Did you know that just putting a name on the moods and emotions you find bothersome will reduce their intensity? It’s true. Researchers have found that people experiencing difficult emotions report feeling significantly better than those who did not use labeling techniques. The reason most likely behind this is the fact that when your emotional brain region turns on, you rational, level-headed brain shuts down. It’s a trade off that happen every time you begin to argue with your kids or friends. If you watch a brain scan of someone experiencing high emotional intensity, you will literally see the limbic system (emotional region) glowing hotter as the frontal lobe (rational region) cools down. When you label your feelings, you slow down this process. Using the labeling method, instead of just being a rowboat adrift down a rushing river of feelings, you have become a motorboat capable of cruising against the current.
Labeling has another huge impact: allowing you to step outside of your own body and see the scene from a more neutral perspective. This is preferable because the view from inside, to put it delicately, sucks. Pain hurts because it is YOUR pain. When you lose a loved one, the agony you feel isn’t because someone died, it’s because someone YOU loved died. YOUR person is gone. Every day hundreds of people die in your city alone but how often have you shed a tear for them? What hurts is that the emotional pain you’re responding to is personal.
Feeling negative emotion is not always bad. For the example above, grieving can be a healthy way to process the situation. But when you’re ready to start reducing the pain in your situation, putting distance between your true self who you are and the temporary thoughts and feelings you are experiencing can be accomplished in part by labeling.
Try this easy exercise when something is bothering you:
What are you feeling right now? Give the emotions a general label such as “anxiety” or “Grief”
Next, give more specific labels that break down the initial label, such as for anxiety “tension, heat, energy, pressure, etc”
Finally, say to yourself, aloud if possible, “these are the sensation I am experiencing right now, but like all sensations, they will fade away eventually.”