Affect labeling—the act of naming one’s emotional state—helps blunt the immediate impact of negative feelings and begin the process of reducing stress.
In a small study* of 30 subjects, researchers conducted a series of brain-imaging experiments in which participants were shown frightening faces and asked to choose a word that described the emotion on display. Labeling the fear-inducing object appeared to:
- Reduce activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain in which the fight or flight reflex originates
- Increased activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which is associated with vigilance and symbolic processing.
- The brain’s perception of the images shifted from objects of fear to subjects of scrutiny.
- Experientially, the fact that there is a name for what you’re going through means that other people have experienced it as well, which makes an overwhelming emotion feel less isolating.
How to “Affect label”
30 seconds . . . as long as you don’t count the 15 minutes of moving.
*The University of California, Los Angeles. Study led by psychology professor Matthew Lieberman,