Have you ever wondered where your emotions live inside your body? Sounds a little strange, huh?

This is what a group of researchers out of Finland recently asked 700 volunteers. Specifically, they were asked to indicate on a human silhouette where they felt various emotions within their body. The results were remarkably consistent across cultures and can be seen on the heat map below.

Body and Emotions Feelings

Warm colors indicate where sensations increase; cool colors indicate where sensations decrease.

The study (pdf) revealed love and happiness activated feelings across the entire body, while depression muted sensations in the arms, legs and head, for example. Fear triggered sensations in the chest area and anger generated feelings in the arms.

This is a great reminder that the mind-body connection is biological. Taking it further, the thoughts we have in our head can affect the emotions we feel and those emotions can physiologically activate various parts of our being.

Fascinating, you might think, but what do I do with this information? Well, if we can identify where we feel “unwanted” thoughts or emotions, we can work to release them from our body.

As a coach that works with kids experiencing anxiety, I use this concept to help children dissolve negative thoughts and emotions. Below is an exercise called a Thoughtbuster based on these ideas.


Eliminate Negative Thoughts Thoughtbusters GoZen

Thoughtbuster — Yank it Out!:

  1. Take a few deep breaths.
  2. Close your eyes and take a mental tour of your body. Where do you feel your yucky thought? (You’d be surprised at how intuitive this is for kids. Most respond quite precisely: “In my tummy.”; “In my chest.”; “All over my body.”.)
  3. What do you feel in that part of your body? Is it prickly? Is it cold? Is a little warm? Are there butterflies? Describe the feeling.
  4. Now, visualize what the thought looks like in that part of your body. Is it in a thought bubble? Are letters or words floating around inside your body? Okay, do you have a clear image? Great!
  5. Take a deep breath and use the motion of pulling rope to pull out the thought and the feeling that goes along with it.
  6. Say “hi” to your thought/feeling. Remember, it was trying to communicate something to you. (Please note, thoughts/emotions–even ones we deem negative–have a purpose. This exercise isn’t about ridding ourselves completely of negative thoughts or emotions; this about allowing negative thoughts and emotions to surface, acknowledging them, and releasing them such that they remain productive for us.)
  7. Okay, do you still have the thought in your hand? Cool! Now take the thought and let it float away.

Try this exercise out yourself or with your kids. Post a comment with your experience!

For more activities to help children experiencing anxiety, visit GoZen!