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Labeling Your Emotions to Self-Regulate

When a strong emotion comes up for you, a technique you can use to support your emotional well-being is to label your emotions.

Lisa Feldman Barrett, author of “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain,” describes how powerful labeling our emotions can be for regulating our entire body.

The more words you have for one emotion can support you in gaining access to your prefrontal cortex and help you make rational decisions that are best for you. ¬†She calls a large vocabulary for emotional word, emotional granularity. She states, “You’ve probably never thought about learning words as a path to greater emotional health, but it follows directly from the neuroscience of construction. Words seed your concepts, concepts drive your predictions, predictions regulate your body budget, and your body budget determines how your feel.”

How it Works

Inside your brain, you have an inner-part that is your primitive brain. It is responsible for all your instinctual reactions.

Considering this, emotions are an instinctual reaction to a situation. Many times an out of control emotion can be related to some type of threat.

On the other hand, the outer layer of your brain is the part that is responsible for the wisest parts of you. This is where you are able to problem solve and work through situations.

During a trigger, like anger, your wise brain goes offline and it can be very hard to think rationally. You go into a primitive reaction like fight, flight, fawn, or freeze.

Labeling the emotion that you are having works by connecting your primitive brain to your logical, or wise brain. Check out this video for more.

For Example

Let’s use the example of sad.

Now I’m talking super sad, something has made you suddenly so sad that you feel you might cry on the spot.

Now start labeling this emotion differently. A quick Google search can help you label your emotion so you can better understand what is happening in your mind, soul, and body and help you slow down and process the emotion words like bitter, heartbroken, mournful, disappointed, betrayed, and more.

The more words you can find to label your feelings can help you work through them.

To Try It, You Must be Aware

The hardest part of this process is being aware of the emotion in the first place, and having the mindfulness to slow down and go through these steps.

Usually, I suggest you start recognizing your emotions by taking some space from the situation and writing it down. The act of writing can also help your mind calm down as well.

Dr. Autumn Thomas

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