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3 Steps to Identify and Understand Your Emotions

Written by Naseem Amini

When experiencing strong and/or unfamiliar emotions, it can be difficult to recognize what you are feeling. Without that recognition, growth and healing become much more challenging. Here are 3 steps you can follow to break down and understand your emotions:

Step 1: Feel your emotions. Although this may appear to be an intuitive step, it is often easier to distract from challenging emotions than to feel them. Challenge yourself to sit with your thoughts and feelings for at least a couple minutes without distractions. Start small if the experience is too overwhelming. You can add time as you become more comfortable. Monitor how your body reacts to those thoughts and feelings. Does your heart rate increase? What happens to your breathing? Observing the combination of your mental and physiological sensations will help you understand how and what you are feeling.

Step 2: Set your environment. Before being vulnerable with yourself about your emotions, it is important to create a safe space. Try to keep this environment free of interruptions by turning your phone off or communicating with those around you that you need some time to yourself. A safe space may include a cozy room in your home, a peaceful spot in nature, or anywhere you can feel relaxed. Depending on your own preferences, you may want to supplement that environment with some form of movement, such as going for a walk, or with calming music. The important thing to remember is to do whatever feels right for you!

Step 3: Write it down. A great way to declutter your mind is to write down what you are thinking. If you struggle to find a starting place, write down any thought that pops in your mind and continue following your stream of consciousness. Don’t worry if your words seem scattered at first. The goal is to put your thoughts on paper without any judgment. As you write, you may find that your words keep circling around one or two primary emotions. Once you have identified those emotions, you can expand on them in your writing to better understand them. This process can help you discover why you are experiencing those emotions. 

There are some benefits to journaling beyond emotion identification. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can share your journals with your therapist as an aide in your healing journey. Journaling can also help reduce stress levels and provide a healthy outlet for built up feelings.

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