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What does it mean to feel? How emotions can work for us

| Healthy You | Mental Health

Child embracing a woman on a beach

Identifying an emotion can help you to know how to respond to it.

Whether you’ve seen the movie, “Inside Out” by Pixar or not, you’re probably familiar with how some emotions can feel big. 

In the film, a little girl experiences a wide range of emotions as her family prepares to move them to a new city. 

Emotions aren’t just triggered by large, life-changing events. Sometimes it can be as simple as hitting your elbow on a doorway and feeling pain or frustration.

Our very first emotional expression as a baby was likely crying or smiling. From this early moment we are expressing our feelings in a physical manner that is visible to other people.

Not all emotions have a physical representation, however. Some are more internal or invisible from the outside. It doesn’t mean that the feeling or emotion is invalid.

Emotions serve a purpose

Emotions are natural reactions that have evolved over time to help us navigate the world. For example, fear can help us avoid danger, while joy can promote togetherness. 

Sometimes an emotional reaction to a situation like locking your car’s doors “just in case” can help protect you in case of threat. Listening to these gut feelings may help keep you safe. 

Emotions can be helpful or harmful

This is not to say the emotions are good or bad, because they are neither, according to Hannah Gee, MD, family medicine psychiatry at PeaceHealth in Bellingham, Washington. Emotions can be helpful in many ways like feeling connected to others. They can also become overwhelming because we care so much. 

Chronic stress, anxiety and depression can have negative effects on our physical and mental health. These feelings and sensations point out the areas in our lives that require more attention.

Emotions can be regulated

While we may not be able to control our emotions, we can learn to manage them and our reactions to them. This can involve techniques such as mindfulness, talk therapy and relaxation exercises. You can observe your emotions without judging them. Then decide whether or when to share them.

Emotions can be affected by our thoughts and behaviors

Our thoughts and behaviors can guide our emotions in significant ways. For example, negative self-talk can make feelings of anxiety or depression worse, while engaging in activities we enjoy can promote feelings of happiness and well-being. 

Try taking a walk around the block or throwing the ball for your pup to aid in releasing negative thoughts from your mind in a healthy way.

Emotions are a normal part of the human experience

It's important to remember that feeling a wide range of emotions is a normal part of being human. 

We don’t have to strive for constant happiness or positivity, but rather learn to accept and manage our emotions in healthy ways.

Understanding our emotions and learning to manage them can have significant benefits for our overall well-being. 

By practicing self-awareness and developing healthy coping strategies, we can improve our relationships, reduce stress and enhance our quality of life.

Mental health and wellness can be difficult to express and sometimes requires internal thought. What gives you meaning and joy? How have you displayed resilience with all the changes we face today? How can you express kindness and compassion for yourself?

portrait of Hannah Gee MD

Hannah Gee MD

Family Medicine
Hannah Gee, M.D., joined the PeaceHealth Outpatient Behavioral Health team in Bellingham in February 2023. Dr. Gee completed her bachelor's degree in molecular & cellular biology from the University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign and a master's in medical science from Boston University. She earned her medical degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Penn., then completed an internship and residency in psychiatry and family medicine at the University of California - San Diego in 2022. Her medical interests include mood disorders, psychotic disorders, addiction psychiatry and medically and psychologically complex populations.She has experience working with unhoused populations. Regarding practice philosophy, Dr. Gee said, "Health encompasses the mind, the body and the spirit. Medicine has helped me understand the interplay of these components to facilitate healing." Dr. Gee speaks Cantonese, with limited working proficiency. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, gardening, painting and visiting/volunteering with small farms.