The first step to identifying emotional stressors is to be aware of what emotions you feel. However, feelings are complex, and it is difficult to identify them. You may have been taught to ignore and override your feelings as most people have. Sometimes, even if you can identify them, it may become hard to express them appropriately. For example, feeling mild annoyance may be expressed as intense anger. It is important to identify your feelings to be able to express them properly.
Before you learn to identify them, it is important to understand the following about your feelings:
1. Feelings can result in physical reactions.
During moments of emotional stress, you can experience bodily reactions such as increased heart rate, perspiration, and trembling. This is because feelings are mediated by a part of the brain called the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system, which cause involuntary reactions.
2. Feelings are influenced by thoughts.
How you interpret a situation can result in various feelings. If you perceive a person as selfish and unreasonable, you may feel anger towards them. If you are jealous of someone, you will be inclined to react accordingly towards them whenever you interact.
3. Feelings can be simple and complex.
Simple feelings could be anger, sadness, fear, love, excitement, or joy. Complex feelings may be a combination of basic emotions and last longer compared to simple feelings. For example, fear is a basic emotion, while free-floating anxiety is a complex emotion.
4. Feelings give you energy.
If you acknowledge your feelings and express them appropriately, you will feel more energetic. When you remain unaware of them, you may feel numb and tired.
5. Multiple feelings can arise at once.
For example, you may feel anger and fear together in response to a threat. It is also possible to feel both a negative and positive emotion at the same time.
6. Feelings are contagious.
If you spend much of your time with a person who is depressed, you may start to feel sad, too. Similarly, you may feel happy around a person who is excited. Interacting with optimistic people can encourage you to feel positive emotions.
7. Feelings are never right or wrong.
Emotions simply exist. The perception and judgement can be right or wrong, but feelings are simply there. All people experience both positive and negative emotions.
8. Feelings tend to be suppressed.
Suppression can be conscious or unconscious. You can ignore and withhold your emotions, but they still exist. You may experience a vague sense of unhappiness, but you may find it difficult to pinpoint what is making you unhappy.
As discussed, suppressed emotions manifest themselves through bodily sensations. It is important to tune into your body to identify what you feel. A process called ‘experiential focusing’ was developed by Eugene Gendlin (2007). This process allows you to give a concrete form to your emotions, which makes it easier to identify them. The following are the steps for tuning into your body: