Why Is Naming Emotions Important for Emotional Awareness?

Different States of Emotions
Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by your emotions, unsure how to manage them? When we experience anger, anxiety, or stress, it can be challenging to find a solution. However, by naming our emotions and being aware of them, we can better handle them.

The power of naming emotions goes beyond mere vocabulary; it holds the key to understanding and managing our emotional experiences.

Surbhi Mahnot

Unraveling the Emotional Knot

When we experience intense emotions, it’s common to feel overwhelmed or lost, unable to pinpoint the root cause of our inner turmoil. However, research shows that naming emotions can be a transformative tool.

Paul Ekman, a psychologist, and leading researcher, breaks down emotions into six categories

  1. Anger: annoyed, frustrated, peeved, mad, insulted, bitter, etc.
  2. Fear: worried, doubtful, anxious, nervous, desperate, stressed, terrified, etc.
  3. Sadness: lonely, heartbroken, gloomy, lost, unhappy, hopeless, miserable, etc.
  4. Disgust: dislike, loathing, disapproving, offended, horrified, uncomfortable, aversion, etc.
  5. Enjoyment: happiness, love, joy, pride, contentment, peace, satisfaction, amusement, etc.
  6. Surprise: amazement, astonishment, shocked, stunned, etc.

When we put a name to our feelings – joy, fear, anger, or sadness – we begin to unravel the emotional knot, gaining clarity and understanding. A study conducted at UCLA revealed that verbalizing emotions reduced the intensity of activity in the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, helping individuals regain a sense of control.

The “Aha” Moments With Naming Emotions

The biggest blocker in expressing emotions is the inability to put words to feelings.

The mere expression of "I am feeling..." can magically lower emotions' raw intensity and improve our self-awareness.

Let’s explore a few situations where understanding and labeling different emotions can help you get unstuck and bridge the gap between your thoughts and actions.

Situation#1. How to make responsibilities less overwhelming?

Deadlines are looming, emails are piling up, and your to-do list seems never-ending. You could feel frustration building up. A range of emotions crosses you:

  • Overwhelm: Feeling a sense of being overloaded or unable to cope with the workload.
  • Anxiety: Experiencing worry or fear about meeting deadlines or expectations.
  • Pressure: Feeling the weight of expectations and the need to perform.

Take a deep breath and recognize your body language; the tightness in the chest and racing thoughts are signs of anxiety. Feelings of self-doubts, confusion, and silly mistakes are signs of mounting pressure.

Expressing it as it is, I am anxious or feel pressured can make you relax ironically. Try it to believe it!

Situation#2. How to simplify conflicts?

You found yourself in a heated argument with your partner. Emotions are running high, and the tension in the room is palpable. Instead of reacting impulsively, take a moment to name your feelings.

  • Hurt: Feeling emotionally wounded or offended by the words or actions of the other person.
  • Frustration: Experiencing annoyance or exasperation due to differences or misunderstandings.
  • Fear of Loss: Worrying about the potential impact of the conflict on the relationship.

Your helplessness and anger are fueled because you are hurt or you are afraid of something.

Naming it the way you feel can magically bring clarity to your thoughts. Try it to believe it!

Situation#3. How to bring sanity back when stuck in traffic?

When stuck in a traffic jam, our patience is often tested, and frustration escalates quickly. Some common emotions we feel are:

  • Impatience: Feeling restless and eager to reach our destination.
  • Annoyance: Experiencing irritation towards the traffic congestion or external factors causing the delay.
  • Anxiety: Feeling a sense of unease or worry about being late or missing important commitments.

I am being impatient because I don’t want to miss my flight. I should have started earlier. This mere expression can make you feel calm and de-stress. Try it to believe it!

Naming Emotions With Self-Talk

When you are caught up in intense emotions, engaging in self-talk is a powerful tool to help you name your feelings and calm down.

Paying attention to your facial expressions and body language is imperative. 

Here’s a direct self-talk dialogue I often use to unstuck myself from any situation:

  1. What am I feeling right now? Be honest with yourself about what you’re feeling.
  2. What physical sensations am I experiencing? Tune into your body and notice any physical sensations accompanying your emotions. Is there tension, heaviness, or a racing heartbeat? Describing these sensations can help you connect them to specific emotions.
  3. What thoughts are running through my mind? Pay attention to the thoughts and beliefs that are fueling your emotions. Identify any cognitive patterns or biases that might influence your perception of the situation.
  4. Why am I feeling this way? Is there a specific trigger or situation that caused them? Understanding the underlying factors provide valuable insights.

The Science Behind Naming Your Emotions

Neuroscientists have found that labeling emotions activates the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for self-regulation and decision-making. As a result, the amygdala’s reactivity reduces, enabling individuals to manage their emotions more effectively. 

The power of naming emotions extends beyond immediate relief. By consistently giving words to our feelings, we can begin to recognize emotional patterns that may have held us back. 

Surbhi Mahnot

For instance, you might discover a recurring sense of inadequacy, fear of failure, chronic stress, or anxiety. This awareness can help you take conscious steps to address them, break free from these emotional loops, and promote personal growth.

Embracing Emotions Open the Door

When we acknowledge our feelings, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Therefore it becomes essential to understand that vulnerability is not synonymous with weakness but a sign of strength and authenticity. By embracing emotional vulnerability, we foster deeper connections with ourselves and others.

Naming our emotions simply cracks open the door and calms our emotional responses so we can combine our thinking and feeling more effectively. That is what practicing emotional intelligence is all about, isn’t it?

Surbhi Mahnot

Surbhi Mahnot

Surbhi Mahnot is the owner of this blog. She has work experience of almost 10 years in the IT industry in varied roles. At present, she is working full-time on this blog. She is passionate about the importance of personal growth in individual and work life, which reflects in her writing too. Travelling, reading, and shopping are her core interest besides work.