Somehow I Manage, Vol. 4
So we’re back. We had a week hiatus, but writing these usually takes a good while, and I couldn’t find the time last week because I have a load of college things going on. Sure look, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes not everything happens when you want it to. It can happen too early, too late, or not even happen at all. But that’s life, you’ll achieve some things that you never thought of or expected yourself to achieve, and you won’t achieve some things that you wanted or were expected to achieve. Life’s funny like that. It’s unpredictable. You just have to take what happens, try to accept it, and plow on. Life isn’t going to wait for anyone so there’s no point in getting overly fixated on things that happened in the past, or could, should’s and would’s. Just have your moment with them and then continue on, because there’s a whole lot more going to come your way and it’s a lot easier to manage when you’re not getting hung up on things.
Anyhow, I’ve taken a little break from study to write this. I’ve already had about five cups of tea today and we’re all out of milk now. I don’t quite fancy heading down to the shop to get some more due to the adverse weather we’re experiencing. And I’ll just announce that this weeks song that I’ll be writing my blog to is Heart by Mmoths. Had it on for an hour on repeat as we drove into San Diego following Vegas. To say emotions were low at that point from a lack of sleep and food and drinking is the best way to describe it, but it was the perfect song to relax to, so give it a listen.
This week, I’ll be talking about a really important skill, and this skill is Labelling Emotions. Being young and a student, or whomever you are, there’s so many things going on in our life at once that it’s hard to slow down and actually process how we’re feeling and actually find out what emotions we’re feeling. Our emotions can jump around the place so much, that one moment we can be on top of the world, and in a sheer instant we can go to the depths of sadness. We can see some event, or hear of a story or news and they can send our emotions into overdrive. Couple this with a lot of young people’s fondness for alcohol, and it can have a negative effect. Also, we can also be feeling a lot of emotions at once and it can be confusing having our brain and body in overdrive, so labelling emotions can be great to break down what is actually happening in your head, and it can help our mind from whirling around as it tends to do so often.
WHAT ARE EMOTIONS?
First of all emotions aren’t a bad thing to have. They’re a key component of us. It’s good to have them. They should be celebrated. And if you don’t think that then just think of this, feeling sad isn’t a bad thing, it’s just our body and brain expressing our discontent with something, and being sad is a good thing at times. We all love being happy, it’s great, but if we didn’t have sadness then we’d never have happiness. There needs to be times that aren’t so great to have the truly great times, or else it would just be mellow living on this planet and we wouldn’t derive pleasure from experiencing things.
So emotions are chemical and electrical signals in our body that tell us what’s happening for us. They’re like an instant news update to let us know where we are at.
We’re all born with a biological readiness to experience a number of basic universal emotions eg anger, sadness, guilt/shame, fear, shock etc. And other emotions are learning combinations of these basic emotions, eg. jealousy may be a combination of anger, sadness, fear, and disgust.
All emotions have a function. These functions are to:
– allow us to survive and cope with life, eg. avoid pain or danger, seek pleasure
– communicate to ourselves and others, eg. allows us to bond, build relationships
– organise and motivate behaviour – our own and others, eg. get help
– validate ourselves, eg. trust our own perceptions & interpretations
Emotions are short term. They come and go like waves in the sea. This is how emotions differ from mood. Mood is a relatively long lasting emotional state, emotions that stay around, eg. depression may be long lasting sadness, or love may be long lasting joy.
Emotions are complex and involve lots of components. When we experience an emotions it impacts on our body sensations, the way we think, feel and what we want to do, or our urges.
Sometimes emotions can feel overwhelming and uncontrollable, similar to a tidal wave, and you can be swept away by them. Other times emotions can seem confusing – like a fog or a black cloud, where it is difficult to sense or tell how you feel.
WHAT IS LABELLING EMOTIONS?
Labelling emotions involves identifying what emotion or emotions we are feeling and why, and what that emotion is urging us to do. How to name an emotion is something that you learn and something you have to practice. As with all the skills I run through, practice, practice, practice.
WHY LABEL EMOTIONS?
Until we begin to understand what we are feeling and why, and what effects emotions have on our behaviour, we cannot expect ourselves to be able to change our emotions.
Learning how to recognise and name emotions is the first step in learning to control them. Labelling or naming emotions allows you to:
– slow down and examine your emotions before they become overwhelming and confusing – to separate or step-back from your emotions
– accept your emotions non-judgementally and validate yourself by saying ‘it’s okay to feel what I feel’
– have a breathing space or time to think and problem solve
HOW DO WE LABEL EMOTIONS?
In order to label an emotion, we must describe each of the following elements:
1. Trigger/prompting event or situation
4. Physical Urges
5. Action/behaviour urge
This can be external eg. things happening around you or internal, eg. a memory or a though. They can be automatic, eg. we’re all born with a fear of heights or learned, eg. I’m afraid of dogs because I was bitten by one.
An emotional reaction is not always automatic though. Emotions can often be prompted by the meaning you give to the event/situation. How did you interpret it, or the thoughts, assumptions or beliefs you have about what is happening.
This is the name or verbal communication you give the emotion. There are two main types of emotions: primary emotions ie. our initial gut reaction and secondary emotions ie. our feelings about our feelings. For example, someone is being mean to you and you get angry (primary emotions) then you feel guilty about being angry (secondary emotion). So emotions are self-perpetuating, ie. they can restart themselves, so an emotion can keep triggering emotion over and over again.
4. PHYSICAL CHANGES
As mentioned. emotions are chemical and electrical signals in our body. So when we experience an emotion, changes happen in the limbic system of our brain, which can have an affect on the rest of the body eg in our muscles, blood vessels, heart rate, skin temperature etc. So emotions involve sensing. We can also experience changes to our gestures, posture, voice and facial expression as part of these physical changes.
5. ACTION/BEHAVIOUR URGE
As discussed above, one of the functions of emotions is to prompt behaviour. When we experience an emotion, we have an urge to do something. For example, if we feel angry, we may be prompted to fight. If we feel fear, we may be prompted to run etc. The action itself, the fighting, the running or hugging or whatever it may be is not part of the emotion, but the urge to do the action is.
IMPORTANT TO READ
Reiterating what I said above, it’s important to note that no one is saying that negative emotions are bad, or not important, or that you need to get rid of them. Everyone has negative emotions. It is part of life. People often have very painful or very traumatising experience which bring up very intense negative emotions.
The aim of this skill is to validate these emotions, have them recognised and believed, and accept them as real and meaningful. But the aim of this skill is also to begin to recognise when those emotions urge you to act in a negative way. It’s okay to feel how you feel, we often can’t control that, but what we can sometimes control is what we do next.
So you’re not feeling great and you’re trying to label the emotions, I’m just going to run through labelling sadness as an emotions and hope that you have the skills to figure out the rest of emotions such as anger, fear, shame etc.
So start off with how you’re feeling, that may be sadness, despair, grief, homesickness, loneliness, unhappiness etc.
Then you try identify the trigger, that may be things turning out badly, getting what you don’t want, death of someone you love, thinking about loss, being helpless or hopeless
Then identify the emotion you’re feeling, in this case it’s sadness, it may be anger, fear etc in others but for the case we’re doing it’s sadness.
The try identify the physical changes that are occurring, these may be feeling tired, or low in energy, wanting to stay in bed, crying, feeling empty or feeling as if you’ll never experience pleasure again etc.
Then try an observe what the action or behaviour urge is, these may be moping, irritability, using a low, quiet, monotonous tone, saying sad things, being inactive, giving up etc.
If you can do all the above you have labelled an emotion and it’s such a great skill to actually find out how you’re feeling, and why and break everything down. It really helps slow things down and help you understand what’s going on in your head so give it a try and hopefully it’ll help.
And as always practice, practice, practice.
Decided to include a YouTube link
at the end of this blog. It’s my favourite scene from Lord of the Rings, and no it’s not Legolas sliding down a stairs on a shield, it’s from the Two Towers and a speech Samwise Gamgi made. To be honest, Sam was never my favourite character until I really paid attention to this speech, but there’s a lot of hope built into it and it’s a great message to hear if you’re struggling. Shout out to my friend for posting it on Instagram and bringing it back into my life.
Read more articles about mental health.