#GetReal about how you feel. Name the feeling, don’t numb it.
Good mental health does not mean feeling happy all the time. This Mental Health Week, let’s name, express and deal with our emotions— even the uncomfortable ones. Because heavy feelings lighten when you put them into words.
How are you feeling this morning? Almost 8 in every 10 of us report feeling ‘worried or anxious,’ ‘bored,’ ‘stressed,’ ‘lonely or isolated’ or ‘sad’, according to research we are releasing today with UBC. The pandemic has taken an emotional toll on us.
Embrace all of your emotions—whether they feel good, challenging or difficult. It is all part of being human.
Why saying “I feel bad” can actually make you feel better
Scientists call it “affect labelling” but more simply it means “putting feelings into words.” Understanding how this works might just change the way you respond to your emotions.
When we’re experiencing negative emotions—whether it’s anxiety or anger, stress or sadness, frustration or fear—it can be really tempting to ignore what we’re feeling or push it down. Unpleasant emotions, are just that: unpleasant. We might think that acknowledging our emotions, saying them out loud or writing them down, might make them more intense or last longer. Maybe we are afraid to get real about how we feel precisely because we believe that verbalizing our feelings will make them more real and give them more power over us, but that’s not true.
The pandemic has been incredibly hard in so many ways. If you were already vulnerable before the pandemic, chances are you are suffering more now. The flood of negative emotions might be overwhelming at times, and it can easily feel that our only option is to push down what we are really feeling and put on a brave face.
Putting feelings into words can reduce the force of negative emotions. It might not seem like saying something as simple as, “I feel bad,” (or anxious or sad or angry) should do much to help you feel better. But neuroscience tells us it will. A neuroimaging study from Lieberman and a team of researchers found that the act of turning your negative emotions into language disrupts and reduces activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain that drives your responses to stress and fear. When you see a yellow light, you hit the brakes. When you put feelings into words, it’s like you are hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.
Scientists found that labelling emotions increases activity in the prefrontal and temporal regions of the brain—regions that are responsible for processing words and encoding their meaning. In other words, having a specific label for what we are feeling seems to change the activity in our brains. It helps us feel calmer and helps us understand what we are going through.