Processing Emotions in 5 Steps

Being in the thick of it is the hardest time to remember what to do. When a difficult emotion arises it's easy to think about how inconvenient it is or how uncomfortable it feels. It may feel like the best course of action is to try not to feel it and eat a piece of cake instead (sweets are my go-to unhealthy coping skill).

If we practice these practical steps instead of avoiding, they will start to feel second nature when overwhelm sets in.

1) Name the feeling.

Describe what you are feeling using an emotion word. Sad, disappointed, confused, uneasy, angry, frustrated, scared, or worried are a few options. It‘s important to name what you are feeling in order to process it fully.

2) Rate the intensity.

I like using a 1-10 scale to rate the intensity of the emotion. 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. This helps in figuring out the "why" behind the feeling. If you’re feeling something at a 7 or 8 there is likely a bigger meaning behind this feeling if it is that strong. You may need to take a deeper look. If you’re feeling disappointed at a 3 it might just be that you need to let the feeling ride and it will resolve on its own.

3) Identify the trigger.

What was the situation that triggered this emotion? Describe what specifically happened. Was it something someone said? Something that just happened? Or something you just started thinking about? Even if it seems unrelated, describe what led up to the feeling.

4) Identify thoughts and core beliefs.

If possible, write down what you’re thinking. Any and all thoughts are relevant. How did you interpret the situation? What do you think about how you’re feeling?

Core beliefs are the deeper thoughts that you may or may not be aware of when the feeling occurs. What does the situation say about you? Is there an anxiety or fear if you look deeper at your thoughts?

5) Decide on a plan of action.

If you are higher than a 6 in intensity it is likely you will benefit from taking some time to calm yourself down. Take a break. Try some deep breathing. Ask for support.

Then make a plan. Is there an action you need to take? Maybe you need to say something assertive if the feeling was anger. Maybe you need to call a friend if the feeling was loneliness. Either way you can take some time to reframe your thoughts. Remind yourself it is ok that you feel the way you do. Feelings don’t last forever, they will pass. If there is a fear involved you can practice positive self talk.

These steps take practice, and may seem simple or silly at first. But taking the steps to process your emotions is SO worth it and will increase your confidence to handle situations in the future!


Ashley Carr Counseling LLC