Can Negative Emotions be Helpful?

What if tough emotions weren’t something to be avoided, but were useful information?

Many of us were brought up to hide our negative feelings.

Sadness, anger, shame – we buried these feelings and hid them from everyone. We now know that is not healthy, but very few of us have learnt how to deal with negative emotions – let alone learn from them.

Mindfulness tells us to let these feelings pass by, without responding to them. “Let your thoughts pass like clouds in the sky,” say many various meditations.

But is that the best way?

Professor of Psychology and leader in positive psychology, Dr Todd Kashdan, says, “Two types of avoidance cause problems for people: avoiding pleasure and avoiding pain.”

“…expressing frustration, or even too much sadness, is anathema to most folks. It’s as if we expect ourselves to be computers, whose inner processes are largely hidden and divorced from what appears on the screen,” he writes in his book, The Upside of Your Dark Side, co-authored with Robert Biswas-Diener.

“But it misses the point that emotional expressions exist for a reason.”

He goes on to say, “the cultural message that ‘you should feel good and try not to feel bad’ is among one of the most toxic processes known to psychology.”

Dr Kashdan points out that whenever we try to conceal or ignore unwanted thoughts and feelings, they tend to get louder until we can no longer ignore them.

So what should we do about negative feelings instead?

Listen to them, says Dr Kashdan. Use them to gather useful information, and then let them pass.

Importantly, remember you don’t have to believe your thoughts, as they are not always useful or factual.


Isn’t that the same as ACT?

If you are thinking this sounds a lot like ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, you are right. Dr Kashdan’s work complements ACT, which is a popular form of mindfulness therapy that encourages us to accept and face any negative feelings – and then move on to focus on what’s most important to us.

ACT can be particularly useful if you find you often get “stuck” in negative loops and feel you can’t move forward.

Emotions are useful tools

Dr Kashdan says all his research over many years can be summarised in three key messages.

- First, emotions are just tools. Don’t make emotions the goal. Research suggests if we take the goal of happiness out of the equation, ironically, that makes us happier in the journey of our lives.

- Second, train yourself to be better able to clarify, describe and understand what you’re feeling, because that will help you better figure out what to do next.

- And the third message is:

You need to know what you value and what you want your life to look like. If you’re happy, then what? If you’re able to get rid of your anxiety, what would you do with your life? If you’re able to end self-doubt, what will you do next?

The Hybrid Workplace: How to Make it Work For You

For years, the argument about working from home versus working onsite for office workers was quite polarised. People were adamantly for or against.

It seems the COVID pandemic has decided for us: we will go hybrid.

Hybrid work is a fluid mix of working remotely and working onsite. Fluid, because it depends on the company and industry, and also because it depends on employees’ different preferences and changing needs.

How to manage your wellbeing in a hybrid workplace

Leader of Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Teams, Jared Spataro, has outlined six “common sense principles” for his teams, to help them manage their wellbeing in a hybrid workplace:

1. Make OKRs your friend

By embracing a framework that ties together clear objectives and key results (OKRs), you are creating a personal framework that makes it clear which work is most important to yourself and others. You can then say ‘no’ more often.

2. Get comfortable with imperfection

“To be crystal clear,” says Spataro, “this is not about lowering the quality threshold for customers. It’s about managing priorities, energy, and expectations for each step along the path toward an outcome.

“Ask yourself, ‘Does this need to be good, better, or best?’ And encourage your team to discuss it.”

3. Own your boundaries

Each of us needs to define our boundaries based on what we can and cannot do.

In practice, this means deciding what time you start work, deciding what time you finish work, and sticking to those commitments while communicating them to your team, whether you are working remotely or in person.

4. Plan meetings with purpose

“Showing up to a meeting has become the signal of doing work. It’s the 21st-century version of punching the clock,” Spataro says.

First ask the most basic question: ‘Do you have to have this meeting? No, really, do you have to?’ If the answer is yes, determine whether the meeting is to disclose, discuss or decide.

5. Follow the science

Spataro says, “Science tells us what the world’s best athletes have known for years: Peak performance requires cycles of rest and recovery. More and longer hours don’t equal higher impact. Create a culture where taking breaks is a mark of intelligence, not of laziness.”

6. Lead with empathy

If ever there were a time to give one another grace, it is now, says Spataro. Help ensure that the quietest voices are heard. Make space for fun. Make space for moments of sadness, and moments of joy.

One Thing You Can Do Today

Learn a new craft

During last year’s Tokyo Olympics, UK diver Tom Daley wowed the crowd not only with his incredible diving skills, but also with his knitting talent. The cameras caught him knitting by the pool, in the stands, even on the bus.

Like many people, he turned to learning a craft during the lockdown days of the pandemic. And like knitters before him, he found it incredibly soothing during anxious times.

It doesn’t have to be knitting. Even though much of the scientific study around the benefits of craft has focused on knitting, there are positive links between engaging in any creative occupation and physical and mental wellbeing. Benefits include relaxation, stress relief, a sense of accomplishment, and improved memory and concentration.

Crafts such as woodwork, knitting, crochet, and ceramics focus on repetitive actions and a skill level that can always be improved upon. Doing a craft we enjoy allows us to enter a ‘flow’ state, described as a perfect immersive state of balance between skill and challenge.

Working on your craft can be solitary, but it can also allow you to be social. One survey found knitting in a group improved knitters’ happiness, social contact and communication. Organisations like the Men’s Shed movement offers men the opportunity to do collective woodworking, repair and other productive activities, with participants reporting reduced levels of depression.

Interested in trying a new craft? Upskill by searching for YouTube tutorials, or look for a local craft community on Facebook or at your local community college.

When Water Is Harmful

Can you name the most common skin irritant? Your mind may go to chemicals like solvents, paint thinners and harsh detergents, but the answer, surprisingly, is water.

You would not think something as harmless or necessary as water could cause your skin to become red, dry, itchy and cracked. But that’s exactly what can happen when your work involves frequent hand washing or immersion in water.

If you perform “wet work” you are most at risk of occupational contact dermatitis (OCD). OCD is inflammation of the skin caused by contact with external substances in the workplace. It is one of the most commonly reported and underestimated occupational diseases.

As well as water, other occupational irritants include any strongly acidic or alkaline substances, oils, detergents, shampoos, cleaning agents, dust and fibreglass.


Why is water damaging?

Wetting and drying your hands over and over disrupts the skin’s key protective layer (the stratum corneum). Over time, this leads to dry skin, more disruption of the protective barrier, and inflammation.

Frequent contact with water explains in part why people in the healthcare industry are at greater risk of OCD, as well as hairdressers, hospitality workers, cleaners and mechanics. And with handwashing more frequent during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people may be affected.

Your work is considered “wet work” if your hands are:

  • in water for longer than two hours a shift
  • handling wet things for more than two hours a shift
  • in occlusive (moisture-proof) gloves for longer than two hours a shift, or
  • washed more than 20 times a shift.

How do you prevent occupational dermatitis?

Gloves. Gloves can protect your hands, but it’s important to use the right ones for the job as otherwise they may provide inadequate protection or further irritate your skin.

Moisturising creams. These can help prevent dry skin and dermatitis. Water-based moisturisers may be a better choice, as oil-based ones can affect the protective properties of certain gloves.

Hand sanitiser. Alcohol-based hand rubs prevent hands being continually washed and dried and tend to be gentler on the skin, although they are not suitable if your hands are visibly dirty.

If you have any red, dry and itchy areas on your skin, seek help from your doctor or dermatologist.

Ready for the New You?

Avoid these two common mistakes when trying to change your habits.

Are you ready to break bad habits? Do you have big goals planned for 2022? Do you want to make big changes in your life?

You may think you will succeed in making changes to your habits and then find that you eventually lose interest and go back to your old ways. Why?

According to Dr BJ Fogg, Director of the Behaviour Design Lab at Stanford University and author of Tiny Habits, people make two mistakes when trying to change their habits:

1. They start too big and make it too hard.

When a change is hard, even if you are motivated and even if you can see how it will benefit you, it’s unlikely you will stick to it when things get tough.

Dr Fogg advises us to think big, but start small. Make your new habit so easy you could do it on your hardest day.

“The easier a behaviour is to do, the more likely the behaviour will become a habit. This applies to habits we consider ‘good’ and ‘bad’,” says Dr Fogg.

Make a tiny change that fits with your current life, and celebrate every time you do it.

2. They use punishment instead of celebration to motivate themselves.

“Write this phrase on a small piece of paper: I change best by feeling good, not by feeling bad.”

Ever berated yourself for not sticking with a resolution? Or chastised yourself for not having the will-power to make changes? That’s where you are going wrong, says Dr Fogg.

Dr Fogg points out that people don’t change through shame or manipulation. We are motivated to change when the new change makes us feel good - either inherently because it feels good while we are doing it, or because of an immediate reward.

“In order to design successful habits and change your behaviours, you should do three things. Stop judging yourself. Take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviours. Embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.”