Have you ever felt trapped in your mind? Neglecting to express emotions prevents living a healthy and content life. According to a recent article in The Atlantic, “verbalizing one’s feelings can lead to health benefits including less stress and improved outcomes from cancer, asthma and trauma recovery.” (2)
Each time a person experiences anger and sadness, the amygdala, a tiny structure in the brain that processes emotions, is activated. UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D and his colleagues found that verbalizing anger and sadness, triggered either by external or internal issues, decreases activity in the amygdala.
Affecting labeling, putting feelings into words, helps manage negative emotional experiences and reduces emotional reactivity according to Dr. Lieberman and his colleagues. (3)
Labeling feelings is a complex process that involves conceptualizing one’s unique abstract experience. It requires the interpretation of life events and assigning socially defined language to the experience. Body sensations, as the result of triggers, inform our understanding of the experience. Tightness in the chest prior to a job interview tells us that we’re feeling anxious or nervous.
We’ve learned the benefits of labeling our internal experience. Here are things you can do to refine the skills of understanding and labeling your emotions:
- Journal writing: Regularly writing about experiences helps get in the practice of putting words to thoughts and emotions.
- Starting conversations with loved ones with, “I feel…” rather than “I feel that…” (1)
- Working with a psychotherapist: Therapists can help build your emotional vocabulary by processing experiences and suggesting affect labels. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a specialized form of psychotherapy, helps clients understand the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Mindfulness practice: Turn your attention to the current experience. Observe and describe it. Keep the description simple.
Being stoic can have its advantages in some circumstances. We don’t want to express our emotions and internal experiences to strangers or in professional and formal settings. Verbalizing our feelings in socially appropriate places can have benefits. It can deepen our intimate relationships. It can also reduce our emotional reactivity. In the long term, our health and happiness will be enhanced by verbalizing emotions.
Written by: Rudairo Segbeaya recently received her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of San Francisco. She’s working as an administrative assistant and social media coordinator at Pacific CBT while deciding the area of psychology she would like to study in graduate school.
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