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Talking your way up to emotional well-being: 7 tips to express your feelings

May 16, 2022 - 16 min read


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7 basic emotions

How to identify your feelings

Expressing feelings vs. thoughts

10 ways to express your feelings better

What if you don't express your feelings?

Why do I feel bad for expressing my feelings?

Final thoughts: 7 extra tips to improve your emotional intelligence

Have you ever burst into tears at the office or gotten irrationally angry after a small inconvenience? It probably caught you by surprise as much as anyone else. It is disorienting to find yourself in a moment when you don’t know how to express your feelings. 

Think about a volcano: molten rock is trapped inside, pressure builds, until one day, boom — it explodes. Lava flows. Everywhere.

That's what it feels like if you get into a habit of bottling up your emotions until they explode uncontrollably. Uncontrollable eruptions aren't good for you, and they scare or put off others, as well. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to express your feelings in healthy, productive ways, whether in the workplace or with your friends and family. 

Is your stomach in knots just thinking about emotional expression? Expressing emotions forces you to be vulnerable and takes courage

Finding constructive ways to express feelings isn't always easy, especially if you didn't have a healthy model in your family growing up. It's also harder if you don't have a strong sense of belonging or acceptance — in your organization or personal life — or if you feel insecure about your job or position.

If you don't feel accepted, every interaction is high-stakes. Expressing any strong emotion or vulnerability might feel risky. It takes lots of self-awareness to pinpoint your feelings and distinguish them from your thoughts. You must also articulate your words carefully. 

Let's begin with naming some of the most basic emotions we feel. Before you can learn how to express your feelings, you need to have the right vocabulary.


7 basic emotions

The first step to expressing your feelings is naming some basic emotions. Humans can feel so many emotions that we get confused about what we're experiencing. Some feelings are disguised as others, like anxiety that looks like anger at first. However, sometimes our feelings are very clear and we just need to find the right word for them. 

In English, there are dozens of words that can describe where we’re at mentally, emotionally, and physically. That can get overwhelming when you’re trying to express your feelings. To help you find the words, we’ve boiled down all these feelings into seven basic negative and positive emotions.

Keep these in mind next time you want to share your emotions with someone:

  1. Enjoyment: You can enjoy things like watching a sunset, partaking in one of your hobbies, or being around people you love.
  2. Sadness: Sadness can creep in when you watch an emotional movie, and reflect on past memories, or missed opportunities.
  3. Fear: Fear can be experienced when you’re scared unexpectedly, or remember past things that have frightened you before.
  4. Anger: Anger can be something that explodes out of your fast, or it’s been bottled up for a while.
  5. Disgust: You can feel disgusted by people’s behavior, food, and even smells.
  6. Surprise: Surprise can cause us to feel other emotions like enjoyment but also anger, and it’s something that’s sudden.
  7. Embarrassment: Everyone is embarrassed by different things, but generally it makes us feel awkward and uncomfortable with our environment.

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How to identify your feelings

Listing all of the basic emotions doesn’t mean you can identify them within yourself. It takes time to connect with your personal feelings in an emotional moment. Maybe you can place your feelings afterward, but it’s often too late by then.

One tip to help you identify your feelings is to notice your physical reactions. When you get embarrassed, your cheeks turn red and you can feel your face burning up. If you're afraid or anxious, you could struggle to take deep breaths and calm yourself. Do you feel jittery every time you do a presentation

Our feelings are deeply connected to our physical bodies. Researchers have even been able to show exactly where some feelings are mapped in our bodies. No matter how it manifests, make sure you pay attention to what your physical feelings are telling you. 

Over time, you could notice some patterns in how your body reacts. Take note of your recent bodily responses and reflect on them. Reviewing past situations and experiences helps us understand our feelings. 

Don’t get too caught up in the past though. Slowing down and refocusing our attention on the moment can help us identify our feelings more clearly. Learning to do this can’t happen overnight, however. If you need extra support, BetterUp can help. We can guide you towards developing strategies that will help you to be aware of your emotional health.

Expressing feelings versus thoughts

We confuse our thoughts with our feelings all the time. But when it's time to express feelings, we have to make sure we aren't simply expressing our thoughts.

Thoughts are what words are in our head, and combine with our beliefs and values. Thoughts don’t necessarily always have to turn into feelings, and we have the power to control them. We can even train ourselves to think more positively


Our feelings are a symptom of our emotions and are a little less controllable. We feel them all throughout our bodies.  They sometimes give us a way through our body language, like the inability to look disappointed if your boss asks you to work late. 

One way to help you differentiate your feelings from your thoughts is to put them into words by using the "I think vs. I feel" rule. Create a sentence: If you say something like "I feel embarrassed," then that's a feeling. You didn't think that you were embarrassed, you felt it.

10 ways to express your feelings better

We all know that expressing our feelings is important. However, that doesn’t mean we feel confident in our ability to do so. Becoming comfortable with expressing ourselves takes time. We can get better at it, however, with a bit of effort and the right strategies in mind.

Here are 10 tips for expressing yourself better: 


  1. Make practicing mindfulness through meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises a habit
  2. Work on being more vulnerable with the people who care about you 
  3. Don’t worry about saying things perfectly the first time — practice makes perfect 
  4. Let your body language help you convey your emotions
  5. Try a new hobby to help yourself be more expressive, especially something creative 
  6. Express your happy feelings too, not just the hard ones 
  7. Play games that help you become comfortable with talking about yourself
  8. Be patient and forgiving with others as they learn to respond to your feelings
  9. Limit distractions like cell phones or music when you're sharing your feelings
  10. Understand and identify what upsets you and makes you not want to express your feelings

What if you don't express your feelings?

Things get messy if you don’t learn how to express your feelings to someone and boil over (like, say, a volcano). Repeatedly avoiding discussions about our feelings negatively impacts our physical and mental health. Plus, it can affect our ability to develop healthy relationships.

A person who does not express their feelings can suffer from high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems. These people feel more stressed because of the emotional labor they experience while holding their emotions in. 

Suppressing emotions isn't good for our wellness and overall well-being, either. Studies have found that people who choose not to express their feelings may experience more negative emotions than positive feelings. They can also experience more anxiety or depression

When we don’t healthily express ourselves, there’s a greater chance that we’re isolating ourselves and feeling more lonely. It makes us feel like nobody relates to or understands who we indeed are. Research has found that expressing our emotions plays an important role in our social well-being and how we interact with others around us.


When we express our emotions in a more positive way, our relationships become stronger. In reality, expressing yourself has far more health benefits than worrying over how to do so.

In any relationship, romantic or platonic, we should express ourselves freely. Our partners or loved ones won’t know how we feel or if we’re happy if we don’t share it with them. Nobody can read our minds, so that’s why it’s up to us to continue to express ourselves.

Why do I feel bad for expressing my feelings?

Not everyone is excited to become an open book because it leaves them exposed and vulnerable. Letting people in can be difficult for many reasons. 

A person's upbringing and background influence how they view expressing feelings. A child’s parents might tell them indirectly or directly not to raise their voices or cry when they were upset. This can teach that expressing negative feelings isn’t acceptable. 

As a result, feelings of fear and anxiety can even be associated with expressing even positive feelings like enjoyment. If our families didn’t support strong emotional expression, it can be hard to start sharing your feelings as an adult. 

This is because we carry our childhood lessons into adulthood, including how we deal with our feelings. So, if we've never learned how to deal with our emotions constructively, we'll struggle to express ourselves. 

But overcoming the fear of explaining how we feel is uplifting. Expressing ourselves boosts our self-awareness and confidence. It can also show us that it's healthy to be more authentically ourselves. The weight that is lifted after we express ourselves can even motivate us to pursue our passions and set new goals.

Final thoughts: 7 extra tips to improve your emotional intelligence

In some scenarios, you might be inclined to express how you feel. In others, your first instinct could be to withdraw yourself and hide your emotions. Expressing your feelings takes a level of emotional intelligence that keeps you in tune with yourself and those around you. You must be open, honest, and ready to share your feelings — and listen to others’ feelings, too.


If you're ever feeling overwhelmed, taking a moment to pause and think before you act can help you express yourself more clearly. 

We’ll leave you with seven extra ways you can be more in tune with your feelings and improve your emotional intelligence: 

  1. Try to get in tune with the other person’s feelings so you can choose your words wisely
  2. Accept your feelings rather than deny them
  3. Avoid being judgmental of yourself and others 
  4. Practice how you'd express yourself by journaling your feelings
  5. Be a good listener when people share things with you
  6. Practice positive self-talk and tame your inner critic

It can be helpful to find someone who can keep you accountable when you're working on expressing yourself. If you need help, you can try learning how to express your feelings with one-on-one coaching. It’s no easy task, but BetterUp can provide the accountability you need to strengthen your communication skills and grow personally and professionally.

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Published May 16, 2022

Elizabeth Perry

Content Marketing Manager, ACC

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