Feeling stuck and confused about how to identify your emotions? Finding creative outlets, practicing mindfulness, and seeking professional support can help.

Emotions are a core part of the human experience; we laugh, we cry, we love. And although not all emotions are pleasant, it’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling and understanding those internal experiences.

Let’s dive into some tips for how you can better identify and understand emotions, even the most painful ones.

It can be powerful to name and label your emotions; this can help you to better understand your internal experiences. But many of us find it difficult to name our emotions because we simply don’t have the words to describe them.

Human emotions are complex; most of the time, simple terms like “sad” or “happy” simply don’t describe the full nuances of what we’re feeling.

Increasing your emotional vocabulary can help you be better able to label your emotions. An emotions wheel is an excellent tool to use to learn new and more complex words to describe your feelings. It can also help you become more emotionally literate.

Emotions don’t only live in your mind; they manifest in your body as well. In fact, most people experience their emotions somatically, in their bodies, and in the feeling state. For example, those who live with anxiety may notice physical symptoms.

Noticing where you feel emotions in your body can help you understand what you’re feeling.

Try to pay close attention to how your body feels. It can be helpful to scan each body part to notice any signs of tension, restlessness, and relaxation.

Physical sensations are a distinct aspect of emotional experience. Noticing the physical signs of emotional experiences is often the first step to identifying and processing feelings.

There are many ways to practice the skill of mindfulness. One common way is through mindfulness of emotions. When you practice mindfulness of emotions, you simply observe your emotional state without judgment.

Instead of trying to push emotions away or judging yourself for them, mindfulness of emotions teaches you to simply acknowledge your feelings.

Writing out your feelings in a private journal can be a great way to identify how you’re truly feeling and understanding emotional experiences.

For some people, journaling can feel safer than sharing feelings with others. Writing can also provide a different way to understand emotions than speaking.

Some people prefer to keep an open-ended journal; you can write in a stream-of-consciousness style about what’s on your mind and how you’re feeling about it. Or you may like to use some journaling prompts.

Whatever your preference, it’s helpful to set aside some quiet time when you can focus on writing about your internal experiences.

For those who don’t express themselves well with words, the creative arts can be helpful. Art and music have long been used to treat mental health conditions and trauma. Many people find these methods much more natural for feeling their feelings and understanding experiences.

There are many ways you can use the arts to identify and understand emotions. For example, you could listen to different songs and be mindful about how they make you feel. What names would you give the emotions that come up for you?

You can also use the arts to understand emotions. For example, you might paint using colors that relate to your emotions or compose a song about something that triggered a strong emotional reaction.

The arts can help you understand things in a different way than using language.

Lastly, a qualified mental health therapist can help you effectively identify and understand emotional experiences.

Many people think of therapy as something you do when they face difficulties in your life. But you don’t need to wait for a mental health crisis to happen to go to therapy.

Therapy can provide you with a safe space where you can freely identify, express, and understand your emotions. A therapist can also teach you tools to better cope with painful emotions and practice emotional regulation.

There are many therapy methods that work directly toward helping you understand your emotions, such as:

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): this type of therapy uses thoughts to regulate emotions
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT): this type of therapy builds strategies to notice emotions nonjudgmentally in order to help individuals still behave in accordance with one’s values
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): used to building effective emotional awareness and regulation skills for those living with borderline personality disorder (BPD)

The importance of emotional intelligence

Being able to identify and understand emotions is a fundamental aspect of emotional intelligence (EQ). And research shows that the higher your emotional intelligence, the better your life outcomes.

Compared to those with low EQ, people with high emotional intelligence are more likely to:

To learn more about emotional intelligence, consider visiting Psych Central’s resource page. You can also take our quiz to measure your emotional intelligence.

Was this helpful?

Identifying and understanding your emotions is a key piece of building emotional intelligence. Sometimes, noticing your emotions might come naturally. Other times, you may need to intentionally practice emotion identification.

Exploring ways to understand and express your emotions may take time. You may consider your starting journey by:

  • increasing your emotional vocabulary
  • becoming aware of your body
  • practicing mindfulness
  • journaling
  • trying creative outlets
  • building skills to identify and regulate difficult emotions

If you would like support during this time, then working with a professional therapist could be beneficial. If you need help locating support, consider visiting Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource.

Healthline’s FindCare tool can also help you find a therapist near you.