A Tool to Empower Emotional Awareness

My wife is a mental health therapist, and one thing we’ve been talking about lately is how hard it is to define “what we’re feeling during COVID-19.” Meaning our worlds have changed, and we don’t have a way to describe how we’re exactly feeling. I find that I’m using phrases like “things are different” and “things don’t feel normal” but stop there. Or, I’ll say that I’m feeling bad, but just saying that doesn’t help me much. 

I’ve found that because I don’t have a way to describe what I’m feeling in this season, I’m not coming up with ways to work through this season. It’s like at work when we say that we just need a break – there are many ways that we can actually go and get a break. We may just need a quick walk around the block or we may need to take two weeks off work for a vacation. But, we first must define what we need in order to ultimately get what we want. Until we come to realize that we need two weeks off work to recover, we won’t ever fully feel rested.

How Many Emotions Can a Person Experience?
Humans are capable of experiencing 34,000 emotions. My highest guess wouldn’t have come anywhere close to this number. With tens of thousands of emotions to choose from, it can feel overwhelming to process what’s going on in our minds. The psychologist, Dr. Robert Plutchik, postulates that every emotion falls into one of eight foundational categories. This gives us a good starting place to understand our emotions, yet in the midst of a crisis (like a global pandemic), emotional clarity can feel elusive—if not impossible. 

Fortunately, my wife recently introduced me to the “feelings wheel,” and, while that name may make you roll your eyes, I love that it helps me define exactly what I’m feeling. The tool was created to help people understand and communicate a more authentic picture of what they are experiencing. 

To use the wheel, you begin by identifying your initial feeling in the center of the circle. Then, you look at the emotions listed in the middle ring that correspond to that initial “core” emotion. And finally, you move to the outside ring where you can find a more clear and detailed description of what feeling you are experiencing.  


As an example, lately, I’ve been feeling “bad.” Looking at the feelings wheel, see that this could be because I’m feeling tired, stressed, busy, or bored. In my case, it’s because I’ve been feeling tired. From there I can ask myself if I’m truly feeling sleepy or just unfocused. I’ve realized that I’ve been feeling unfocused, and that has led me to feel “bad”. I can now take steps to eliminate distractions and become more focused, helping me not feel as bad. As I’ve realized that, I’ve started to work in places where no one is around in order to help me feel more focused.

And a bonus— the wheel is also helpful for clearly communicating our emotions, and needs, to those around us.