How to Deal with Negative Emotions as a Highly Sensitive Person

A highly sensitive woman sits by the ocean trying to deal with negative emotions.

Remember when people used to say they were “high on life?” I’ve definitely felt that phenomenon, but I have also felt very low too. As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I tend to feel all emotions to the extreme. For me, when dealing with any sort of big life change, my emotions feel like they’re on a rollercoaster. One minute, so excited — and the next panicked and tortured about dealing with it, even if it’s positive.

This happens to HSPs because the parts of our brains that process emotions are more active than they are in other people. We’re wired to experience the world with greater emotional “vividness,” almost like we’re seeing it in HD.

And, while that can be incredible with happy emotions, it makes negative emotions completely overwhelming. A single small source of anxiety can derail me for days. In fact, believe this is a common reason why many highly sensitive people feel like something is “wrong with them” or they wish to erase their high sensitivity for good.

Here’s why negative emotions hit HSPs hard — and what you can do to deal with them.

Why Negative Emotions Hit Hard for HSPs

Besides processing all emotions vividly, HSPs also deal with more emotions than the average person. This is because we tend to absorb emotions from other people (or just from the mood in the room). In other words, we don’t just deal with our own negative feelings, we have to deal with everyone else’s, too.

And we can easily get stuck in them. When you feel things so strongly and deeply, as HSPs do, and you’re picking them up everywhere you go, sometimes you have to take time to figure out what you’re even feeling and why. Are you anxious because of how that job interview went? Or is it just because the interviewer seemed distracted? Or, is it because the barista at the coffee shop was having a bad day and didn’t realize he was practically screaming it with his body language?

Sometimes, you end up harboring emotions like anger, sadness, or anxiety for reasons that aren’t even yours to deal with. Other times, they’re definitely your own — but you’re feeling them so strongly that it’s hard to even visualize them ever getting better.

Either way, that’s when it’s time to step back and start to process them — in a way that will actually help you get “un-stuck.”

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5 Steps to Deal with Negative Emotions (and Actually Feel Better)

I believe learning to manage your emotions in a healthy way is important, and I give it a whole chapter in my book about my journey as a highly sensitive person with anxiety. Here are five steps I’ve identified to processing and moving past negative emotions:

1. You’re going to have to feel those feelings.

I don’t know about others, but when I’m feeling anxious or hurt, I want to shove that icky, negative feeling as far away as possible. But here’s the trick: you need to feel those emotions before you can fully release them.

For some people, that may be as simple as sitting quietly somewhere safe (cozy blanket, anyone?) and thinking through them. For me, though, it takes more. Some effective ways to really get unblocked and process an emotion include journaling, talking it out with a trusted friend — someone who treats you with respect — or simply crying. (Yes, crying is nature’s way of truly feeling something and letting it out!)

If you’re in a safe space, you could even scream, punch a pillow, or tear up paper. All of these put the feeling into motion and help you get un-stuck.

2. Use positive physical cues to calm yourself down.

These cues can involve deep breathing, yoga, hot tea or coffee, or the aforementioned cozy blanket. Personally, I prefer hot showers, because they’re not just relaxing but also cleansing. You can even use a little visualization: as you shower, picture yourself scrubbing away the negativity and inviting in more positive vibes.

Think about the physical sensations or rituals that make you feel calm, centered, and more relaxed. If you make it a point to use them whenever you’re overwhelmed by a negative emotion, your body will start to associate the physical cue with the healing process, and you’ll begin to feel better almost immediately.

3. Avoid negative emotional triggers.

You know what doesn’t help negativity? More negativity. No matter where it comes from, or how well-intentioned it might be.

Think of healing from negative emotions like healing from a scrape. There’s going to be a scab and a sore spot for a while. If you rub that spot, even just a little, the scab is likely to break and you’ll have to start all over (usually with even more pain).

So you need to avoid stressors when you’re dealing with negative feelings.

Personally, I try to avoid the news because it’s always negative. I also try to avoid people who are always looking for something to complain about, or who focus on the negatives. Look at the people in your life and how you feel after you see them. You may need to make some adjustments.

And, if you can’t exactly avoid some people in your life, learn to set healthy boundaries.

4. Feed your basic needs, not just your heart.

I know I tend to feel more negative emotions when I’m too tired, haven’t eaten properly, or feel stressed out. Emotions can seem all-consuming, but they live in your body with you. Taking good care of that body and mind is the first step, and will often have surprising effects on your heart as well.

Try meditation to reduce stress, eat regular healthy meals, drink lots of water, and get enough sleep. These are basic, and chances are, one of them will be more of a keystone for you than the others. Notice which things actually make you feel positive or less worried, and make a routine that works for YOU.

5. Focus on what you can control.

Often, when we’re stuck in a negative emotion, it’s because it feels big and overwhelming — like we either have to take on the world or completely handle it, or like it will roll over us no matter what we do. Usually, the truth is somewhere in between.

So, when you’re completely overwhelmed: remind yourself that you can’t control exactly what happens, and take that burden off yourself. And then ask: what do I control?

This is usually when you stop feeling powerless and start to see a path forward.

Remember: life would be boring if we only felt positive and happy. Negative emotions are there to balance you out, teach you a lesson, and help you feel grateful for the happy times. But that doesn’t mean you need to stay stuck in them.

Do you struggle with anxiety or difficult emotions? Lauren Stewart’s book, My Journey as a Highly Sensitive Person with Anxiety: How I went from an Emotional Mess to Confident Woman and You Can Too, is designed to help. Get your copy here.

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