8 Ways To Identify and Express Feelings

It's not always easy  to identify and express your feelings. Here are 8 tips on how to grow into an emotionally healthier person.

If you’re anything like me, learning to identify and express feelings can be a challenge. It’s a skill I’ve only recently started to develop in the past few years, and for someone who spent so long trying to compartmentalize and run away, it can be a difficult endeavor.

If you’re an expert at feeling your feelings (kudos!), then the following tips may seem trivial. For those of you who may need some extra help identifying and expressing your feelings, here are eight things I try and incorporate in my everyday life.

1. Examine Your Physical Response

One of the biggest cues that I am feeling something is a physical manifestation of that feeling. It can be different for everyone, but there is usually a physical that accompanies an emotional reaction. Pay attention to the cues that your body is giving you. For me,

  • tight chest/shoulders = anxiety, fear
  • stomach tightness or pain = sadness, grief, distrust, betrayal
  • face flush = embarrassment, happiness

Having those physical responses causes me to pause and ask “what is going on right now?”

Related: Learning to Listen to Your Gut

2. Identify the Feeling

When I stopped using drugs and drinking to numb any feelings that I had, they quickly started returning. My problem was that I had no idea which feeling I had at any particular moment. I remember early into Neil and I spending time together that everything made me “anxious.” I had no further delineation of feeling, it was just all anxiety. Over time, I learned to figure out more nuanced feelings such as feeling inferior to others and that the happiness I felt was often an optimism about where I was going and what I was doing.

Although it may seem silly, referring to feeling wheels such as this one helped me actually figure out the exact emotions I was having at any given time.

8 Ways To Identify and Express Feelings

(source)

3. Avoid Judgement

One of the main reasons why I ran from my feelings or became adept at ignoring them was because I placed judgement on them. As an example, when my grandfather died, I said to myself that in time grief passes and people move on, so that’s what I chose to do. I told myself it was stupid to get upset when I would eventually not be upset in the future. I was marginally sad and told myself to continue living the way I was living.

On the 12 hour drive back from his funeral, I was pulled over for speeding. His health had started to fail quickly, so even though I was still on probation at the time and not allowed to leave the state, Neil and I decided to make the trip without informing my probation officer. Now there was legal paperwork linking me to North Carolina. Neil and I got into a huge fight (mainly because of fear) and I exploded into a monster of sobbing, profanity, and irrational reactions all around. Had I simply acknowledged that I was sad and upset, my emotions wouldn’t have come out sideways.

Related: 6 Ways You Are Sabotaging Your Personal Growth

4. Be Still

I can be quick to gloss over feelings because I move quickly from one place and one thought to the next. Take some time to meditate or just sit with yourself and the situation and see what comes up. Being present is something I’m always working on and it’s amazing what even 10 minutes can bring up.

One of the quickest ways I use to escape feelings is my phone. Anytime I’m feeling uncomfortable, I can escape into awesome Instagram photos or any other social media that controls my life. Putting it out of my reach often helps me forget about it altogether and be more present in my life.

5. Write

I think writing is one of the most underused forms of therapy. I’m certainly guilty of underutilizing it. Writing this blog is tremendously helpful, but something magical happens when you put a pen to paper. Take some time to journal or just write out a quick summary of what is going on in your life. I’m always surprised at how much more comes out and gets processed through free writing.

Related: 10 Self-care Tips For When Life Gets Hard

6. Talk To Someone

As hard as it is, it’s important to let others in. Vulnerability shows extreme courage and the help you get from another person can be invaluable. Even if you simply explain what’s going on and don’t look to that person for advice or answers, it will help you process. It’s easy to have a tough day and respond that you’re doing “fine” when someone asks how you are, but it’s harder to respond honestly and let others know that you could use someone to listen.

If you’re really having a hard time processing your feelings, try talking to someone in the mental health field. I can’t tell you how important it was for me over the last year to put my trust in professionals to get through certain times.

Related: There’s Always A Reason, But It May Not Be What You Think

7. Music

Music has always been something that elicits emotion for me. Even when I tried to escape everything I felt, certain songs cut right to the core and could instantly bring up things I didn’t even realize I was feeling. If you’re trying to tap into something specific, choose songs that bring out those emotions for you.

8. Daily Reflection

At the end of the day, take some time before bed to reflect on your day. What made you happy? Sad? Frustrated? If you want to kill two birds with one stone, keep a journal near your bed so that you can jot some of those feelings and situations down. Think about how you could have handled them differently or if you need to process them any further.

Thanks to Amanda for letting me think out loud.

Questions:

  • What other ways do you process feelings?
  • What feeling or emotion do you have the most trouble dealing with?
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21 Comments

  1. February 4, 2016 / 6:57 am

    I love this! I have a hard time with my anger. I try to stay on top of it, but sometimes it does get the better of me. What I’m about to write will probably sound ridiculous but since moving overseas and living without my dog, I’ve had to substitute having a pet for looking at cute animals online. It heals me. My dog used to heal me, but now I find even looking at animals just gets my head right. I read somewhere that in Japan, employers encourage their employees to look at photos of puppies and kittens. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly makes sense to me!
    Erin@BeetsPerMinute recently posted…Daily Intention: ConnectionMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 4, 2016 / 3:21 pm

      That is so sweet. I tag Neil in videos of animals all the time on Instagram. He used to think I was crazy but now he does the same to me whenever he sees one!

  2. February 4, 2016 / 7:04 am

    That feeling wheel is amazing. I’m definitely a feeler, though it sometimes takes me a little while to figure out that I need to be feeling something, or acting on it in a different way. Does that make sense. Alex has helped me out a lot with this by calling me out when I’m obviously offloading on him.
    Susie @ SuzLyfe recently posted…Ain’t Nobody Got Time Fo Dat!My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 4, 2016 / 3:22 pm

      That’s good of him. I’m so delayed on a lot of my feelings but I’ve certainly improved on it

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 4, 2016 / 3:22 pm

      Thanks Ashley! Now if I just remembered to do it consistently….

  3. February 4, 2016 / 9:24 am

    Your full of deep thoughts this week Erin and I love it! For me, I find I’m so task oriented I often forget to deal with things. Then they barrel over and suddenly I’m a wreck and it’s very hard to pick yourself up after that! I’ve been trying to slow down and give myself time, but it’s tough. Working out is definitely my best way of connecting with myself and dealing with things.
    Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious recently posted…Are You An Authentic Blogger?My Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 4, 2016 / 3:23 pm

      Haha I know! It’s important and hard at the same time to slow down and give yourself the time you need. Glad you’ve found exercise to be helpful!

  4. Paula
    February 4, 2016 / 9:45 am

    I love that emotions wheel, and BOY do I wish more people would use it! Noting your own physical responses to certain emotions is an excellent tool, too. I’ve done some work with somatic therapy, which focuses on allowing your nervous system to complete cycles of emotions (instead of stopping at, say, sadness and telling yourself to get over it without letting yourself actually vent), and the mind-body connection is really astonishing. Guilt is definitely my tripping-up point. I’ve gotten better at working through it, but it’s such an ingrained response to things.

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 4, 2016 / 3:24 pm

      That’s great! I love that somatic therapy idea. There’s times when I may know I’m sad but then stop it before I cry or something like that. Working through them is so important!

  5. February 4, 2016 / 11:36 am

    I think daily reflection on the truths of scripture really puts my feelings in the right context for me. Your one called ‘Be still’ reminded me of this verse from Psalm 46:10, ‘Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.’ It’s such a comfort to know that God is with me, and through Him, I can be strong. <3 It's so important not to gloss over feelings and really deal with each one head on, as that is the only way to truly get through each one. <3
    Emily recently posted…Recovery: A Second Chance at LifeMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 4, 2016 / 3:25 pm

      That’s great Emily! So glad you’ve found a way to deal with your feelings 🙂

  6. February 4, 2016 / 2:45 pm

    This is a great post! I often jump straight to number 5 (writing) as I think I can better articulate my feelings when I write them down on paper. When I’m not near paper, I draft an email. I honestly can’t begin to tell you how many notes I have in my drafts as a result.

    I think I need to really work on 3 (avoiding judgment), especially when I’m feeling hurt by someone else. It’s hard to do in the moment, but definitely beneficial in the long run.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Mecca recently posted…[2016] February Goals + January recapMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 4, 2016 / 3:26 pm

      Email is a great idea! Love it. I used to always label my feelings good or bad which is crazy BC they are just feelings. Anything you feel is valid and it’s what you do with those feelings that matters!

  7. February 4, 2016 / 3:25 pm

    Oh, this is awesome!! I have such a hard time nailing down feelings, especially right now when I’m one huge hormonal mess. If my husband and I are having an argument and I’m upset, he keeps asking me what’s wrong or how I’m feeling and I kind of stumble because it’s really hard to figure it out sometimes! I definitely agree that writing it out makes me feel better and identify what it is specifically that I’m feeling.
    Morgan @ Morgan Manages Mommyhood recently posted…On Feeling Old When You’re NotMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 4, 2016 / 3:28 pm

      Before, I couldn’t even articulate what was going on w me. It would take so long to figure it out and get something out of my mouth. I totally forgot about that until you mentioned articulating. I must have been a mess to talk to!

  8. February 4, 2016 / 3:57 pm

    That feelings wheel is really cool!
    I used to channel my anxiety into anger and let me tell you, that was extremely unproductive and unhelpful. Being able to identify anxiety and the cause for it has proved to be invaluable.
    Ange @ Cowgirl Runs recently posted…The One Big Mistake Most Runners MakeMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 5, 2016 / 3:20 pm

      Anger is one I have such a tough time with. Most of the time it immediately goes to sadness, but I know it’s there somewhere!

  9. February 9, 2016 / 7:28 am

    I’m pretty terrible about expressing my feelings. If I get upset or stressed it usually starts out with some tears. I’ve never seen that wheel before, and that would totally help for the moments I feel multiple feelings but can’t put it into words.
    Jess @hellotofit recently posted…Healthy Apple Peanut Butter Breakfast CookiesMy Profile

    • erinsinsidejob
      February 9, 2016 / 3:25 pm

      It’s definitely helpful. Sometimes it seems silly to use, but it’s really effective!

  10. jos´
    November 6, 2016 / 4:56 am

    Thank you.

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