Tanya Mangwani, psychotherapist at Seraniti, discusses the importance of labeling emotions and the steps we can take towards achieving deeper emotional awareness.
Meenal is having a difficult time adjusting to her new job and she feels lonely, sad, stressed, and exhausted all the time. However, Meenal is unable to describe her emotions when asked how she is feeling. She usually responds with an ‘okay’ even though her face and body tell a different story. Her heart is beating faster than normal, her palms are sweaty and her head is aching.
Most of us, like Meenal, find it difficult to accurately label our emotions.
‘Good’, ‘bad’ and ‘okay’ are not emotions but rather judgments we impose on our emotions. Emotions are neither positive or negative. They all serve a purpose. For example, when a man-eating tiger is in your living room, you will feel afraid and your body will be prepared to either fight the tiger or run away. The fear in this situation is important as it signals danger and helps you survive.
However, fear or anxiety is usually not helpful when there is no real danger. Terry is always nervous before a test, but his anxiety interferes with his test performance and negatively affects his marks. Emotions become problematic when they cannot be controlled or begin to overwhelm us. Emotional awareness is the first step in learning how to control and regulate emotions.
In order to become aware of our emotions, we need to experience them in their entirety. Some people can describe their emotions eloquently but are still emotionally blocked. Connecting the sensations in our body to words is the first step towards emotional awareness but not the end goal.
How can you move towards emotional awareness?
Build your emotional vocabulary – Make a list of all the emotions you know. Have you included all the basic emotions?
Cross check with this list –http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/er_emotions_graphic.html.
Now start using this newly acquired vocabulary in your daily life.
Notice what’s going on in your body – Every time you’re experiencing a strong emotion, stop and notice what’s happening in your body. Is your heart beating faster than normal? Are your hands shaking? Are you sweating but feeling cold? Physical symptoms give us an important clue to how we’re feeling.
Keep a ‘Feelings’ Journal – Track your emotions by writing them down. Every time you have strong feeling write down the emotion and rate the intensity on a scale of 1 to 10. If you’re tech savvy and don’t like the idea of lugging around a notebook, download a free emotions tracking app on your smartphone instead.
Get creative – Sometimes we experience difficult or extreme emotions all at once that are hard to label. You can draw or paint a ‘snapshot’ of your feelings when words are not enough. You can then take a step back and label how you’re feeling.