Gauging Your Emotions

Feelings.

How many of you shuddered internally reading that word? To many of us, feelings are scary to think about, and even scarier to talk about.

Whether we like it or not, part of being human is having those dreaded things. That is why it is important to have even a fundamental understanding of them.

At the most basic level, research dating back to the 1970’s identified six “universal emotions” –  anger, fear, disgust, amusement, sadness and surprise (Nauert, 2019). From westernized society to remote African tribes, scientists conducted studies in different cultures around the world. They saw similar facial expressions, body language, and reactions to stimuli.

If you want to complicate things, the basic emotions can be broken down. Newer research identified upwards of 27 emotions (Nauert, 2018). If you do a quick Google search, hundreds of synonyms for those emotions pop up. To say the least, feelings are not easily defined, nor are they easy to discuss.

When I am working with clients, I often categorize feelings as “high energy” and “low energy.” Some emotions take more energy out of this and expel more energy into our environment. Feeling relaxed require little to no energy, whereas anger or anxiety will drain every ounce of energy out of someone and possibly the people around them.

high to low

Just like with anything else in life, my keyword for this is “balance.” Too much or too little of a feeling can be a bad thing. For example, let’s say your friends throw you a surprise party. You walk in, and they yell, “Surprise!” You respond in a monotone voice, “Wow, thanks.” Or you may even respond with, “Oh my god! Thank you! This is the best thing ever!” for the next hour jumping on everyone and throwing cake across the room. Neither of these reactions appropriately matches the occasion with one being too little energy and the other being over the top.

If you struggle with emotion management, it might not hurt to stop and gauge yourself. This can be done with nearly any feeling.

Does my feeling/energy match with the occasion? What kind of vibe are putting out? Again, it is not going to line up one hundred percent of the time, but that is not to say you cannot get them to be more congruent with one another. You may need to kick it up a notch or scale it back.

Where do you want your energy level to be? I normally advise my clients to envision their feeling as a thermometer. Traditionally, the thermometer reference has been used for anger and anxiety, but it can be applied to any feeling. I usually use a scale or 1 (being the mildest) to 10 (being the most severe). You can break the scale however you want. Some individuals use low, medium, and high to simplify it. You typically want to keep your feeling in a range that feels manageable, so maybe at a 5 or 6 on a scale of 10, or in the medium range. The higher you go on the scale, the more likely it is that your emotions will take control. Once that happens, you can kiss rational thought goodbye.

anger thermometer

A simplified example of an anger thermometer (Halloran, 2016)

What can you do to manage that feeling? Bring that feeling to the level you want it at. Think about what strategies you will use to keep it under control. Identify your coping skills and put them into action.

At the end of the day, we all have feelings. We do not have a choice but to deal with them. They can be your best friend or your worst enemy depending on how you manage them.

-The Caring Counselor

Resources

Halloran, J. (2016, April 27). Making a Feelings Thermometer. Retrieved December 2, 2019, from https://copingskillsforkids.com/blog/2016/4/27/making-a-feelings-thermometer.

Nauert, R. (2019, June 17). Are Emotions Universal? Retrieved December 2, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2018/01/27/are-emotions-universal/10999.html.

Nauert, R. (2018, August 8). New Study: Emotions Abound with 27 Different Varieties. Retrieved December 2, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2017/09/08/new-study-emotions-abound-with-27-different-varieties.

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