“You get your wisdom working by having different emotions.” – Yoko Ono

We are all emotional creatures. Emotions can take us to dizzying heights of joy or drop us deep into a pit of despair. One of life’s toughest challenges is learning how to manage our unruly emotions rather than being managed by them.

The first step toward managing emotions is to accurately identify them. Frequently when asked how we are feeling, the response is vague: “I’m fine,” or “I’m upset.”

These words give little information about our emotional state and give little direction in terms of emotional management.

To accurately identify our emotions, we might need to brush up on our “feelings” vocabulary. Rather than saying that we feel “bad,” we could say we feel angry, tired, lonely, afraid, disappointed, hurt or confused.

Instead of just saying we feel “good,” we might describe ourselves as joyful, serene, proud, hopeful, excited, confident or grateful.

When we take the time to pinpoint what we are feeling, we ready ourselves for the next step, managing those emotions.

It is important to note that emotions are not good or bad, they simply are. We do not need to judge our feelings. They simply exist.

What we do need to examine is how we respond or act upon those emotions. There is no reason to regret having this or that feeling, but we might end up regretting emotionally driven actions made in the heat of the moment.

Strategies exist to “buy us time” before acting upon our feelings. These include:

  • Mindfulness practices such as deep breathing or meditation. A simple meditation involving observing our emotions (without judgment) then letting them go can be useful.
  • Making a journal entry. This could involve traditional pen and paper or could be a voice memo on your smart phone.
  • Engage in silent prayer.
  • Take a short walk.
  • Spend time with a pet.

Accurately identifying our feelings gives us powerful information about the self in relation to the surrounding world. The more clearly we identify our feelings, the more clearly we can know ourselves.

When we know specifically what we feel and begin to understand why, we can make healthier, more informed choices about subsequent actions.

Increasing your “emotional IQ” is a healthy way to engage in self-awareness and self-understanding.

Maria Malcolm, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist and associate with Psychological & Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry, LLC in Bluffton.