top of page

How Embracing Negative Emotions Will Help Us Find Peace

Illustration of a black woman sitting on the beach and watching the sunset

In the Summer of 2021, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depressive disorder. Though I wasn't necessarily surprised by this, I still found myself upset about it. For years I had been trying to convince myself that the way I was feeling wasn't real; or better yet, I was trying to convince myself that it "wasn't that bad". In any case, I went about it all wrong at first. For one, I knew very well the state of my mental health before even going to a doctor. But perhaps because getting a diagnosis made it more "real", I wasn't really willing to accept it. I knew that I had been experiencing feelings of hopelessness and apathy for years, but somehow thought I could just pretend everything was fine regardless.

I think now more than ever we all have to be making more effort to protect and preserve our mental health. Whether you are someone with a disorder or if for a while you just haven't been feeling like yourself, I want to offer some things that I've been working on to better mine.

Start with Acceptance

I spent so much energy trying to pretend everything was fine and, as a result, I felt more drained than ever.

We are tempted to "look at the bright side" or "stay positive" in whatever way possible. And you might say "well isn't a good thing to stay positive?" I'd have to both yes and no to that. Obviously, when it comes to trials and hardships, sometimes the only thing that keeps us going is a positive mental attitude and a hopeful outlook. However, there's a difference between practicing positivity to get through hard times and putting up a front to avoid feeling our feelings. What most people end up doing is going into a state of denial and numbing themselves rather than acknowledging their issues.

At some point or another, we took the phrase "stay positive" and internalized it as "never acknowledge that anything is wrong or bad, just grin and bear it". And I found out the hard way that denying my feelings was getting me nowhere (unless you count an emotional meltdown. It's not a fun place to go though, I don't recommend it).

Maybe you don't necessarily have depression or anxiety, but perhaps you've had a hard time facing your feelings. Truthfully, when we give ourselves the chance to experience our feelings, it's a lot easier to overcome. When we numb ourselves and try to act like we aren't hurt, scared, anxious, depressed, upset, angry, or whatever the case may be, we lose the opportunity to work through them. Negative feelings may not feel good, but they're still a necessary part of the human experience.

If I wanted to better manage my anxiety and depression, I had to acknowledge it. I had to acknowledge that there are going to be days where I just do not have it all together. Rather than being stuck in that mindset of "I feel bad", I eventually got to a point where I could say "I feel bad but"

"I'm feeling lonely right now, but I know I have family and friends who care for me"

"I'm feeling anxious right now but I know everything will work out in the end"

"I'm feeling depressed right now but tomorrow is a new day"

"I'm not okay, but I know I'm going to be" (Ironically, the title to one of my favorite Raleigh Ritchie songs)

To be honest, I started feeling more empowered and in control of my emotions when I gave them room to exist and stopped running from them all the time. Make room for all of your emotions, let them stay for a spell, and then move on. In that order.

Illustration of a Black man sitting at a desk with a stressed look on his face, surrounded by paperwork

Stress Management

I never thought I would be here giving people advice on how to manage stress, when I know that stress and panic are things that I'm very prone to. However, these days I'm working on challenging my Imposter Syndrome and remembering that I don't have to be perfect at something to offer insight on it. My last panic attack was about 3 months ago and I haven't been experiencing feelings of panic and (excessive) stress since then, so let's go over some things that have helped me with that:

  • Breathing Exercises - Diaphragmatic breathing has been a very big one for me, especially when I find myself overwhelmed and stressed in the moment. Breathing is something we do without thinking, but deep breathing exercises makes us slow down and do it with focus and intention. There are also apps like Calm and Headspace that offer guided meditations and breathing exercises which I find to be great for my morning routine.

  • Talk to Yourself - Most of us do it anyway whether we want to admit it or not, but talking through my own emotions can help us make sense of what we're feeling before we take action on what we're feeling. I ask myself things like "What exactly am I feeling right now? Why do I feel this way right now? Am I reacting to something that has happened, is already happening, or do I just think it's going to happen later?

  • Prayer and Deep Thought - I know this may not be for everyone, but I don't remember a time in which I prayed and didn't feel better by the time I finished. Sometimes it's a calm and collected conversation with God, and other times (namely during a panic attack) I may be calling out desperately for help and relief. Personally, I think both work just fine and is reflective of what I need in the moment.

  • Music/Playlists - I like to make playlists for myself and my friends; I've even incorporated this love of playlists for my Newsletter subscribers (hint hint), who have access to a weekly updated playlist tied to the themes of the blog on Apple Music and Spotify. Maybe you need calm lo-fi tracks to help you focus on your breathing, or maybe you need words of encouragement, or just something pleasant to get your mind off of your issues. Whatever it is, listening to music is a very easy way to boost our mood and get ourselves on track.

Bad Feelings =/= Bad Person

The reason it was so hard for me to accept my diagnosis at first is because I let ill-informed outside influences get to me. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like me: Christians who live with anxiety or depression. Some people will hear that and immediately start blaming that person for their mental health struggles.

One of the most hurtful (and inaccurate) things I think anyone can do is make someone's mental health an issue of their own "choosing". Basically, there are lot of people who believe that if someone suffers from depression, anxiety, etc. that this person isn't doing enough.

"You're not praying enough"

"You're not studying your Bible enough"

"Your faith isn't strong"

"If you were doing everything you needed to be doing, you wouldn't be like that"

Statements like this come from a place of ignorance, but it doesn't change the impact. People will say things like that, having no idea that they're actually doing more harm than good. These statements are cruel and a big reason why a lot of people still don't feel comfortable talking about their mental health struggles. They are left to suffer in silence and continue believing that they are a bad Christian or just a "weak" individual.

As I said before, negative emotions are part of the human experience. We can try to avoid them all we want, but they will happen. And that's not a bad thing. How could we possibly know happiness if we didn't know despair? How could we know joy if we haven't experienced heartache? How could we know peace if we haven't encountered storms?

Various colorful faces, some are smiling, some are serious, and some are sad

Emotions are Tied to Our Authenticity

I will never forget an interaction I had while catching up with a friend. He said something that really stuck with me:

"I feel like you always have a lot of great things to say. And you have a lot of good insight. But at the same time it feels like it's kind of hard to know you. It's like you don't feel anything when you talk sometimes".

This was a lot for me to take in at the time; this interaction was years ago but only recently was I able to really understand what they meant by that. To put it plainly, I dedicated so much of my time and energy creating this image of positivity that I actually lost my sincerity and authenticity. It's like all I did was regurgitate self-helpisms and didn't really show any real emotional sides to me. And at no point do I want to go back to doing that. Of course I love all things personal growth and development, but parroting motivational phrases doesn't equate to having a personality.

It Doesn't End with How We Feel

Our emotions, positive and negative, are all equally important. Our life experiences are very important as well. But I consider it a blessing that our emotions and our experiences do not have to define who we are.

The biggest thing that has come from me learning to embrace my emotions, is knowing that in the end they don't define me. I might have bouts of depression and I may experience anxiousness here and there, but there's so much more to me as a person than those things.

Reader, I hope you take on your days knowing that your emotions aren't a crime. I hope that you come to understand that we are able to find peace within ourselves when we are willing to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Thanks for reading,


1 Comment

Mar 09

Great job again 👏

bottom of page