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Using positive emotions to counteract the negative

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

As a caregiver to an older loved one, it is natural to encounter a wide range of negative emotions. You may feel worried about your loved one's age-related challenges, fearful about their mortality, stressed as you navigate the system to secure the best support services and healthcare for them, or experience guilt and frustration while managing new responsibilities along with your household, career, and family duties.

How can we maintain hope and support our mental well-being amidst these negative emotional experiences? The answer lies in harnessing the power of gratitude, empathy, forgiveness, love, and awe. These positive emotions do not erase or ignore the challenges in our daily lives; rather, they provide balance and stability to our well-being, enabling us to move forward with courage and resilience.

Here is how you can use the five positive emotions - gratitude, empathy, forgiveness, love, and awe - as antidotes to specific negative emotions that may arise in life and particularly in care partnerships:

Balance Worry with Gratitude

Worrying about the unknown, such as waiting for test results, upcoming procedures, or financial concerns, is common for caregivers. When worry becomes constant or leads to worst-case scenario rumination, try turning to gratitude for balance and clearer thinking. Simply stopping to identify five things you are grateful for can help you refocus, refresh, and give your thoughts a much-needed break. What are you grateful for right now?

Balance Fear with Awe

Fear, a more intense form of worry, can trigger physical symptoms and hinder decision-making. We believe that one of the best antidotes to fear is awe, which shifts our focus from our ego and helps us regain perspective quickly. Finding awe in nature, like observing the ever-changing clouds or timeless constellations, can provide a quick reprieve and the strength to face fears head-on.

Balance Stress with Love

When stress sneaks up on us, it can be exacerbated by poor sleep, unhealthy eating, or additional tasks from loved ones, bosses, or friends. Try using love to help prioritize and motivate you when your feeling overwhelmed. Center your heart on love by thinking about the love you have for your care partner, family, yourself, and humankind. Reflect on how love may change in the future and which tasks truly matter in the long run.

Balance Guilt with Forgiveness

When work and family responsibilities clash, feelings of guilt may emerge. Guilt can weigh you down, making it difficult to move forward. Self-forgiveness can provide the space needed for clarity and hope for a better tomorrow. Give yourself permission to let go of what you cannot control and forgive yourself for setting unrealistic expectations.

Balance Frustration with Empathy

Frustration can arise when we feel overwhelmed, when our loved ones push our buttons, or when our to-do list keeps growing with no help in sight. Empathy can be an effective tool to balance frustration. Putting yourself in the shoes of those around you helps view your situation in a new light and allows you to address the true source of your frustration.

You will notice in each of these scenarios that eliminating the negative emotion is not the goal. The goal is to balance out the negative emotion – to help me move forward with greater ease and courage. Sometimes negative emotions should be felt in their fullness. Sadness for instance, the full-on-ugly-cry kind of sadness - can actually help us work through tough situations or losses. And remember, if you have prolonged negative feelings that are interfering with your ability to live your life to the fullest, make sure to visit with your primary care physician for advice.

With gratitude for reading this post, Sarah

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