We can learn important information from studying exactly what an emotional response may be telling us. For example, you may be surprised to find yourself reacting angrily when invited to a special event. When you think about it more, you may realize that you’re angry because you feel overextended. Your anger is telling you to change something in your work-life balance, at least temporarily. It may feel like an injustice to add just one more event, but you know that the injustice is actually the unreasonable demands you place on yourself. This will allow you to respond to the invitation much more graciously than you might have otherwise. It’ll also allow you to take the wisdom of the anger and use it to make healthy changes in your work-life balance. When we learn to see the value of emotions, they can help us learn and grow.

Emotions – even those that feel unpleasant or seem negative – have a few important uses:
1. Emotions drive our actions – for example, a fight, flight or freeze response.
2. Emotions tell others that we’re dealing with stressors and may need support.
3. Emotions have wisdom. They tell us something important in our life is changing or needs attention.
In each of these cases, ignoring or suppressing our emotional response keeps us from learning and taking action. This means we may keep negative emotions around longer because we don’t see how they can be useful and learn from them.

Emotions can drive us to take actions we need for our survival. For example, a fight, flight or freeze response. If we face an injustice, our anger drives us to fight against it. If we encounter a bear, our fear makes us want to run or hide. If we work with a difficult boss, our anxiety may cause us to freeze before we say or do something we could lose our job over.

When we’re aware of whether our current emotion is making us fight, take flight or freeze, we can move beyond the first reaction and choose a more effective response for the situation. Even positive emotions can make us be silent on something when we should speak up or avoid dealing with someone we believe will spoil our mood. In all cases, we can be more mindful of our choices when we’re aware of how our emotions are making us take action or not.

Emotions can tell others that we have unmet needs. We often ignore our emotions and needs in favour of getting things done when we’re busy. When we do this, our ignored emotions begin to show up in our interactions with others. We may unintentionally come off as abrupt, annoyed or disinterested. This in turn can negatively impact our relationships.

When we know our emotions impact our relationships, we can avoid unintended consequences. It’s human nature to think that other people’s emotions are about us, even when they’re not. Sometimes, we just need to share our current emotion with the other person, so they understand it’s not personal. This doesn’t excuse regularly negative or intense emotions, but it’ll help when this is unusual for you. For example, you’re upset about a family member’s poor health. You don’t have to share the details if you want to keep them private, but you might say, “Please excuse my distraction today. I’m dealing with family issues, and they’re weighing heavy on my mind.” There’s a lot of wisdom in all emotions, including those we think are negative.

If you’re feeling sad, there’s probably something you need to let go of, such as a loss, a dream or a goal.
If you’re feeling anxious, there’s probably something you need to face or address. This could be something from your past, something in your present or something you’re worrying will happen in the future.

If you’re feeling angry, there’s probably something you feel isn’t fair, and you need to identify what it is.
In each case, if you deny or shove away the emotion, you won’t be able to tap into the information it has for you. You’ll also likely have a harder time moving forward. Emotions help us identify when something needs to change. We may need to change our own thoughts or attitudes. Or we may need to change something in our relationships or environment. Often, ignoring negative emotions means that they come back again and again. When we examine the wisdom, our emotions can teach us, we’ll be more likely to move forward in a healthy way.

Think about an emotion that continues to come up for you. Answer each of the following questions about that emotion:
• When I feel this emotion, do I fight, take flight or freeze? What’s the thought behind my reaction? How do I behave or act when I’m experiencing this emotion?
• What might this emotion tell others who don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling? What would they see, hear or experience when I’m feeling this emotion?
• What does this emotion be suggest I need to change or pay attention to in my life?