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How To Name & Explore Your Emotions

For those of us who have a habit of stuffing down our emotions, identifying our feelings can be tough. We might be afraid that if we open the door, we’ll find a raging river and wild waves that’ll swallow us whole.

But acknowledging our emotions (and what triggers them) isn’t inherently a turbulent process. It’s just how many of us have viewed the process for a long time.

Maybe our families dismissed our emotions. Maybe they just didn’t talk about them. Or maybe we never learned a healthy way to express our emotions.

But the good thing about views is that we can revise them.

Exploring our emotions is valuable and can be incredibly eye-opening. It can be a positive process because it helps us better understand ourselves.

Our feelings are a window into our needs and our boundaries. Our feelings provide a path to connect with others, to empathize. Our feelings make us human.

A Prompt To Name Your Emotions

Right now I’m reading a great book, Journalution: Journaling to Awaken Your Inner Voice, Heal Your Life and Manifest Your Dreams, by Sandy Grason. In it Grason offers a slew of inspiring and empowering journal prompts.

One of her prompts offers a gentle and valuable way to access our emotions. She suggests readers start with the sentence “I feel angry.” Set a timer for two minutes, and write about everything in your life that makes you angry.

Do the same for “I feel sad.” And then select another emotion, and keep repeating the process. Grason encourages readers to explore other emotions and experiences such as happiness, gratitude, courage and calm.

(Take this exercise at your own pace; you might want to explore an emotion a day or an emotion a week. It’s totally up to you.)

Imagine your emotions as different colors. Grason writes:

While you are naming your emotions, you can also imagine that the emotions flowing through you are colors. Pick a color that makes sense to you. Anger, for instance, could be red. Sadness could be blue. Then visualize this color coursing throughout your body, swirling inside of you. As your pen touches the paper, or your fingers tap the keyboard, feel this color pouring out of your fingertips. The emotion is draining out of your body and onto the page.

Decoding An Emotion’s Message

Emotions also give us vital messages. I recently interviewed Darlene Mininni, Ph.D, MPH, author of The Emotional Toolkit, for a piece on managing emotions. She said that all emotions fall into four main categories.

To identify the message of each emotion, ask yourself the following:

  • Anxiety: What am I afraid of?
  • Sadness: What have I lost?
  • Anger: How have I or my values been attacked?
  • Happiness: What have I gained?

Coping Healthfully

Identifying our emotions is key. Also important is learning how to cope healthfully with what we discover.

These are some of my coping tools: exercising (a biggie!); talking to my boyfriend and very close family and friends; watching favorite shows; reading books or my favorite blogs; taking photos with my iPhone (Instagram has changed my life); taking deep breaths; reminding myself of everything I’m grateful for.

Here are other ideas on healthy coping strategies.

What helps you in naming your emotions? What are your favorite coping tools?

Giveaway Winners

And the winners of a free copy of Anna Guest-Jelley’s must-read e-book, Permission to Curve, are:

  • Jennifer, who left this comment: “I love to express myself through dance – stretching the body also stretches my mind.”
  • Krista, who left this comment: “I love playing in the water. I was recently on vacation with my family in Wyoming. We took the jet skis out to the lake. I was amazed at the core strength it took to move the machines in the water and stay on. Tons of fun and smiles with my family!”
How To Name & Explore Your Emotions

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2012). How To Name & Explore Your Emotions. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2019, from


Last updated: 18 Jul 2012
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