The other day I was standing in a shop queue, when a woman barged past me and put her groceries on the conveyor.

Yes!  There I was already feeling frazzled and this rude woman turfs up taking liberties.

In my head I called her a name, which I won’t repeat.  But anyway, I was irritated!

And I was tempted to cause a little scene about it.

But just that morning, before I’d set off to the supermarket, I’d been reading about a fascinating experiment, relating to emotional control.  So, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to do a little timely testing.

The experiment I’m talking about was carried out at UCLA with spider phobics, which isn’t quite the same as wanting to murder a shopper, but hey, bear with me, there’s a connection.

During this university experiment, 4 groups of people who suffered from a spider phobia, were told to do different things in relation to moving closer to a spider.

Each group were given the following distinct instructions:

Group 1 – Were told to label the feelings about the spider situation, e.g. I’m feeling terrified right now.

Group 2 – Were told to think differently about the spider so that it feels less threatening, e.g. The spider can’t hurt me.

Group 3 – Were told to distract from the anxiety about by the spider, e.g. Think about being on a nice beach.

Group 4 – Were given no specific instruction, e.g. Just move towards the spider and see what happens.

When participants were brought back for second trials, they found that one of those groups had less physiological responses and emotional distress when re-exposed to the spider.

That group was….Group 1…those who had labelled their emotions.

Now that’s an interesting experiment isn’t it?

Just the simple process of naming the fear, lessened the grip it had on the individuals using that process.

Now I suppose the question we all want to ask at this point is…

Can it help us in every day situations, when our emotional buttons are pushed?





Because if it worked to alleviate fear in relation to spiders, then can it work with other emotions in other situations?

Well, going back to the rude woman in the shop and me with my raised blood pressure and murderous ruminations, I wanted to see if labelling my feelings, would help stop my agitation.

So, I tried it out.

The first thing I did was take a deep breath and whisper to myself, ‘I’m feeling frustrated.’ As soon as I said that, I felt the sensations in my body and tuned into the physical manifestation of anger.

And, very quickly, I did notice a marked change in my feelings.  I managed to calm myself down significantly.  I also stopped  playing the scenario over in my head, like we tend to do when provoked.

Impressed with my results,  I tried the labelling experiment out several more times, in different scenarios.  For example, When I was afraid, when I was sad, when I was gloomy.

And it definitely seemed to help.

I kind of got over myself more quickly. 

So….below are some steps you can take when you want to try out the experiment for yourself, and start taking charge when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

1. If the feeling is obvious, then just say it out loud (where possible).  That might sound something like this:

‘I’m feeling hurt right now’

‘I’m feeling rage’

‘I’m feeling depressed right now’

‘I’m feeling terrified about this’

‘I’m feeling guilty right now’

‘Right now I’m feeling so ashamed’

Whatever it is, name it and bring it right out into the open.

2. Feel into the sensations of the body. You might notice your hands clenching, a tight jaw, a gnawing in the stomach, sweating palms, shaking, shoulder, chest or stomach pains.   Maybe you have a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach, a sinking feeling, or tears stinging your eyes.

Name the symptoms out loud, so they are in your conscious awareness.

e.g. ‘My chest is tight’, ‘My legs are shaking’, ‘My head is throbbing’, ‘I feel a sinking sensation in my stomach’.

3. Try zooming in on thoughts you’re thinking and the story you’re telling yourself in the moment.

Are you thinking guilty thoughts, shameful thoughts, hopeless thoughts, fearful thoughts, angry thoughts?

Research in cognitive and behavioural science shows that our thoughts cause our feelings.  We can often identify the emotion by turning to the internal ‘story’ we have running (often subconsciously).

For example.  Going back to the rude shopper, I might have been telling myself any of the following thoughts about that scenario.  Thoughts such as…

‘Why did she do that, she’s so disrespectful’ (anger)

‘There must be something wrong with me, because people always treat me like this’ (shame or hurt)

‘It seems I’m always going to be somebody’s mug. It’s hopeless trying to change things’ (depression)

‘I can’t stand the thought of having to confront her’ (fear)

‘She’s obviously someone important, I wish I was like her’ (envy) 

Name your thoughts and emotions out loud

Often when you do this, you can see how wonky some of the thinking is.

For example, if your hot date cancels on you, instead of sinking into negativity, say out loud what you’re thinking…maybe it’s something like… ‘I’m thinking right now, that he/she is a disrespectful idiot who has no regard for me. (Anger provoking thoughts).   Or ‘I’m thinking right now that there must be something wrong with me because I keep getting rejected’. (Hurt and shame provoking thoughts).

This psychological distancing allows us to separate ourselves from the automatic thinking and stops us going down a ‘woe is me alley’.

It can take a while to drop the drama story, because we’re conditioned to process negativity using old patterns.

What we are unaware of continues to control us.  So, raising awareness of our thoughts and feelings in the present moment, can prevent them being subconscious and destructive.

And we can set ourselves free.

Now, the question is…do you think this ‘labelling’ process will help when YOUR emotions are provoked?

The only way to find out is to give it a try.

The next time you experience a strong negative emotion, see if the ‘name it to tame it’ mind- hack can help you ease the stress and pain.

Instead of getting carried away by fear, depression or hurt…switch instead to ‘labelling’ the emotion you’re feeling, the body sensations and the thoughts you’re thinking.

And as an additional benefit, if you have a phobia of spiders or any other object, animal or situation…then you now know what to do!

To your success.

Linda B x

Linda Bebbington is a psychotherapist & life coach, specialising in wellness and anxiety issues.  She’s the creator of ‘Hypno-Fit’, ‘The Confidence Code’ and ‘Dear Therapist’…which help you take charge of your own life and happiness.

If you need help to heal or to build a bright & healthy future you can book a free 30 minute consultation HERE

Linda Bebbington is a psychotherapist & life coach, specialising in wellness and anxiety issues.  She’s the creator of ‘Hypno-Fit’, ‘The Confidence Code’ and ‘Dear Therapist’…which help you take charge of your own life and happiness.

If you need help to heal or to build a bright & healthy future you can book a free 30 minute consultation HERE

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