Programme: Handling Emotions

1. Becoming Aware of Emotions

We all experience emotions - some positive, others negative. Emotions are part of life. But our emotions are far more complex than we think and there are many steps involved. Think of a skier at the top of a steep ski slope (the catalyst): he feels afraid (the emotion), the adrenaline surges through his body (the physical reaction), his eyes and the corner of his mouth are drawn together (the facial expression) and he is looking for safety (he is action-oriented). What emotion is he experiencing? Fear. 


Emotions are physical reactions to what we have learned to feel and think. They are automatic - we cannot suppress them. They are part of us and they have a physical and biological basis. Emotions lead to physical changes including hormonal changes and changes in brain activity. You may have experienced muscle tension, an increased heart rate, shaking or blushing - these are all common reactions to emotion. Certain emotions are visible in our facial expressions, whilst others are expressed in other areas of the body. Shame, for example, is expressed in our faces - we turn away or lower our eyes. Regret is expressed in our bodies - when we feel shame, we let our shoulders hang. 

Emotions serve a purpose: they help us to handle stressful situations in life. For example, fear is a warning, sending us into ‘fight or flight’ mode when we are threatened by danger. It is important to remember that emotions are useful - it is absolutely OK to feel emotions. However, emotions do not always present themselves at the right moment or at the right intensity. At these moments, it is helpful if we can intervene and influence the expression of our emotions. We call this emotion regulation. Before we can anticipate an emotion (card 2), we need to be able to recognize the (escalating) emotion; listen to your body - what is it telling you? That is the crucial question. 

Advice/tips

  • Emotions can give you information, but don’t forget - you are not your emotions.
  • Awareness of what you are feeling can bring about interesting and useful information - try to see your body as an instrument.
  • Remember: how we feel can change from one moment to the next. Emotions are temporary.
  • Emotions are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ - that is simply our own interpretation of them. For example, we tell ourselves that we should not feel sad, scared or angry. However, emotions are simply a sign of what is going on inside us.

Some basic emotions are joy, anger, sadness and fear. Choose one of these four emotions and try to think of a moment or situation when this emotion escalated to high levels for you. Think of a saucepan boiling more and more furiously until it boils over. What was your body telling you? What effect did it have on you?


Reflect & connect

Answer these three questions and share your answers with your online psychologist, your partner and/or a friend:

1. Which emotions do you often experience? And which emotions are rare for you?

2. Try to think of situations in which your emotions caused problems for you. Why do you think this was the case?

3. Talk to other people about times when your emotions have ‘boiled over’ - ask them if this has ever happened to them. 

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