How Naming Your Emotions Helps to Better Cope With Stress


How Naming Your Emotions Helps to Better Cope With StressCoping With Emotional Stress

In order to make a change, we need to actually know what we’re feeling in each moment, to have awareness of what’s going on in our bodies, so we can deal with it positively.

I teach a class called ’Stress and our Bodies’ here at Green Mountain at Fox Run where we talk about how the stress response affects our emotions, which in turn impacts how we act. The goal is to move from reacting to responding

Not that that is always easy. But there’s where this strategy comes in.

“Name It and Tame It”

Psychologist Dan Seigel coined the term ‘mindsight’ to describe the process of better understanding the internal workings of our minds. He calls the work “name it and tame it”.

By naming our emotions, we’re able to bring the emotional experience to an intellectual level (the naming part). Bringing rational thinking to an emotional experience activates both the right and left sides of the brain, to bring us out of emotional auto-pilot (often a fight-flight response). Instead rational thinking is activated so we can better deal with the emotion.

Moving From Reaction to Response

In my class I talk about this process as taking a step away from a feeling and pointing to the pink elephant in the room. We can look at it from a distance and say: “Oh, there’s fear. What’s it doing there?”

Instead of fusing with feelings, being consumed by them and becoming the feeling, we can observe from a slight distance. That softens the experience, potentially making it more manageable.

It’s the difference between ‘I am scared’, and ‘I feel scared’.

To start this process of emotional awareness, I’ll ask “Where in your body do you experience stress?” In comes the confusion, ‘stress in my body?Yes…in your body.

Our feelings are really an experience of a sensation in our bodies. Fear, for example, has often been described as a knot in the belly; anger – maybe a tightness in the chest; sadness – sometimes a lump in the throat.

Once you develop this awareness, it’s easier to begin to manage emotions and change a stress reaction to a response.

5 Steps to Notice Your Emotions & Cope With Stress

1. Start Getting to Know Your Feelings

Start by getting to know your feelings and how your body experiences them. Notice your sadness, joy, anger, etc., when they come up.

  1. Where do you notice these feelings most in your body?
  2. What do they feel like in these parts of your body (tight, hot, shaky, etc.)?
  3. What caused the feeling(s) to come up?

After you have a general idea of how your body feels your emotions , you can then use this knowledge ‘in the heat of the moment’.

2. Notice It

When you notice a particular sensation in your body (knot in your stomach, or lump in your throat, etc.) bring your awareness to the physical sensation.

3. Name It

Once you notice it, name the feeling that it’s connected to. Use language that creates distance between you and the feeling, so it has less chance of sweeping you away. In other words “Oh, there’s fear. Why did that show up?” or “I’m noticing sadness.”

4. Rate It

How sad/scared/angry do you feel? This helps in gaining perspective on how intensely you feel the emotion.

5. Soothe the Emotion

Start with a deep breath, or 3 or 10. Then, when you’re able, do something that feels peaceful and calming. For example: drink a cup of tea, take a hot bath, call a friend, journal your feeling and thoughts, Zentangle or create art, play an instrument, listen to music, listen to comedy, etc. The list can be endless.

Remember: it’s easier to practice self-care when you’re not in the heat of the moment, so that when you are, the practice comes more readily to you. Practice these steps throughout your day-to-day life; that way you’re prepared when the going gets tough.

2 responses to “How Naming Your Emotions Helps to Better Cope With Stress”

  1. Excellent step by step process!

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About the Author

Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC

Since 2004, Shiri’s approach as a therapist for treating binge and emotional eating is holistic, focusing not only on the presented issue at hand but also considering overall health. Working in this way often includes mindfulness-based approaches. Now as a trained MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) teacher, Shiri’s love of mindfulness and meditation practices are at the forefront of her blog writings and recordings. Shiri is the Clinical Director at the Women's Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, affiliated with Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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