The Longest Lasting Emotion and 4 Proven Ways to Loosen its Grip

Some emotions burst onto the scene and disappear just as quickly. Others stay for longer, as though there’s no place else for them to be.

In a recent study, researchers looked at 27 different emotions and gained fascinating insight into the average amount of time each emotion tends to stay.

Sadness is the longest lasting of all emotions taking on average 120 hours to pass. 

Hatred is the second most enduring emotion followed by joy which lasts an average of 35 hours.

Guilt lingers longer than the hot burn of shame; and fear tends to pass fairly quickly compared to anxiety which generally lasts much longer.

The stay-around power of sadness is likely due to its tendency to be associated with events that have a major long-term impact on people’s lives, such as bereavement.

The study, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, found the reason some emotions stay around for longer than others is because of rumination – the tendency to replay or think about negative things over and over.

As explained by researcher Saskia Lavrijsen, ‘Rumination is the central determinant of why some emotions last longer than others.’

How to stop thinking the same thoughts over and over and…

Rumination is a proven risk factor for depression so seriously … ya’ gotta stop it. It’s not easy – I know – but here are four proven ways to stop rumination running away with your head.

  1. Exercise

    Physical activity interrupts negative thinking and reframes the way you look at things. This has been proven over and over and then a bit more.

  2. Mindfulness

    Bring yourself back to the moment (as opposed to thinking about the past or the future) by paying attention to what you hear, feel, smell, see and taste. This is about being present in the now. It’s important because it’s the only place we have any power.

  3. Worst case scenario

    This may sound counter-intuitive but stay with me … Think about the worst case scenario and ask yourself if you can handle it. This takes the steam out of the original thought that’s made itself at home in your head. Humans are resilient creatures and it’s likely that although the worst case scenario won’t have you pulling your ‘bring it on then,’ face, whatever it is you’ll be able to handle it. 

  4. Pencil in a worry break.

    Kinda like a date, but nowhere near the fun. Set aside a period of time each day, say 20 minutes, where you can go hard with your worrying. Worry it up like crazy. Worry about everything that’s been hassling you for attention. Then, at the end of your scheduled break – stop. When something starts clanging around the inside of your skull, remind yourself that you’ve made time later to deal with whatever it it. This works. Just try it.

What does it mean for relationships?

This finding gives fuel to the importance of being emotionally responsible with those we love (not to be confused with being emotionally responsible for them).

There’s a lot said around the idea that nobody can ‘make you sad/angry/ashamed …’, and for the most part, this is true. However in terms of intimate relationships, it’s something that has always sat uneasy with me. Let me tell you why.

Part of being intimate with another person involves dropping the walls, clearing the way for them to be closer to you than you would allow anyone else. This is intimacy – honest, generous, open, vulnerable, sometimes messy and when it’s at its best, phenomenal. 

When this is handled with love and respect, the relationship will be tight, strong and safe. When it’s not, it can be excruciating, perhaps bland, maybe lonely.

Knowing what we know now about the length of time sadness takes to pass, it’s clear how regular fighting, disrespect, nastiness or  indifference from one towards the other can kill a relationship and dampen a person. In stingy or hurtful relationships sadness will build on sadness. It’s why it’s critical to choose wisely who we love and who we open ourselves up to – or for how long we stay open to them.

Emotions are there for a reason … So listen.

All emotions serve a purpose. Sadness, for example, might alert us to a situation that requires change. It also has a protective function, a type of ‘time-out’ to allow for healing, reflection, or adjustment to new or overwhelming circumstances. Sadness signals to others that support might be needed, particularly as ‘Hey. I need you,’ isn’t something that tends to always flow easily from us humans.

Too much of anything though is never a good thing. Being mindful of an emotion becoming too consuming is the best fight against it taking you somewhere – like depression or illness – that’s harder to come back from.

One Comment

Matthew D

Thank you. This was well stated and helpful. Biggest compliment I can give.

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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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Because sales are the best, and Christmas is the best, and helping kiddos find their brave is the very best of all! So, to celebrate the end of the year (because truly, it's been a year hasn't it), and to help you settle brave hearts for next year, or night times, or separations, or, you know, all the things, we're taking 25% off books and plushies in the Hey Sigmund shop.

There's no need to enter a code. The books and bundles are already marked with their special sale prices. You'll find them all there - plushies, books, bundles - doing shopping cartwheels, beside themselves excited about helping your young ones feel bigger than anxiety, and shimmy on to brave. 
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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