When you have a negative emotion, are you upset or disappointed in yourself? Do you feel “bad” or “guilty” about this emotion? If so, you may be at risk for poorer longer-term psychological health.
A study in the July 2017 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology looked at the psychological health of people who accept, rather than negatively judge, their emotional experiences. Researchers found that accepting these experiences led to fewer negative emotions when confronted with daily stressors.
The article reported on three separate, but related, studies that explored how accepting negative emotions, rather than reacting to them, affects a person’s psychological health.
The first study aimed to see whether accepting emotions was associated with greater psychological health, and if this association was moderated by several demographic variables. Undergraduate students at the University of California at Berkley completed evaluations to assess acceptance, stress level, and psychological health. The researchers found that accepting mental health experiences was associated with greater psychological health across a range of demographic variables including gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Further, results indicated that the benefits to psychological health were associated with accepting the emotions associated with a negative event, rather than the situation that triggered those emotions.
In the second study, the authors examined a potential explanation for how the tendency to accept negative emotions is related to psychological health. They explored whether accepting one’s mental experiences helps to decrease negative emotions when experiencing stressors. A consistent reduction in negative emotions should, in time, improve overall psychological health.
Again, a group of undergraduates completed questionnaires related to acceptance and to their emotional responses to a stressful task completed in the lab. Results indicated that by habitually accepting emotions and thoughts, people experienced a lower degree of negative emotion when in stressful situations.
Finally, the authors wanted to see if these results held up for people other than college students. They followed people in a Denver community for a six-month period. These study volunteers completed measures of acceptance, psychological health, and stress, and kept nightly diaries for two weeks identifying the degree of negative emotion felt when experiencing stressors that day.
Results indicated that people who habitually accept their emotional experiences were more likely to report greater psychological health six months later. This was true regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Further, people who accepted these emotions were less likely to respond negatively to stressors. That is, people who routinely accept their emotions and thoughts when under stress, experience less daily negative emotion during these times. This in turn is associated with increased psychological health six months later.
Taken together, these three studies highlight the benefits of accepting emotions and thoughts, rather than judging them, on psychological health. It seems like common sense. When a stressful situation causes negative emotions, accepting feelings of frustration or upset — rather than trying to pretend you’re not upset, or beating yourself up for feeling this way — reduces guilt and negative self-image. Over time, this will in turn lead to increased psychological health.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23 NIV
As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart. Proverbs 27:19 NIV
May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4 NIV
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17:9-10 NIV
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 NIV
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Proverbs 3:3-4 NIV
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 | NIV
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 NIV
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22:37 NIV
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4 NIV
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 NIV
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22 NIV
My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Proverbs 3:1-2 NIV
The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin. Proverbs 10:8 NIV
I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. Psalm 119:10 NIV
Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Psalm 31:24 NIV
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12 NIV
I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. Psalm 119:7 NIV
Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. Psalm 119:2 NIV
Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Mark 11:23 NIV
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