In the first episode of Mood Ring, host and mental health writer Anna Borges digs into one of the most fundamental parts of tending to our emotional well-being: naming your feelings. Anna talks with therapist Elisa Beagle about a practical tool to start identifying feelings, and why naming feelings can be the first step to addressing and ultimately soothing them on the journey of self-care.
Anna Borges: I’m feeling… nervous.
I recognize it pretty well, at this point. My heart is thumping in my throat. My breath is shallow, I’m lightheaded and shaky. My mind is racing with worst-case scenarios and negative self-talk. Just all-around nerves, everywhere.
I’m feeling nervous. About this podcast.
I guess I should introduce myself before I introduce this whole existential crisis I’m having. Hello, I’m Anna Borges. Up until about a year ago, I was a full-time mental health writer. I worked at SELF Magazine and, before that, BuzzFeed and through all that freelanced and somewhere along the way, I even wrote a book called The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care.
I generally wrote about the types of things that we can do to take care of our mental health on our own. I interviewed mental health experts to get their best advice and coping mechanisms. And I collected tips from people who had been there. And I wrote about my own personal experience as someone who struggles with, I mean, a lot. But specifically with their mental health. Which– spoiler-alert–is a lot of what this podcast is going to be too.
Which is exactly why I’m nervous. Because as you might recall, I just said I used to be a mental health writer. Past tense. There wasn’t One Big Thing that happened to make me stop. It just…slowly but surely wore me down.
The closest I got to a dramatic realization that it was time to stop was this one week where I was stretched especially thin and just crumpling under the pressure of a million deadlines. I was wrung out, and out of ideas, and I still had a few more stories to write that week. So, I took a shower and I sat on the floor of my tub under the water and I sobbed. I sobbed, yeah.
And do you know what I did when I was having my little breakdown? Not sit there and feel my feelings. Not any one of the 50 million coping mechanisms I’d written about over the years.
No, I reached for the pencil and waterproof pad I kept suction-cupped to my shower wall, and I wrote: How Not to Catch a UTI While Crying on the Shower Floor.
A potential headline. For a story. Or at least a future memoir.
Because something weird happens when you create content about your mental health for a living. Your mental health becomes your work, and it becomes bound to all the deadlines and quotas and pressures and stresses that come along with it. Coping starts being your job first, and for you second. You stop asking, “How can I get through this?” and start asking, “How can I turn this into content?” Eventually it distorts the way you look at your mental health and yourself, because you’re too used to wrapping things up nicely in a shareable, snackable package. Or at least, I was.
So, I quit. I quit mining my mental health for content.
So hey, welcome to my mental health podcast, am I right?
But no. Truth is, things didn’t magically get better just because I stopped writing about my mental health. And I missed this. I miss exploring new tools and coping mechanisms, and I miss connecting with others over needing these tools and coping mechanisms.
I may not have figured out the secret to shielding my mental health from all the effects of creating content about it. But I did learn that I want to lean into what I missed: the feeling and the trying.
So yeah. I’m feeling nervous. But I’m also feeling excited. And hopeful. And at least a little more prepared this time.
This is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings. Every episode, we’ll explore one new way to cope — with our feelings, with our baggage, with our brains, and with the world around us. Some episodes I’ll share things that I’ve tried and other episodes we’ll learn new things together from our guests.
No matter what, though, we won’t act like taking care of your mental health is as simple as learning a few tips and tricks. Mental health is not simple. And neither is taking care of it in a society where access to mental health care and the ability to practice even basic self-care is a huge privilege.
So, part of being a practical guide to feelings is being a realistic one. And that starts by saying that this show is not about finding the perfect self-care tips or the answers to all of our problems. Because those tips? They don’t exist.
There’s a reason I started this episode with how I’m feeling: I mean, A: I just love talking about my feelings. But, also we’re kicking off this podcast with one of the most, honestly, foundational tools that we have: Naming our feelings. And I know that might sound silly. Or at least overly simple. Like, name your feelings. Groundbreaking. Smash cut to sitting on a therapist’s couch while they ask, “And how does that make you feel?”
But, I mean, naming our feelings is actually a perfect place for us to start. Because all of the important things that we have to do with our feelings, like feel them and process them and address them and soothe them—all of that starts with identifying them. And do you know what helps us with identifying our feelings? Yeah. Naming them.
But it’s not always as easy as it sounds – at least for me. I wanted a larger sample size. So, I brought in our producer Georgie to talk about it.
Anna: Hey, Georgie.
Georgie: Hey, Anna.
Anna: How are you feeling?
Georgie: Um-how am I feeling? Okay, I feel like, this sort of, like, right in like the-in my diaphragm area, just like there’s a bunch of little, like, beans kind of shaking around. That they’re kind of just like popping. And it’s partially like excitement popping, but also a little anxiety, kind of, feeling.
Anna: So, you, you asked our team to kind of do the same exercise, AKA just name their feelings. Small exercise, but how’d it go?
Georgie: It was great. Would you like to hear some?
Anna: Uh, duh.
I’m feeling tired. Um… I kinda thought the end of the world would be a bit different…
I’m feeling slump-y is that a word? It’s that time of the afternoon where I feel a little foggy and tired and unable to focus. So, I call it slump-y. Slump-y is how I feel.
I feel a sense of hopelessness.
It’s actually hard to kind of pinpoint how I’m feeling, but I would say that a general sense of feeling overwhelmed.
Anna: So, what was it like collecting these things?
Georgie: It was wonderful. I feel like it reminded me of the many different experiences that people are having in this present moment. And listening to the people I work with open up was–I mean, it touched my heart. Literally, it’s just amazing.
Anna: If that came from my mouth, it would sound so sarcastic. Sincerely, thank you so much for, for A: having these vulnerable conversations with our teammates. And B: talking feelings with me.
Georgie: I love it, I feel great. Thanks!
Anna: So, I mean, like we saw in action that naming our feelings can be helpful in a couple different ways. But there are a ton of reasons why it can be so tough to name our feelings.
For me, a big one is just lacking emotional vocabulary. You know, a lot of us don’t have the right words to describe what we’re feeling. I mean, we know like the broad ones, like mad and sad and happy. But those often fall short, because how often do we only feel mad and sad and happy?
I did say this was a practical guide to feelings so, luckily, we have a tool for that. We’ll get into it after the break and talk to a therapist about some practical ways we can work through naming our feelings.
Anna: I’m Anna Borges and this is Mood Ring.
Before the break, we were talking about why it can be so hard to name our feelings. So, as promised, there is a tool that I really, really love for that. And it’s called… The Feelings Wheel.
The Feelings Wheel is an actual physical WHEEL! OF! FEELINGS! Or like a pie-chart of feelings, a pizza of feelings. It was originally developed by a psychotherapist named Gloria Wilcox back in the 1980s. And it was a tool for expanding our awareness of our emotions. Just like it is today. And by now, like, there are a million different iterations with different words and different colors by different artists, but essentially most of them follow the same pattern:
At the center of the circle are our big, foundational, fundamental emotions like mad, sad, joyful. The ones that we tend to be more familiar with. And then each of those emotions branches outwards into more specific emotions. So, sad branches into feelings like lonely, depressed, bored, ashamed. And so on and so forth.
A lot of therapists use the Feelings Wheel with their clients, including our guest today. Elisa Beagle is a licensed professional counselor, so, a therapist, and I asked her to walk me through how we can use the Feelings Wheel in our day-to-day lives, why we might want to, and what we can do once we’ve found the right words.
Elisa: I don't necessarily always pull out the picture, but I kind of help people navigate and go deeper with their emotions. Because again, some people have, you know, the basic feelings you have the anger, the anticipation, joy, trust, fear, surprise. So, you have those, but sometimes to add more vocabulary to their emotions, um, that they may have not learned previously. I kind of use that.
Anna: Mm, totally. So if someone wanted to use it as a tool in the moment when they were going through an emotional moment and wanted to go through some of the steps you were just talking about and walking through to understand themselves and their emotions, what, what would that process look like? How would you suggest someone use it?
Elisa: First of all, I would say, okay, hey, what are you feeling? What resonates most with you right now? So, say that some-somebody says, okay, fearful. Um, I would say, okay, like what, why do you, why do you pick fearful? What other word kind of resonates? And it's like, okay well, maybe it's, um, you know, I had insecurity. So, the insecurity, um, that I have is like, maybe I don't feel secure at my job. So, it was okay. We work through that. Um, and then we can go even further into, okay. Um, when you feel insecure, it brings out feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. And why is that? And then we can kind of talk through that. Um, and sometimes you can work through it from the outside-in as well. Like you may feel like, okay, well, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed and we can kind of say, okay, you're feeling overwhelmed because of what? And I think really what it is, is like really just questioning when you do pick an emotion and that resonates with you kind of question, like, what is it about that emotion, um, that you're feeling and what are kind, when you break that down, what does that come, come down to?
Anna: So, if I'm understanding correctly, you can like start in the center with like, kind of like our–we're most familiar with these emotions, I would say. These are like the big ones where it's like, oh yeah, I'm mad, I'm happy, I'm afraid. So those can be very accessible. And then you could branch further out to get specific. Or if you have a specific feeling, you might be able to dig back in to find an underlying emotion.
Elisa: Yeah, and if it’s a good emotion we just wanna flow with it. Like, hey I’m excited, that’s all that matters. Cool. You know? And so it-it takes more to be able to kind of feel like, okay, like, let me dive into this a little bit, you know?
Anna: Why can it be so difficult to, I don't know, like understand what we're feeling? Like, we know that it's important to understand what we're feeling, but like what gets in the way of understanding that, let alone naming it?
Elisa: Cause it's intense. Right? It's like, you know, when you think about something, um, even like a good emotion, right, that we like. Excitement, right. Excitement at that moment is like the highlight of what's going across our mind. Like, it's like, oh my gosh, I just like won a million dollars. Like, you know, you, you don't know it's, you're not trying to label like, oh, what, what, what would be underlying the excitement in this situation? It's like, I'm excited, so what's at the forefront, it's an intense emotion. It's booming, like in capital letters, exclamation points, it's the forefront. So, it really blocks us off from being able to understand anything else on a deeper level, because it's just intense, you know? And so we're, we're just caught up in that, in that one emotion. And so it's harder to identify anything else that may come with that. Sometimes when we're over that emotion, if it's not so great, we don't even wanna deal with, we don't wanna go deeper into it.
Anna: Right. We don't, we don't wanna talk about it. No.
Elisa: Yeah, yeah. And if it's a good emotion, we just wanna flow with it. Like, Hey, I'm excited. That's all that matters. Cool. You know?
Anna: I imagine that's a common reaction, like why do I have to name my feeling? I feel my feeling, the point of feeling is to experience it. What's the point in labeling it and it, it actually, yeah. What, what would you say to someone who say–before my follow up question–what would you say to someone who says that?
Elisa: Well, I think, I think it, it, it, it can be both. It doesn't have to be either-or, right? I can feel and experience the fullness of that feeling in that moment. This is my feeling, so if that feeling would be… confusion. Right? Now I want to get out of the confusion, but I also want to understand um, okay, in that moment, like, I just, I’m feeling confused. What-what is confusing me? What are these components that are actually confusing me? Okay, and then I want to move out of that and have some resolve so I understand how to form a solution to what I’m feeling. And then I also can know how to, in the, in the future, resolve things when it comes to this-these like different aspects that are causing the confusion for me.
Anna: So it's not just an in the moment tool, it's kind of like building a foundation of understanding about your feelings every time you go through this process.
Elisa: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Like you're, you're, you're understanding yourself as you go through your emotions, their, their navigation towards your self discovery and your growth.
Anna: Thanks to my old buddy The Feelings Wheel, I’ve actually gotten pretty good at the whole naming part of dealing with my emotions. But I’m still quick to ask, like “Okay, what now? What do I do with the feeling? I named it. What do I do next?”
There’s something that my therapist winds up telling me a lot, like I’ll tell her I’m feeling a thing and feel proud of myself for, like, naming the word and then I’ll launch into the story of why I feel that way. Or-or if it’s a good day, I’ll investigate what I can learn from the feeling or, like, how I might respond to it. Or more likely, I’ll spiral into how I feel about the feeling—like, I’ll say I feel embarrassed or guilty or silly and like I shouldn’t feel that way.
And then, when I finally run out of steam, my therapist will pause in that therapy way and say something along the lines of, “I want to return to the feeling and stay there a moment.”
Because there is a step in the process of naming and recognizing your feelings that doesn’t really feel like a step at all. And that’s allowing for the feeling. It’s sitting with the feeling and letting it just…be. Not judging it or acting on it or even questioning it. Just allowing yourself to feel.
It’s easy to forget, but that moment is an act of self-compassion and self-care in and of itself.
So that’s why now that I’ve named that I feel anxious about this podcast, I’m going to stay in that anxious feeling for a moment. I'm allowing myself to feel nervous about this podcast. Mood Ring might be a practical guide to feelings, but it’s also a place where we’re allowing our feelings to exist as they are. Even when they’re complicated and even when there are no practical solutions.
So, if you named a feeling while we’ve been here, I invite you to stay with it after we’re gone. And I hope that you’ll stay with us through this season. We’ve got a lot more feelings coming.
Thanks for listening to Mood Ring, a production of APM Studios and Pizza Shark. We’re a new show, so it really helps us if you rate, review, and share this episode with your friends or your family or anyone you think might need it.
You can even tag me if you’re feeling really into it — I’m Anna Broges – that’s Anna B-R-O-G-E-S. And, yes, that is not my last name. And you can follow the podcast at Moodringshow DOT ORG.
Mood Ring was developed by Kristina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murriel, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erika Janik.
This episode was produced by Georgina Hahn.
APM Executives in charge are Lily Kim, Alex Schaffert and Joanne Griffith. Our music is by Mat Rotenberg.
And finally, I’m Anna Borges and I write, host and produce the show. I’ll see you next episode!