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4 Ways to Understand and Express Your Emotions

Maintaining your health is more than just eating right and exercising; it also includes your emotional well-being. In order to be emotionally healthy you need to be able to understand and express your feelings productively. The inability to do so can cause distress, and strain your relationships. For example in college I often felt burned out and required solitude, but I didn’t know how to express this to my friends leading to confusion and hurt feelings on both sides. For that reason I’ve listed ways to understand and express your emotions to improve your life.

1. Understand Your Emotions

In order to discuss your feelings, you need to understand them. Emotions are complicated and often you may feel many emotions at once. Keeping a journal is helpful in teasing them out. Through writing you can slow down and realistically view your perspective as well as consider the perspective of the other people involved. You can also think about your emotions and what causes them to arise. Expressing your feelings through writing also has overall mental and physical health benefits, such as resulting fewer visits to healthcare centers and improved working memory (B.A. Beikie, August 2005).

Another method to understand your emotions is talk with a friend about them. Or you can discuss your feelings with a therapist who is trained to guide you through your feelings to find the root of them. Whatever you are feeling, it is important to reflect on them and your behaviors in order to be more aware of yourself when you interact with others. This can lead to a better understanding of a difficult situation when conflicts arise.

2. Be Aware of Your Body Language

About 50% or more of what you communicate comes not from what you say, but what your body does. From your face to your hands, your body conveys your emotional state. Different postures, facial expressions, and other signals throughout your body which as a group or clusters project different mental states and internal emotions.

For example, in hand shaking there are several variables that display different emotions depending on the deviation of these factors: strength (weak or strong), duration (brief or long), fullness of grip (full or partial), eye contact (prolonged or intermittent or none), etc. A strong, full, brief handshake with prolonged eye contact shows confidence and warmth. Your body can also help improve your expression of emotion. Using your hands while you speak for example allows you to form clearer thoughts and speak with concise declarative language. To make you feel more confident in your speech, holding your body in “high-power poses” for about two minutes every day increases testosterone levels, which is a hormone that is linked dominance and power, and decreases cortisol, the stress hormone. This will increase your confidence. So if you must have a difficult conversation you can practice these body movements that display the desired emotion.

3. Think Before You Speak

Have you heard the old advice that if you’re angry you should count to ten? It still stands. Before you say anything, you should think about the situation and your feelings. Once you say something, you can’t take it back. Our emotions are influenced by our thoughts and perceptions. When you give yourself a chance to think over the situation, you have the chance to view the situation objectively. Emotions are also influenced by stress. Being aware of your stressful triggers will prevent negative emotional outbursts when discussing an issue with your colleague or friend.

How you speak also influences how people receive your speech. If you want to sound authoritative (which is especially important if you are speaking in a formal setting), relax your voice by placing your lips together and making the sound “um hum, um hum, um hum”. This brings your voice to its optimal pitch. Then use what is called the authoritative arc. This is a voice speech pattern where your voice starts on one note, rises in pitch through the sentence, and then descends at the end. Using this speech pattern you can respectfully, but firmly express your feelings and desires.

4. Be Aware of the Words You Say

When expressing your concerns there are two forms of sentences you should use: “I feel statements” and “I messages”. These statements are used for different situations as feelings can arise due to both simple and complex situations. Use “I feel” statements for simple and clear situations.

For example: “I felt embarrassed when you told your friends about my illness without asking.” Use “I messages” when your feelings are difficult to explain, you want the person to change their behavior, and being clear is very important.

For example: “When you come to work an hour late, we have to push back the schedule for everyone and I get frustrated. I want you to consistently come in on time.”

Using these phrases puts you in charge of your feelings while also discussing the other person’s behavior and what you need or want from them without being disrespectful. If you’re on the other side of the issue, then what you say will also impact how effectively you apologize.

Regardless being aware of your words, practicing using these statements will help you process your emotions more easily and to express them in a productive and respectful way to solve issues and prevent misunderstandings. This way you can resolve conflicts and set boundaries in your personal and professional relationships while maintaining a positive rapport.

References

Baikie, K.A., & Wilhelm, K. (2005, August). Emotional and physical health benefits of
expressive writing | BJPsych Advances. Retrieved from http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/11/5/338

Goman, C.K., Ph.D. (n.d.). 10 Powerful Body Language Tips. Retrieved from
http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/10-powerful-body-language-tips.aspx

Heitler, S., Ph.D. (2013, May 23). How to Express Feelings… and How Not to | Psychology
Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-notconflict/
201305/how-express-feelings-and-how-not

Nudig, L.A., Ph.D. (n.d.). How to Express Difficult Feelings. Retrieved from
http://www.drnadig.com/feelings.htm

Psych2Go. (2016, November 28). 5 Steps To Apologize Effectively[Video file]. Retrieved from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWRBYRoXu8s

Saverese, I.H. (2013, July 17). How to Express Your Feelings in a Respectful Way. Retrieved
from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-express-your-feelings-in-respectful-way-
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Shrivastava, R., M.S. (2012, June 21). Learn How to Identify and Express your Feelings |.
Retrieved from https://www.cognitivehealing.com/depression/learn-how-to-identify-andexpress-
your-feelings/

Smith, C.M. (n.d.). 6 Ways Journaling Will Change Your Life. Retrieved from
http://www.lifehack.org/articles/lifestyle/6-ways-journaling-will-change-your-life.html

Using Body Language. (n.d.). Retrieved from
http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/body_language.htm

Reinks, M. (2016, January 3). What Having Anxiety Feels Like [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCgm1xQa06c

M. (2017, September 5). The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions: Write and Speak your Truth even if Your Voice Shakes. Retrieved from http://psych2go.net/healing-power-keyboard-write-speak-truth-even-voice-shakes/

Katlin Harwood
I am very excited to be an intern writer for Psych2Go! I love languages and I am currently studying German, Spanish, and Japanese. As someone who is fascinated with language and psychology, I hope I'll be able to bring the two together as well as represent different aspects of psychology to help our readers.

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