Science Says You Should Feel All the Feels (Especially the “Bad” Ones)

Photo: Stocksy/Marija Savic
"Don't be afraid to catch feels," sings Katy Perry on Calvin Harris' "Feels"—and while breezy summer pop songs aren't typically the place where you'd look for solid mental health advice, it turns out she has a point.

Emotions: People have them, and they can be difficult to deal with, especially when they're negative. But not accepting your negative emotions (hello, denial) could mean you stay stuck in that state of mind, according to a recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology—which really isn't fun.

"Acceptance involves not trying to change how we are feeling, but staying in touch with your feelings and taking them for what they are."

Let's say you're feeling bad about your body, for example. That might lead to a different inner critic getting upset that you aren't being nice to yourself about your body. (Can't win!) But that response—reacting to negative feelings and judging them—may be harmful to your psychological health, The Cut's Science of Us reports.

The three experiments, led by Brett Ford of the University of Toronto, expand on research that suggests that accepting emotions is linked to greater psychological well-being.

Wait—so what is acceptance, exactly? Ford explained it this way to Quartz: "Acceptance involves not trying to change how we are feeling, but staying in touch with your feelings and taking them for what they are." (It's super in line with how everyone from royals to celebrities is talking about mental health authentically right now.)

Subjects who tended to accept their emotions weren't that way because their lives were perfect and stress-free. They, like everyone, experienced negative emotions, but they didn't necessarily think of their feelings as being bad.

"Although wanting to get rid of our negative emotions feels natural and is an automatic response for many of us, it can in fact be futile or counterproductive," Ford told us. "Simply realizing this—and interrupting our habitual responses to our own emotions—might be helpful."

She also offered this advice for when negative emotions surface: "Let your feelings run their course. You could tell yourself that there is no right or wrong way to respond, that these feelings are a natural response, or that your feelings are like clouds passing by that you don't need to control."

So the next time you're feeling bad about feeling bad, try to remember that other line from "Feels," this time sung by Pharrell: "Not nothing ever last forever, no." Whatever negative emotion you're going through will be over soon enough—if you let it.

Thinking about self-care? Meditation is an important tool to have. If you're in need of more reinforcements, try #squadcare for an extra boost. 

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