I've had a couple of really brutal breakups in my life. One of the worst ones happened in college. I was in a three-year, on-again off-again relationship that drained my emotional resources and left me feeling pretty hollow and worthless. Whenever I was sad over this breakup, my friends would encourage me to do something fun. Distract myself. Get out there, flirt with someone new, and forget about him. But I knew the most effective way for how to get over a breakup was to feel every single one of my sad feelings unapologetically, even if it was painful in the moment.
A recent study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology supports what I knew to be true. Researchers from UC Berkeley found that fully embracing your negative emotions, such as disappointment, resentment, and sadness, will make you feel better in the long run. And trying to suppress those bad moods will actually make you feel worse.
After examining 1,300 adults in the Denver and San Francisco Bay Area, researchers found that people who either judged themselves for experiencing negative emotions or pushed those emotions away were more psychologically stressed. But people who did the opposite — who accepted those emotions and let them simply run their course as they were meant to — had better overall psychological health. This even remained true after six months.
"It turns out that how we approach our own negative emotional reactions is really important for our overall well-being," said Brett Ford, lead author of the study and an assistant psychology professor at the University of Toronto. "People who accept these emotions without judging or trying to change them are able to cope with their stress more successfully."
When examining the connection between accepting one's emotions and psychological health, researchers made sure to take gender, age, socio-economic status, and other demographic variables into account. Iris Mauss, senior author of the study and an associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, said they wanted to rule out the possibility that people were biased toward having an "accepting attitude" if they, say, had a luxurious lifestyle and weren't dealing with any major life stressors.
So the next time you're sad over a breakup, don't try to pretend you're not upset. Wallow in your bedroom, refuse to go out even if your friends are begging you, listen to sad playlists on repeat, and weep your little heart out. The overwhelming sadness you experience in the moment may feel terrible, but it is the key to your happiness in the long-run.
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