In the last section we learned about anxiety and other emotions, and why we have them. Given that our aim is not to get rid of anxiety, we must learn ways to befriend it. A good starting point is to understand and be able to name anxiety (and other emotions) when it shows up for us. After all, if we don’t know what we are feeling, what chance do we have of responding effectively?
Naming our emotions is a helpful practice for reducing emotional distress and increasing positive emotions. To understand what is going on for us and respond effectively, we need to be aware of what we are feeling. We also must be able to accurately put words to this experience. To do this, you will need to draw on the mindfulness skills of ‘observing’ and ‘describing’ we learned about in Week 2.
How to observe, describe, and name your emotions:
- Start by noticing your thoughts, feelings, and any physical sensations in your body. Don’t try to change them, simply notice
- Notice areas of tension, comfort, discomfort, or pain. Where do they sit in your body? How do they feel? What shape, size and qualities do they have? Simply observe with curiosity and avoid reacting to them
- Non-judgmentally observe your emotional state and any urges that accompany it. Do not try to push away or hold on to anything
- Allow your thoughts and feelings to come and go as they please. See if your emotions change over time. Do they get more or less intense? Do they move locations in your body?
- Add descriptive words to your experiences (e.g., “I’m feeling anger”, “I notice the urge to hurt someone”, “my shoulders feel tight”, “my jaw and fists are clenched”). Avoid making assumptions about why you feel this way and steer clear of using judgemental language
- If your mind wanders or you find yourself judging, simply note this and bring yourself back to the exercise (e.g., “mind wandering”, “mind judging”)
- Continue this for at least a few minutes
- Towards the end of the exercise, if you haven’t already, see if you can identify and name the emotion you are feeling. If there are several emotions, which is strongest? This may be your primary emotion. Also try to name your secondary emotions if you can.
When you feel anxious, it is understandable that you would want to get rid of that feeling quickly. Sitting with and observing your anxiety is probably the last thing you feel like doing. However, the opposite of this is avoidance, which has serious long-term consequences. Often, when we open up and allow our emotions to be present, we gain a sense of freedom and relief from them. This is not the aim of the exercise, but it can be a welcomed byproduct.
Have a go at the above exercise, first when you are calm, and later when you are experiencing a strong emotion. You will need to practice this technique many times for it to become automatic. To help you name your emotions, we have included a list of some common emotions to get you started. A simple google search for ‘wheel of emotions’ will give you even more ideas.
- Happy – Proud
- Sad – Lonely
- Hurt – Fearful
- Worried – Angry
- Hostile – Helpless
- Disgusted – Ashamed
- Guilty – Surprised
- Inferior – Embarrassed
- Rejected – Insecure
- Bored – Optimistic
- Loving – Exasperated
Envious – Jealous