Recognizing and Regulating Our Emotions

Going through the waves of different emotions and overcoming feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety, etc., helps us to recognize and regulate emotions. 

Anna Bellard, LCSW, from SokyaHealth, speaks on this and provides tools to not just deal with this issue but to understand the emotions we fear.


Q: We commonly hear people say, “It’s okay to not be okay.” But, what does this mean to you, as a therapist? 

A: We all naturally have so many emotions, and in order to feel emotions we like to feel, we also have to feel emotions that are uncomfortable. They all come from the same place. We have to accept and be able to sit with emotions that are negative in order to have more emotional awareness. “It is okay to not be okay,” is often the opposite of what we hear from others, whether that be our family, cultural environment, or maybe society. When we continuously hear messages along the lines of “being emotional means you are weak”, we internalize them and end up invalidating our experiences. 


Q: How do you validate patients’ feelings without making them feel stuck in those negative thoughts and emotions? 

A: I really try to validate their experience – they’re not alone in their experience, talking with them about goals, instilling hope and confidence [and] that even though they’re feeling lost, that’s okay and these things are common and there are things we can do. I try to relate to them, not share my experience, but make sure they feel heard and understand where they’re coming from. 


Q: What are some tools we all could use to overcome feelings of helplessness, anxiety, sadness, anger, etc.?  

A: I describe it in 3 steps*. First, try to be an observer of your thoughts – noticing the story you’re telling yourself, the specific thought you have, and observe and separate yourself from thought. It’s a thought you’re experiencing, instead of feeling consumed. Second, come into your body and notice how those emotions are affecting you physically – maybe your chest is tight, shoulders are tense, etc., and really give those areas attention. Being able to notice it and being kind to yourself. Lastly, grounding yourself in the present moment. Noticing your feet on the floor, something soft you can touch, basic things in your surrounding, and focusing on the here and now. 

*These three steps come from the Acceptance Commitment Therapy modality. 


Q: How does “staying present” help us with emotional recognition and regulation? 

A: What’s so important about noticing [things like] texture and the color of the wall when we’re really anxious or feeling depressed – our nervous system is going into fight or flight mode, [our] survival state. When we’re in that state, our mind and our body are not present. Doing things that are very basic makes our nervous system understand that we are here and safe. 


Q: As a therapist, when working with your clients or just people who don’t necessarily understand what emotional awareness is, how do you best describe it? 

A: When you think about working with your emotions, it’s like swimming in a pool with a beach ball. If you shove the beach ball and swim across the pool, it would pop up above the water. If you let the beach ball stay alongside you and carry it with you, it’s gonna be a lot easier to get there. 


Acceptance Commitment Therapy is a type of mindfulness therapy that helps you stay focused and aware of the present moment and aims to help you navigate through difficult emotions. 


There are 6 Core Principles of ACT: 

  1. Defusion: learn to perceive thoughts, images, and memories as they are as opposed to what they can appear to be
  2. Acceptance: allow yourself to make room and experience unpleasant feelings, sensations, and urges
  3. Contact with the present moment: allow yourself to be aware of the present moment with openness
  4. The Observing Self: accessing a transcendent sense of Self
  5. Values: clarify what is important to you
  6. Committed action: set goals, which are guided by your values, and take action to achieve them

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.