Naming Reactive Emotions to Help Tame Them

Emotions can be intense, overwhelming and triggering. To be honest, they can be downright uncomfortable! So, when we’re overcome with emotions like anger, fear or sadness, it’s no wonder many of us turn to food for comfort. But emotional eating is only a temporary fix to escape from those uncomfortable emotions and it prevents us from learning how to handle our emotions.

While it may seem easier to turn to cookies and chips to console us of our intense emotions, it keeps us stuck in a vicious cycle of uncomfortable emotions and emotional eating. Instead, if we expand our emotional intelligence and learn how to deal with our emotions (instead of run from them) we can keep emotional eating at bay. Luckily, there are tools to help us learn how to deal with reactive emotions in a healthy way! One such practice is super simple – just by naming the emotion you’re feeling, helps to tame it.


Do you ever find that when you’re upset, you need to talk about it? You may re-hash the upsetting situation to a co-worker, your partner, or friend. Many of us like to call this “venting”. Well, when we’re venting about something that’s upsetting us, what we’re doing is putting our feelings into words. Researchers call this “affect labeling” which they believe helps manage negative emotional experiences. Studies have shown that affect labeling may diminish emotional reactivity in the brain. This means, by simply identifying and stating the negative emotion you’re experiencing, you can get some distance from it and as a result, you may not continue to feel it so intensely.

Practicing affect labeling requires you to practice mindfulness – you can only identify the emotion you’re feeling at that time by allowing yourself to take a pause, be present, and self-aware in that moment. If you can notice that you’re reacting to the situation at hand, and acknowledge and name the emotion that you’re experiencing – you’ve can actually disengage from the emotion itself. This disengagement helps to tame the emotion and you will no longer feel it as intensely. Instead of getting lost in a sea of emotions, you can identify the emotion which is the first step in handling it. Once you’ve paused and identified the emotion, perhaps you can connect deeper with why you are feeling this way. But regardless, the first step is to learn to pause and name that emotion.


Here’s a list of some intense/uncomfortable emotions:

ANXIOUS              FRUSTRATED               LONELY

    ASHAMED                FOOLISH               ABANDONED

   AFRAID                      HURT                    OFFENDED

   HUMILIATED               NERVOUS              VULNERABLE

HELPLESS               RESENTFUL               ISOLATED


      SAD                   CONFUSED                 JEALOUS

       ANGRY                   BETRAYED             THREATENED


Instead of saying, “I’m upset”, are you able to say, “I’m feeling ______” and fill in the blank with one of these words?

It may take practice but by getting specific, it will become easier over time to identify and label the emotion you are experiencing. Feel free to refer to this list or use an Emotions Word Bank online until you become familiar with their names and are able to label which emotion you are experience. With practice, you will become more mindful and emotionally intelligent which is key in managing emotional eating!

Remember that changing behaviour isn’t easy – you’ve coped with emotions in a certain way for a long time. Change comes with lots of practice! So, practice this affect labeling whenever you can. The true practice is becoming more mindful and aware of the emotions you’re experiencing. Once you are aware, it’s easy to name it. From there, you will have some distance to it and you’ll be better equipped to respond versus react.

In the coming days, when you find yourself experiencing intense emotions, pause before doing anything (like turning to food) and mindfully encourage yourself to attach words to your experience. This simple tool can make such a difference in handling your emotions in a healthy way!


For more tools, download my Free Emotional Eating toolkit