Labeling Emotions

Stop what you are doing now, and answer this question.

How do you feel right now?

This is probably a lot harder to answer than you may think. Maybe that is because right now, nothing is truly happening. But try answering the same question when you've just found out that you may be laid off work. Or that your best friend is in the hospital. Or your parent has a car accident. Or you failed an important test. What are the feelings associated with those situations?

Why is it important to label how we feel? Why do we even bother with putting a word to our emotions? Well, interestingly, labeling our emotions is actually a lot more important than many of us (myself included!) once thought.

This study is a great example of how labeling emotions can have positive effects. In this study, participants who were scared of spiders were asked to either label an emotion (ex. I am anxious about being near a spider. I feel scared that it will hurt me") or to just approach the spider without labeling any emotions. When their brains were imaged, those who labelled their feelings had less activation of the amygdala, a part of the brain that regulates stress, fear, and emotion (so, those individuals who actually labelled their fear as being such experienced less stress and anxiety around the spiders than those who didn't label their emotions). In other, simpler words, when we label our emotions, we are less likely to feel the negative aspects of the situation or emotion (ex. labeling that you are feeling angry because your sibling just lost your phone allows you to remain less stressed, and you are less likely to 'act out' because of this anger).

Cool, huh? This has many implications for our everyday lives. Personally, sometimes I am so overwhelmed with a situation that I don't pay attention to how I am feeling, or I am unable to properly label my emotion. But, taking a deep breath and asking myself 'what am I feeling right now?" really helps me focus. For example, imagine that you are in a car accident. Do you feel angry that you lost your car? Are you scared that you hurt yourself? What thoughts are going through your mind at this moment? When we stop to analyze things this way, and put a label on our emotions, we are better able to deal with them, and cope with our experiences.

I challenge you today to begin to label your emotions - do not be afraid to say that you are feeling frustrated, angry, scared, tired, hopeless, etc. When you do so, you'll find that you feel a lot better about the overall situation, and you will also help yourself find a way to deal with that emotion. Remember that labeling your emotions is not only good for your well-being, but also helps you to slow down and push through a tough situation. do you feel right now?

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