor in morning depression, trying to improve your sleep cycle is a good place to start. Try developing a regular routine that you follow before going to sleep. Your routine should suit your lifestyle, preferences and habit but you should focus on being relaxed rather than stimulated. For example
- Try to go to bed at the same time most nights. Wake up at the same time most mornings.
- Caffeine and alcohol are known to disturb sleep. It’s good to avoid these as bedtime approaches. Caffeine may be found in a number of foods including sweets and soft drinks.
- Electronic devices can stimulate rather than relax. If you are using devices, turn on ‘night mode’ at least one hour before sleeping.
- Rather than use your devices, try a relaxing activity before bed. For example, you could have a warm bath, read a book, play a musical instrument or practice mindfulness meditation.
- Create comfortable sleeping conditions: think about your preferred pillows and mattress, sleep wear, room temperature, lighting
- Some of us have difficulty letting go of our thoughts as we sleep. As a result, they linger on in our psyche. Try to empty your mind of any worries and concerns before going to sleep by writing them down
- Include preparations for the next morning in your bedtime routine (see below)
#2 Nourish Your Body: Eat Nutritious Meals
A balanced diet that includes an abundance of fresh food can greatly assist us to get the energy we need to operate at our best. Lack of good quality food in the right quantities can result in reduced blood sugar levels and worsened depressive symptoms. In the mornings, particularly if we are struggling with depression, we often opt for the easiest breakfast we can get our hands on (if we bother to eat at all). Often this will include processed foods or ingredients which may not have the same nutritional value as fresh, whole foods. It is important to eat a nutritious wholefood breakfast to bring our blood sugar levels back up to a level where we can function more efficiently. This helps to reduce tiredness associated with morning depression.
While a nutritious breakfast helps you start the day, there are a number of foods that are thought to help manage depression that could be included into your meals throughout the day. For example:
- Dark leafy greens such as spinach, watercress and kale are rich in folate, a water-soluble B vitamin. Low folate levels have been linked to depressive symptoms.
- Dark Chocolate -yes, dark chocolate (in moderation). Cocoa beans contain antioxidants that can lower the risk of depression.
- Other foods high in antioxidants include fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole-grains.
Overall, research suggests that the more natural and less refined the food is, the more likely it is to help decrease symptoms of depression, while more refined, sugary and caffeine rich foods may have a negative impact on moods.
#3 Wake Up Earlier, Make Time for an Interesting Activity
Experiencing morning depression can make for a slow start to the day. However this can mean getting up just in time to rush off to school/uni, work, the gym, etc. This may intensify feelings of stress and anxiety, and even start to impact other areas such as your closest relationships or job performance. It’s a good idea to allow yourself a little more time to get ready in the mornings. Even ten minutes can make a huge difference. It can also be helpful to develop a morning routine. Again, your routine should suit your lifestyle, preferences and habit, but begin with the easier, smaller tasks that take less energy. For example
- Try a few stretches when you first get out of bed or as part of your showering and dressing routine.
- Waking up to chaos and confusion can intensify morning depression. You can reduce this by incorporating some morning preparations into your pre-bed routine. This can relieve you of some of the decisions you face in the morning as well as saving some time. As suggested above, decide what you’re going to wear, make breakfast preparations, keep your car keys and wallet/handbag in the same place.
- Include an interesting activity in your morning routine. This can help to get you going. For example, you could try listening to music, playing with your pet or reading for a short while. Choose an activity that rejuvenates your mind and helps you feel centred.
Some of us have difficulty letting go of our thoughts as we sleep. As a result, they linger on in our psyche and force us to wake up to an avalanche of tumultuous emotions. Similarly, if you’re not happy with your reality, you may be averse in waking up to it every morning. For example, you may be dissatisfied with your marriage, income or job. You develop an inherent wish to avoid stepping into a stressful reality; essentially, we are in a state of denial and want to avoid facing our problems that seem to come rushing at us every morning.
It can be extremely draining to have to go through these emotions every morning. However morning depression can be managed. Proactively implementing effective coping strategies can help overcome the condition and wake up to exhilaration and vitality.
Trigger Warning: suicide
Like many who have social media accounts, I regularly check my timelines and feeds for intriguing articles, updates and happenings. Two years ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through one of my accounts before going to bed and one post immediately stood out among the rest: It was a suicide note.
Frantically, I read my friend Mark’s post. It detailed his internal suffering over the years, which he no longer wanted to endure. The comment section grew at an alarming rate. People asked questions, both directly to Mark and to each other. Some people were pleading with him to reconsider. Others offered comments of hope.
Over the next few days, I saw something I did not expect. Hundreds of comments on Mark’s post evolved into a community of people coming together to help find Mark, who had gone missing. People used his previous posts on other social media platforms to piece together his possible location. Some contacted the authorities—and thankfully, those authorities located him before he took his life.
Social Media On The Rise
We live in a world driven by technology. We see the media regularly report on new apps for our smartphones and the latest trending celebrity tweets. Whether we’re commuting to work, studying in a coffee shop or spending time with our family and friends, being connected digitally is part of our lives. An entire generation of young people is growing up with devices in their hands, regularly engaging in social media.
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2005 only 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform. That number has since grown significantly: Today, 70% of the public uses social media, with many people using more than one platform.
Some researchers are beginning to identify connections between online social networking and mental health concerns. Among these concerns are varying levels of self-esteem and addiction to social media, as well as the internet. However, it is uncertain whether signs and symptoms of mental health conditions are the causes or effects of using social media. Since each platform is different and new platforms continue to be introduced, future research is needed to assess the true effect of social media on mental health.
Identifying Mental Health Concerns Online
When used responsibly, social media can be used in positive ways. It can be used to promote mental health to a large audience. I’ve seen individuals share their personal stories of recovery, like those on NAMI.org at You Are Not Alone and OK2Talk. I’ve seen mental health writers connect with one another on Twitter. And as with my friend Mark, during times of crisis, social media can even save lives.
On platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, users now have options for getting a friend help. If a user thinks a friend is in danger of self-harm or suicide, they can report their concerns by going to the social media websites’ Help Centers. These online Help Centers have dedicated content about suicide and self-harm prevention, which include online resources and phone numbers for suicide hotlines around the world.
The most helpful feature I’ve seen instituted recently is on Instagram. Users can anonymously flag posts by other users that have content about self-harm and suicide. That user then receives a message encouraging them to speak with a friend, contact a helpline or seek professional help. The same message appears for people who are regularly searching self-harm- or suicide-related content on Instagram.
Recent research by the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention Office notes that personal social media accounts “can provide an important window into a person’s state of mind.” At the Secretary of the Army Symposium on Suicide Prevention in mid-January 2017, military leaders, mental health professionals and companies like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn came together to see how social media can be used to connect those in need to care and resources.
How Can I Help?
With social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat dominating our screen time, it’s wise to assume that social media will continue to be a primary method of communication. Therefore, it’s up to us to look out for mental health warning signs while on social media so we are better prepared to assist a friend in need.
If you see any of the following behavior online, it may be time to step in and contact your friend directly to see how you can help:
- Cyberbullying, which includes:
a. harassing messages or comments
b. fake accounts made to impersonate someone else
c. someone posting unwanted pictures or images of another person
- Negative statements about themselves, even if it sounds like they are joking, such as
a. “I’m a waste of space.”
b. “No one cares about me.”
c. “I seriously hate myself.”
- Negative leading statements with little to no context that prompt others to respond, such as:
a. “You wouldn’t believe what I’ve been through.”
b. “Today was the worst day ever.”
c. “It’s like everyone is against me.”
If someone you know is in immediate danger—for example, they talk about a specific plan for harming themselves—contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. This lifeline can support the individual and their family members, and has the ability to connect with local law enforcement, if necessary. If a person has attempted self-harm or is injured, call 911 immediately.
If the threat of physical danger is not immediate, here are some things you can do to help:
- Report the content on the social media website’s Help Center;
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255; or
- Reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting the word “NAMI” to 741741 (standard data rates may apply).
As you scroll through your social media feeds, be mindful of what others post. Being educated about available resources is important for those of us who promote mental health, but knowing when to reach out to a friend who may be experiencing a mental health crisis is even more important: You just might save a life.
By Ryann Tanap
Ryann Tanap is manager of social media and digital assets at NAMI.
There’s a moment in Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray when the title character declares war on his feelings: “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions,” Dorian says. “I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” Basil Hallward, the artist who had painted Dorian’s portrait, becomes fearful of his subject’s newfound aggression: “You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you,” he says. But Dorian, in the throes of an existential crises, isn’t listening; he wants control, most especially over how he feels.
It’s not an uncommon desire. In fact, it may be a near-universal one. With varying levels of success, we try to hold on to good emotions and ward off the bad ones — but research suggests that those efforts, at least when it comes to negative feelings, may be misplaced.
For many, accepting our negative emotions appears counterproductive, especially because it gets in the way of what motivates us. Our negative emotions can act as catalysts and adrenaline boosts — nervousness in the face of a closing deadline, for instance, might help push you to finish your task on time. Often, though, people don’t use their negative emotions so productively; instead, many tend to get stuck in their negativity, spiraling downwards. It’s hard to accept your emotions — both positive and negative — and let them pass by. Dorian Gray certainly never could.
But studies have shown that the ability to embrace your negative feelings can provide a slew of benefits. Those who accept all their emotions without judgment tend to be less likely to ruminate on negativity, less likely to try to suppress mental experiences (which can backfire by amplifying these experiences), and less likely to experience negative “meta-emotional reactions,” like feeling upset about feeling upset. Or, as the authors of a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology put it: “When people accept (versus judge) their mental experiences, those experiences run their natural — and relatively short-lived — course, rather than being exacerbated.”
This latest study, led by University of Toronto assistant psychology professor Brett Ford, explored the link between one’s acceptance of negativity and one’s well-being. The researchers first set out to discover if and how the acceptance of negativity benefits psychological health, and whether this kind of acceptance works for everyone across socioeconomic, gender, and racial divides. Around 1,000 study subjects filled out surveys about their mindfulness, life satisfaction, depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and the number of stressful events they’d been through over the course of their lives.
Ford and her colleagues found that those who accepted their negative feelings were, on average, also more psychologically healthy. They also found that the factor most strongly linked to participants’ well-being wasn’t a low-stress life — rather, it was the capacity to accept life’s difficulties and one’s own negative feelings non-judgmentally.
On the face of it, this is a counterintuitive idea. A person with, say, no medical or financial issues — someone who should theoretically have low stress — ought to have greater well-being than a poorer, less healthy person who’s working 70 hours a week. And yet if the latter person is better at accepting the negative experiences that come with his objectively more difficult life, this study suggests, she may be happier than the person who has fewer stressors in life.
In order to further prove this apparent paradox, the researchers recruited 160 women, half of whom had experienced a life stressor “of at least moderate impact” within the past six months, to complete a neutral task (watching a movie clip) and then a stressful task (giving a three-minute video-recorded speech on their job qualifications in front of an audience). During both tasks, the women rated their own emotional experiences; once again, Ford found that the people who were more accepting of their negative mental states reported less intense negative feelings.
Finally, to test their findings with a more diverse set of participants, Ford and her colleagues had 222 men and women complete diary entries every night for two straight weeks, making note each night of the stressful events they’d experienced during the day. Some reported particularly high-stress moments, like receiving a phone call from a son in prison, while others had mostly mild stressors, like low-key arguments with a romantic partner. For each entry, participants also rated the extent to which they felt 12 negative emotions: sad, hopeless, lonely, distressed, angry, irritable, hostile, anxious, worried, nervous, ashamed, and guilty.
Once again, acceptance was associated with greater psychological health, but with an added layer of nuance: The correlations showed that accepting negative situations was not associated with increased psychological health. Rather, it was the acceptance of one’s state of mind that came from negative situations that best indicated psychological well-being.
Taken together, Ford says, the results across all three experiments “underscore the broad relevance of acceptance as a useful tool for many people.”
“The overall take-home message is that emotions are naturally short-lived experiences,” she says, and if we let them wash over us instead of trying to push them away, “these emotional experiences would actually pass relatively quickly.”
Still, opening your arms to all your negative feelings is easier said than done in a culture where happiness is considered a virtue. We tend to valorize the pursuit of positivity, while ignoring or dismissing the importance of a well-rounded emotional experience. Happiness, the thinking still often goes, is the absence of negativity rather than the acceptance of it. But the research says otherwise — you can’t always control your emotions, but you can control how you respond to them. Sometimes it’s best to let yourself feel okay about feeling bad.