The Power of Labelling Emotions

Written by Dave Bailey

Filed under coaching psychology

Sad and upset faces

Science confirms the therapeutic effects of saying how you’re feeling.

What if I told you that just putting a word on how you’re feeling can help you feel better? Well, that’s what this piece of neuroscience tells us.

Researchers put volunteers into an fMRI scanner and showed them various images that evoked either positive or negative emotions. The volunteers were then asked to put a label on what they were feeling, for example, ‘I feel angry’ or, ‘I feel joy.’

What happened next was interesting — putting the negative emotion into words reduced its impact:

‘When they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity.’ Alex Korb.

Let me translate Korb’s jargon into actual English. Essentially, saying the words ‘I’m feeling angry’ makes you feel slightly less angry.

Even more interestingly, putting a positive emotion into words increases its impact and makes you feel more positive.

So, next time you’re around someone who’s feeling anxious, angry, or agitated, ask them to put their feelings into words.


Originally published May 3, 2021, updated Jun 2, 2023

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