The Power of Naming Our Emotions

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Emotions can influence our lives in many ways. One researcher gives the definition that “emotions are reactions that human beings experience in response to events or situations” and the kind of emotion experienced comes from a circumstance that triggers the emotion.

She believes there are three key elements to emotions:

  1. There is the experience.
  2. There is a physiological response to the experience.
  3. There is the behavioral response from the experience.


She goes on to share the 6 primary emotions established by psychologist Paul Ekman:

  1. Happiness
  2. Sadness
  3. Fear
  4. Disgust
  5. Anger
  6. Surprise

Emotions, Feelings and Moods are often used interchangeably but have different meanings.

“Emotions are reactions to stimuli, but feelings are what we experience as a result of emotions. Feelings are influenced by our perception of the situation, which is why the same emotions can trigger different feelings among the people experiencing it.” The researcher shares that emotions are typically short lived but can be intense and likely to have a cause; but a mood can be thought of as an emotional state and often hard to identify the specific issue which led to the mood.

John Townsend in Leading From Your Gut believes our emotions were given as a signal to alert a person that something should be paid attention to and dealt with. Emotions are not always the signal that something is happening outside of the body, they also signal that something is happening inside the body and needs to be faced. An additional researcher reports that feelings penetrate all other mental events in some way and these mental events are deeply colored by the quality of the emotional experience.

Chip Dodd in The Voice of the Heart believes that emotions help us live life more fully and that they are both a gift and an impairment. He goes on to say “Feelings are the voice of the heart, and you will not have fullness until you’re adept at hearing and experiencing all of them. When you are not aware of your feelings, your life is lived incompletely. Whenever you don’t feel, you are blocked from living life to the fullest”

If this is all true from 4 different researchers, than why do we struggle so much in being able and willing to name our emotions in the workforce?

We spend the majority of our lives working in a place and that work produces feelings … good, neutral and negative feelings. When we have not learned to name, process, and integrate those emotions, they can derail our mental health and our productivity at work.

When we speak the emotion out loud, the intensity neutralizes in 1.5 hours.

Johan Bollen, a professor of information and computing, can now prove that talking about emotions makes people feel better. A study of tens of thousands of Twitter feeds shows how emotions change before and after they are communicated. The researchers studied how an emotion changed after using the language “I feel bad” or “I feel good” and the data collected shows how the feelings changed by minute.

“If a person was feeling good, the preceding tweets gradually became more positive before the statement, even if they weren’t about the feeling,” Bollen stated. “Then, immediately afterwards, emotional levels quickly returned to the baseline. Interestingly, for negative emotions, this same pattern was even more pronounced. That tells us a number of things. First, even when people are not explicitly trying to express an emotion, their language can still give it away. Second, when emotions are expressed, they immediately start to fall back to neutral levels. Third, expressing negative emotions may be most beneficial, because they respond the fastest.”

This whole concept of naming emotions is so powerful.

Have you ever had lunch with a friend and both shared how you were feeling — both the good and/or the bad — then walked away later feeling lighter? The process of just finding a safe person to share your feelings with cause the load not to feel so heavy, while nothing else in the universe changed.

Dr. Michelle Craske during a research study recruited participants who were deathly afraid of spiders to participate in a behavior experiment. She showed the participants a live, large tarantula in an open container and encouraged them to come close and touch the spider. She then brought the participants inside, divided them into four groups and gave each group a theory to help with the fearfulness. The first group was encouraged to share how they felt about the spider out loud. The second group was encouraged to use logic and think rationally about the spider. The third group was encouraged to not think about the spider. The fourth group was not given any instruction. One week later all the participants were re-exposed to the outdoor setting with the spider in an open container.

Dr. Craske and her associates measured how close each participant got to the spider and how distressed they were while doing it. They measured the participants heart rate and the amount of sweat on their palms. They found that the group who named their fear performed better than the other three groups. The study concludes that naming emotions calms down the nervous system and diminishes the effect of the feeling.

Emotional clarity and regulation at work is paramount.

In a time and age when mental health issues are on the rise, 50% of Americans are quiet quitting, and happiness in America is at an all-time low, naming emotions is one immediate way that we can change our cultures at work and provide a space and time for the processing of these emotions. And guess what? The research shares that just NAMING the emotion is important. Remember, as managers, we don’t need to act on the emotional information our employees share. We can listen, empathize, and encourage then watch our employees be able to neutralize their own feelings.

Try it out this week. You will be amazed at how much better everyone seems to feel.

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