What is Emotional Balance?

Emotions are how we genuinely feel about things. We all experience both pleasant and unpleasant feelings in our lives. Emotional balance is about getting the balance of pleasant and unpleasant feelings right, at least most of the time, so that we can have positive mental wellbeing.

Positive Emotions:

According to research, the ten most common positive emotions are:
Amusement:   Laughing or smiling at something unusual that is not serious, dangerous or threatening.
Awe: A feeling of being transfixed and overwhelmed by greatness or goodness on a grand scale, whether it is by nature or humanity, compelling us to see ourselves as part of something greater than ourselves.
Gratitude: The heartfelt appreciation of something in our lives, like someone who has helped us or having a comfortable place to rest.
Hope:  Believing that things will change and get better.
Inspiration: A feeling of being riveted by human nature at its best and wanting to express yourself at your best because of it.
Interest:  Feeling fascinated or challenged by something new.
Joy: A feeling of playfulness and delight in things or people.
Love:  The feeling that encompasses all or most of these positive emotions within the context of a safe, often close relationship.
Pride:  Taking credit for an achievement that is valued by others.
Serenity:  A feeling of inner calm and contentment when things are going well for you.

Look at each of these ten positive emotions and think about what things in life bring out these feelings in you.

Positive emotions can help us create our best life! This is because they help to open our minds, build up our personal resources and undo the negative effects of stress.

Positive emotions are much more than a response to a physical sensation. Although they can arise from physical pleasure (e.g. good food, warm baths, watching a sunset, etc.) they also have a longer term effect on our wellbeing. The wonderful thing that research is telling us is that these positive emotions don’t just feel good now – they can help us have brighter, better futures.

Keeping Emotions honest:

This is important! Positive emotions are no use to us if they are not honest and real. In fact, research suggests that insincere positive emotions can cause as much stress to our bodies as anger. Forcing yourself to smile or ‘put on a happy face’ may help you feel genuinely cheerful, which is fine. But if it’s just done to pretend to others that you’re happy when you’re not, it won’t have a positive effect on your wellbeing.

Negative Emotions:

According to research, the ten most common negative emotions are:

Anger:  Displeasure, hostility or antagonism towards someone or something.
Contempt: Disrespect for a person or thing.
Disgust:  A feeling of repulsion.
Embarrassment:  Feeling ashamed when your inadequacy or guilt is made public.
Fear:  Anxiety or apprehension about a possible or probable situation or event.
Frustration:  Feeling annoyed at being hindered or criticised.
Guilt:  Remorse caused by feeling responsible for some offence.
Sadness:  A feeling of disadvantage, loss and helplessness.
Shame:  The feeling resulting from an awareness of inadequacy or guilt.
Stress:  Feeling strained when demand is greater than your capacity.

At times, negative emotions are appropriate and useful. It is only right that we should feel sad if someone we love dies. Feelings of anger can help give us the energy we need to stand up for fairness or justice. And fear helps to keep us away from things that could harm us.

However, some negative emotions are not helpful or healthy and we should try to reduce them. For example, we can spend too long feeling guilty for a minor mistake we made or thinking too much on a negative comment someone made about us.

Too many negative emotions can drag us into a great sorrow, which can lead to a lack of energy and an inability to get the most out of our lives. If this goes too far, it can lead to depression and other mental health problems. We can learn to manage negative emotions so that they don’t overwhelm us.

Getting the balance right

So how do we find emotional balance in our lives? How do we maintain a healthy balance of positive and negative emotions?
Research suggests that negative emotions have a stronger effect on how we feel overall than positive emotions. This is because of our evolution – we have survived by being able to be alert to dangers – our brains are hardwired in this way and we can’t change this.  What we can do, however, is to carry out simple daily habits which help us to focus more on our positive emotions, encouraging them to stay a bit more. This in turn will help to make us healthier and more successful, which will then lead to more positive emotions, and so on.

The importance of our thoughts

 Positive and negative emotions don’t just happen to us – they are affected by the way we think. In turn, how we think affects what we do. So, our behavior is affected by our thoughts and emotions. In addition, the way we behave, and the outcomes of our behavior, affects how we think and feel. There is therefore an ongoing relationship between our thoughts, feelings and behavior.

So, we can help to take control of our emotions by changing the way we think. We can decide how we are going to respond when bad things happen to us. And we can think positively about our lives to help encourage positive emotion.

We can help push negative thoughts out of our mind, by doing something to try and take our mind off them for a while, like going for a walk or a swim or phoning a friend. The physical exercise or contact with a friend can also give us a little boost of positive emotion which opens our minds to possible solutions to our problems. Also, solutions to our problems often come to us when we’re not thinking too hard about it.

We can also argue with our negative thoughts by clearly examining the facts of the situation. Thinking things like “I’ll never get this work finished – I’m just hopeless at this” makes you feel pretty low, but may not actually be true. We can’t just magic up positive emotions – for example, we can’t just decide to be joyful. But we can decide to think about the good things in our life to help us experience joy by asking ourselves questions like, “What’s going well in my life today?”
Children and young people’s emotional balance

As they grow up, children develop their understanding of emotions and the way they respond to them. They need to learn how to manage negative emotions appropriately. So for instance, it is better that they recognise they are angry or scared and learn to deal with the emotion appropriately rather than hit out in anger or run away in fear.

They also need to recognise positive emotions and learn how to build on the positive emotions in their lives. Having fun should not be taken lightly – it’s really good for them!

As an adult who cares for or works with children or young people, you can help them learn to notice, understand and manage their feelings. You can also help them get the right balance of positive to negative emotions. This will help them get the best out of their lives.

How to help children and young people get the right emotional balance

Managing negative emotions

  • Children and young people learn about emotions and how to express them appropriately by watching others. Show them that you have feelings and that you are able to say how you feel and manage them appropriately. For example, you could say that you are angry about a child’s behavior and calmly talk about what the consequences would be, instead of shouting. Or you could say you are sad about something that’s happened and talk about why it was so important to you, instead of becoming moody and uncommunicative.
  • Help young children to name negative feelings – sadness, disappointment, frustration, etc. Learning to name feelings helps children to express them without having to act them out. For example, they could say that they are feeling disappointed that their friend can’t come to play, instead of sulking.
  • Talk and genuinely listen to children and young people about how they are feeling. Try to see things from their point of view and accept how they feel. For example, you might say “You seem really disappointed that you didn’t make the football team. I understand that it must be hard for you.”
  • Don’t try to fix a problem for a child or young person, or ignore how they are feeling. You could say something like “You look worried, is something bothering you?” and then take the time to listen.
  • When children and young people feel genuinely understood, it is easier for them to learn to think through their feelings and work out effective ways of dealing with them. For example, if a child is feeling frustrated about trying to learn something new and sees that you understand their frustration, they may be more confident to keep practicing, instead of getting into a bad mood.
  • Acknowledge their efforts to manage their feelings. This helps motivate them to use these helpful strategies in other situations. You might say something like “You were very brave to do that when you felt so scared” or “Well done for being so patient with your brother – I know you were frustrated with him.”
  •  Be supportive, but set limits, when you are helping children to manage their feelings. Acknowledge their feelings but make it clear when they are behaving inappropriately. For example, you might say “I know you’re upset that we can’t go swimming, but that does not make it ok to yell at me.”
  • Help children and young people to learn to distract themselves when something is really bothering them. You could suggest to a young child that you read a story with them if they’re frustrated about waiting for something they want. Or you could suggest a short walk in the fresh air to an older child. Or you could put an upbeat song on your music player to help diffuse a bad temper.
  • Don’t dismiss children and young people’s emotions, e.g. “Don’t be scared” or even worse, shame them for their feelings, e.g. “Don’t be a scaredy-cat” or “don’t cry like a girl.” This can lead them to believe that negative emotions are wrong.
  • Acknowledge and respect their emotions first, then you may be able to talk it through and help them find facts which will help them argue with their negative thoughts. For example, if they are scared of going away from home for a few days, say something like “It’s ok to be scared. Now let’s think of the last time you went away from home and how well you coped.”
  • Don’t lie to children about situations to avoid negative emotional reactions. For example, saying that an injection “won’t hurt a bit” when you know it will hurt, can actually increase the negative emotion when it does hurt, and can teach the child not to trust the person who has lied.
Encouraging positive emotions 
  • Be a good role model for positive emotions. Show children and young people that you can appreciate the things around you and enjoy the good things in your life. Show them that you can smile and engage with the people around you and be kind to yourself and to others. Find the things that you are interested in and the things that bring you joy, and build them into your life as much as you can.
  • Try to get children and young people smiling before you try to teach them something new or do something challenging. There are lots of ways of doing this, e.g. playing a silly game or watching a short funny film – you will know what suits your child or group best. The positive feelings they gain from the fun activity should open their minds and help them be more creative and better at problem-solving, making them more responsive to the new or challenging task. 
  •  Encourage children and young people to ask themselves positive questions like “What have I got to be happy about today?” or “What went well today?” or “What made me feel proud of myself today?” You can do this by making it a mealtime routine or something that you do at the end of a classroom day or group activity. 
  •  Help them to relive positive experiences, perhaps by drawing a picture of a pleasant memory or by looking at photos with them. 
  •  Help children and young people to develop serenity by allowing them space and quiet time to reflect, be calm and peaceful. 
  •  Help them develop gratitude by talking to them about all the things they have in their lives, for example, food, books, beaches, parks, clothes, friends, school, mobile phones, toys, computers, trees, animals.
  •  Inspire children and young people by taking them to events where they will see excellence in their area of interest, for example, a concert, play, dance show, sports event or art exhibition. Or encourage them to watch TV documentaries showing inspiring human behaviour. 
  •  Once you have found the things that truly make a child or young person feel good, find time to fit them into their life as much as possible. Encourage them to think about their good feelings to help them stick in their brains. Having positive emotions will help them become creative in other aspects of their lives and it will help them build resources so that they can bounce back when times are hard.