Feeling bad about feeling bad can make you feel really, really bad, new research says

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This belongs in the “it-seems-obvious-but-somebody-actually-studied-it” category: A study by university researchers has found that people who feel bad about feeling bad – that is, people who get sad about their own negativities and judge themselves harshly for having them — wind up with even more mental stress than people who learn to accept their emotions and thoughts.

The study was conducted at the University of California at Berkeley and funded by the National Institute on Aging. The study was conducted by Brett Ford, a University of Toronto assistant professor of psychology; Iris Mauss; a UC-Berkeley associate psychology professor; Oliver John, a UC-Berkeley psychology professor; and graduate student Phoebe Lam of Northwestern University.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, looked at more than 1,300 adults in the San Francisco Bay area as well as metropolitan Denver to test the connection between their acceptance of their own emotions and their psychological health. Ford was quoted by UC-Berkeley as saying:

“It turns out that how we approach our own negative emotional reactions is really important for our overall well-being. People who accept these emotions without judging or trying to change them are able to cope with their stress more successfully.”

How did they conduct the research?

First, more than 1,000 people filled out surveys with relevant questions, such as how they react to statements such as, “I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling the way that I’m feeling.” Next, more than 150 participants came to a laboratory and were asked to give a three-minute videotaped speech — with only two minutes to prepare — to a panel of judges as part of a mock job application and afterward rate their own performance. Those who thought they did poorly were more stressed. And finally, more than 200 people chronicled in journals what they described as difficult recent experiences.

Mauss was quoted by the UC-Berkeley release as saying:

“Maybe if you have an accepting attitude toward negative emotions, you’re not giving them as much attention. And perhaps, if you’re constantly judging your emotions, the negativity can pile up.”

The research can help people who keep judging themselves understand that there is an emotional cost to doing so.

So there you have it. Stop feeling so bad about feeling bad, or you will just feel worse.