Name it and you can tame it

From clinical experience and brain research we now know that naming emotional states can calm our nervous systems. According to Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, when you put feelings into words you turn on regions of the brain involved in emotional self-control.

During intensive research it was verified that when subjects verbally describe their experience, there was increased brain activity in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain known for dampening negative emotions.   

This is very good news indeed, because it is now clear that if you pause to notice and name what is going on in your body and mind,  you can more easily process and manage your feelings and your responses.

Being specific with the language of your “naming” also helps provide relief from intense emotions.  If you are experiencing tension you may be specific by describing it as feeling edgy, frazzled, jittery, overwhelmed, uptight or even jangled. Or maybe it is more about feeling agitated, rattled, unsettled or discombobulated.

The more specific the description of the emotionally tense state, the more you feel relief.   I have experienced this for myself many times. At first the sense of emotional relief was very surprising, but now it is starting to feel natural. As my ability to notice and name what is going on for me increases, the more I can create relief from intense emotions. And in turn some very negative automatic responses are gradually falling away.

You can ease your body and your mind by describing your experience. In doing so you realize that you don’t have to identify so strongly with the feelings.  This way they don’t take control and ‘run amok’ leaving you exhausted, very stressed and perhaps behaving badly for prolonged periods.

By identifying less closely with emotion, you can use the information the emotion is giving you to take positive action, rather than being stuck in the debilitating emotional state.  

Rather than telling yourself “I am angry”, or “I am edgy”, saying ”I am feeling some anger” or “I am noticing some edginess”, lessens the emotional hold.  Objectifying the emotion distances you from it. You are not the anger or the edginess.  It is just something you are experiencing. This way you can notice it without getting attached or overwhelmed by it.

It is very important to note that naming and then observing and distancing yourself from feelings is not about denying the feeling. It is about experiencing and examining it, so that you can process it and act appropriately and move on.  This leads naturally to a decrease in aggressive and impulsive behaviour, and a decrease in stress levels.

By naming and detaching, you can investigate what information the anger or the tension is giving you. When do you feel it? What triggers it?  What needs are not being met? What values may be compromised? What strategies could be used to meet your needs and align action with your values to bring about ease and contentment?

Feelings are very useful indeed if we know how to read them and manage them.  A feeling, like a thought, can be fleeting. It does not need to take hold and define you or limit you. A feeling can happen in the present for a reason and it can come and go with ease, if we let it. Specifically naming the emotion and observing and distancing yourself from it, can help regulate and shorten distress and free you up to consciously break habits which are debilitating. Then you are not acting from anger, agitation, and discombobulation or overwhelm. You are acting out of a new awareness.