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May is Mental Health Awareness Month and while the usual topics of anxiety, depression, mood and emotional disorders are most discussed around this time, curiosity led me on a journey beyond the surface. In an effort to learn how to prevent these negative mental states, I set out to find their root causes, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, can vary. For example, stress, finances, trauma, and environment all play a part in our emotional responses and the state of our mental health. However, one significant piece of wisdom is found to be the solution to preventing mental health issues – or at least greatly lessening their negative effects. That is emotional awareness.

How To Build Emotional Awareness

In Emotional Self-Awareness: A Primer, Daniel Goleman and his colleagues define the topic as “the capacity to tune into your own feelings, sense inner signals, and recognize how your feelings affect you and your performance.” In other words, emotional self-awareness is the ability to know when you’re triggered and how to move accordingly.

Goleman and colleagues explain emotional intelligence is an especially important skill to have for work, leadership, relationships, and self-confidence because our emotional responses directly impact ourselves, others, and our environments. In a report by Harvard Brain Science Initiative, David G. Weissman reiterates the point stating, “The ability to identify and label our emotions allows us to understand feelings that can often be unpleasant and distressing, and to respond to and regulate our emotions more effectively.” He went on to explain the opposite occurs when someone has low emotional awareness.

Emotions are natural and necessary to experience life in its fullness. So, it is important that we are self-aware. The more we practice emotional awareness, the greater our capacity to recognize triggers and responses becomes, bringing a more conscious and skillful approach.

Emotional awareness is imperative no matter your age, and the tools to build it can be used across generational lines. According to Nemours, four ways to develop emotional awareness include:

Notice and name your feelings. To start, just notice how you feel as things happen. Say the name of the feeling to yourself. You might feel proud when something goes well. Or disappointed if you don’t do well on a test. You might feel relaxed when sitting with friends at lunch. Or nervous before a test.

Track one emotion. Pick one emotion — like feeling glad. Track it all day. Notice how often you feel it. Maybe you’re glad when something good happens. Or glad when a friend shows up. Maybe you’re glad when someone lends you a hand or says a kind word. Or glad just because it’s Friday. Every time you feel glad, make a mental note to yourself or write it down. Is the feeling mild, medium, or strong?

Learn new words for feelings. How many feeling words can you name? Try to think of even more. How many words are there for angry? For example, you might be annoyed, upset, or mad. You might be irate, fuming, or outraged.

Keep a feelings journal. Take a few minutes each day to write about how you feel and why. Writing about your feelings helps you get to know them better. Make art, write poetry, or compose music to express an emotion you feel.

You can find other resources to help build your emotional self-awareness, like with this podcast, Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations – Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence 101. Or the knowledge shared in these books, The Stress Management Workbook by Dr. Ruth C. White and Soothe Your Nerves by Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett. As well as daily doses of encouragement and education via Therapy for Black Girls and Therapy for Black Men on Instagram.

As you embark on the journey of emotional awareness, take time to notice how you feel and show yourself kindness by accepting your feelings without judgment.


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