Jules Ker has been providing counseling services to clients for 12 years. She has treated many different kinds of disorders over the years.
Are Emotions Really Overrated?
Well not really. We all have them. At least if you are human you have them (and if you are reading this you are probably a human). Emotions, or feelings as some people refer to them, are not inherently good or bad. Over the years, emotions have been grouped into categories such as positive (happy, encouraged) & negative (angry, sad). In reality, all emotions are "good". That is, they all serve a purpose. The "negative" emotions let us know something is wrong and that we need to take some action to fix whatever is wrong, if possible. The "positive" emotions remind us that there are good things in life for us to celebrate and enjoy. The means by which we express our emotions is really what can give certain emotions a bad rap. Therefore, it's important that we learn to manage our emotions in healthy, appropriate ways.
How to Correctly Identify/Label Your Emotions
When it comes to managing our emotions, it’s important that we first correctly identify our feelings as best as possible. The tricky part about feelings is that different emotions can “feel” the same within our body. This statement probably sounds confusing unless you are familiar with the concept of physical cues. Physical cues are automatic signals sent out by our body that let us know something is going on. These cues consist of the following types of reactions: a racing heart, sweating, shaking, feeling like there are butterflies/knots in your stomach, feeling nauseous, etc. Everyone’s physical cues are different, even if we are experiencing the same emotion; so Tom's physical cues for anger may be different than Bill's physical cues for anger. However, as mentioned above, our own physical cues for different emotions can be the same. For example, when you get mad your heart pounds and you get sweaty. When you feel nervous/anxious, your heart pounds and you get sweaty. Same cues, different emotions.
So if our bodies are sending out similar physical cues for different emotions, how are we supposed to know what emotion we are truly experiencing? One step might be to continue examining physical cues in order to see if there is a difference somewhere. Back to our example from above: when you are mad, your heart pounds, you get sweaty, you start to shake, and you clench your fists. When you are nervous/anxious, your heart pounds, you get sweaty, you feel nauseous, and you feel dizzy. Those extra couple of cues can help you identify what emotion you are having. In cases where there is little to no difference in physical cues, you can use situational information to help determine the correct emotion. For instance, you notice your heart is pounding and you are sweaty. Just a few minutes ago you arrived at work to discover you had to complete tasks not done by co-workers who worked the previous shift. In this case, it’s likely you are feeling angry rather than feeling nervous.
Healthy Ways to Express Emotions
Once you are aware of your feelings and can correctly identify them, you need to make sure you are expressing them in healthy ways. A good rule to follow when expressing emotions is that the emotional expression should not be done in a way that causes harm to yourself, that causes harm to others, or that causes harm to personal/public property. This includes behaviors such as self injury, physical aggression directed at others, punching holes in walls, or throwing objects (it doesn't matter whether the object is being thrown at someone or just being thrown across the room; it's still not ok).
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If you can't engage in behaviors that violate the rule listed above, then what are some good ways to express your emotions? Here's a brief listing of several ideas to get you started:
- Talk to someone
- Write a poem/song about how you are feeling (or just complete a journal entry about your feelings)
- Draw/paint how you are feeling
- Go for a walk
- Take several slow, deep breathes
- Go for a drive in your car (if you feel safe enough to do so)
- Sing or dance out your feelings
Please note, using drugs or alcohol to deal with your feelings is not a healthy choice as it can often lead to more problems later on.
As always, if you don't feel safe or are having trouble finding safe ways to express your emotions, please consult a therapist in your area for further assistance.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on September 15, 2017:
I used to have only two emotions: anger, and sadness. It took me going through mental health therapy to help me realize that there are a whole range of emotions. Because I was not recognizing what they were and dealing with them, I ended up angry or sad all the time. Now that I am more aware and am able to recognize these other emotions and express them appropriately, life is much more enjoyable!