Embracing Those Messy Emotions: The Key to Thriving in Midlife

It’s been an emotional few weeks. I’m told it’s something to do with eclipses and mercury, and something bumping into something else somewhere cosmic I think. I don’t know – I just know I’ve felt it. But in that truly ‘rushing woman’ way many of us like to adopt as a lifestyle strategy….I tried to power through, push those feelings down, and go for a bit of good old-fashioned ‘toxic positivity’. You know the kind – the ‘I’m fine, nothing to see here. Coping like a champ’ stuff. It didn’t work – I got a migraine and puked them out instead. That’s the power of emotions and why learning to identify and acknowledge them more openly is SO important, particularly in midlife.

What Are Emotions?

Emotions are the raw and powerful experiences that shape our lives. They influence everything from our thoughts and behaviours to our physical health and well-being. And boy can they let their presence be known. They can be intense and overwhelming, yet also deeply meaningful and transformative.

While the exact number of emotions that exist is a matter of debate, most experts agree that there are more than 2 dozen that are commonly experienced by human beings. Over 24. Yet – I bet if I asked you what you’d felt this week, you could probably pluck a handful of ‘go-to’ feelings out of the bag. Maybe angry, sad, happy, nervous or guilty… and then you might get stuck right?

Yes, despite this broad range of emotions showing up regularly for us, many people struggle to identify and label how they are feeling with accuracy and specificity. This lack of ‘emotional granularity’ can lead to misunderstandings, conflict, emotional distress, emotional eating and meltdowns ladies…. lots of meltdowns.

To read more about emotional eating head to my blog post ‘Overcoming Emotional Eating in Midlife’

What is Emotional Granularity?

Emotional granularity refers to the ability to identify and describe specific emotions, rather than just experiencing a general sense of something – whether pleasant or uncomfortable. You know when you ask a child how they are feeling and they might say something like ‘bad’. That’s a lack of emotional granularity. They haven’t developed the capacity to identify what that ‘bad’ feeling actually is. And trust me when I say, many of us don’t get much better at it with age.

Someone displaying emotional granularity is able to identify and describe specific emotions with more clarity and precision. Instead of just feeling happy, for example, they might describe their feelings as content, satisfied, or thrilled. This often allows a person to more deeply feel and connect to those emotions. Also, by being able to more accurately identify and describe them, they are better equipped to regulate more challenging emotions and respond to situations in a more effective manner.

Why All Emotions are Important

In my experience, we tend to be more granular with the ‘positive’ emotions. It’s so much easier to acknowledge and shout about how happy, excited, or cheerful we are feeling. But it’s hugely important we can identify and express those more uncomfortable emotions too, as, these often signpost incredibly useful information about our environment, and guide our thoughts, behaviours, and decisions. This ultimately influences our overall well-being.

Part of emotional granularity is appreciating that there are no “good” or “bad” emotions – understanding they are all valuable and important. Each emotion has its own unique purpose and message and serves as a vital aspect of our human experience. They can also help us to connect with others and develop deep and meaningful relationships.

By labelling certain emotions as “good” or “bad,” we risk denying and suppressing aspects of our emotional experience, which can lead to a range of negative consequences, such as anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Instead, we should strive to embrace all of our feelings with compassion and curiosity, seeking to understand and learn from them, rather than judging or dismissing them. In doing so, we can develop greater emotional granularity, deepen our self-awareness, and cultivate greater empathy and understanding for ourselves and others.

The Importance of Anger as an Emotion

Anger is a great example as it is a complex feeling, often rooted in deeper, underlying emotions. While anger can be a natural and healthy response to certain situations, it can also be a signal that something deeper is going on. Something we may find more uncomfortable to acknowledge – usually an emotion that leaves us more vulnerable and exposed. However, by identifying the underlying emotions that contribute to anger, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our emotional needs, and take steps to manage our emotions in a healthy way.

Common emotions underlying anger include:

  • Fear. When we feel threatened or vulnerable, we may respond with anger as a way of protecting ourselves
  • Hurt or disappointment. Anger can be a way of masking the anguish we are experiencing. If we feel rejected by someone we care about, pushing them away using anger can feel like a way of avoiding further emotional pain
  • Guilt and shame. When we feel guilty or ashamed, we may respond with anger as a way of deflecting attention away from our own mistakes or shortcomings and perhaps even shifting the blame onto others.

Sound familiar? I know I can relate. But by identifying the underlying emotions that contribute to our anger, we can gain greater self-awareness and take steps to manage our emotions in a healthier way. This may include seeking support from others, practicing self-care, and developing healthy coping strategies. Ultimately, by understanding our emotions and learning to manage them effectively, we can lead happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

The Importance of Emotional Granularity for Midlife Women

You probably don’t need me to point out that midlife can be a challenging time. You’re living it, you know! It is often a life stage full of change, reflection, and a chunk of ‘what the actual F*&%’ moments. It may come with a realisation that time is running out, we have a voice we want to be heard, and then we have that little thing called menopause that can start bringing all kinds of emotions seeping up to the surface unannounced. That’s a heady and potentially explosive combination. But if we are able to more clearly identify our feelings, consider what they are telling us and express that constructively….boy can we step into our midlife power!

Specifically emotional granularity can bring with it:

  • Increased self-awareness: Emotional granularity may help you better understand yourself and your reactions to the challenges of midlife. It can support you in finding your voice and making choices that help you create the life you want moving forward.
  • Better communication: By being able to accurately identify and describe your emotions, you can express yourself more clearly, which can lead to better relationships and more meaningful connections.
  • Improved well-being: Research has shown that individuals with emotional granularity have better mental and physical health. Midlife women who develop emotional granularity may experience less stress, anxiety, and depression, and have better overall well-being.
  • Enhanced resilience: Emotional granularity can help you develop the resilience to more effectively handle the challenges associated with midlife and ageing. By being able to identify and describe your emotions, you can develop more effective coping strategies and bounce back more easily from difficult situations. To read more about resilience in midlife head to my blog post ‘Resilience: Your Midlife Superpower’.
  • Increased emotional intelligence: Emotional granularity is a key component of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Improved emotional intelligence, can lead to better relationships, improved communication, and greater success in both personal and professional endeavours.

Developing Emotional Granularity

So, how can you develop your emotional granularity?

Here are some tips:

  • Use a ‘feelings wheel’. Feelings wheels are powerful tools for improving emotional granularity. You can download a great one here. These wheels provide a visual representation of the different emotions that we may experience, allowing us to identify and label them with greater accuracy and specificity. Feeling wheels also help us differentiate between similar emotions. For example, we may be able to identify the subtle differences between “frustrated,” “irritated,” and “exasperated,” which can help us to more effectively manage our emotions and communicate our needs to others.
  • Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation is a powerful tool for developing emotional granularity. By focusing on the present moment and paying attention to your emotions, you can become more aware of the nuances of your emotional experiences.
  • Journaling: Writing down your emotions can help you identify and describe them more accurately. Try journaling regularly, and pay attention to the specific emotions you are experiencing.
  • Talking therapies: Talking to a therapist can be a helpful way to develop emotional granularity. A therapist can help you identify and describe your emotions, and provide you with tools and strategies for regulating them.
  • Reflective exercises: Engaging in reflective exercises, such as asking yourself questions about your emotions and experiences, can help you develop emotional granularity. Take the time to reflect on your emotions and the situations that trigger them.

In conclusion, it’s time to not only embrace those emotions ladies, but to openly communicate and express them. They are not going anywhere so make them your friends….seek to understand, tame and use them constructively. The first step in this process is emotional granularity. So get out that feelings wheel, start identifying those nuanced emotions with clarity, and then reap all the benefits. Let’s face it, for me, a life full of improved self-awareness, more effective communication and elevated well-being sounds far nicer than a migraine and vomiting incidence when those challenging emotions come calling. How about you?

Let me know in the comments if you’ve used any of the tools in this article or any others that could help us all identify and express our emotions more readily.

Don’t forget, if you like what you’ve read and would like more practical information and tips on nutrition, lifestyle and mindset for midlife women then I’d love it if you followed me at motherflushingmidlife at the social links below. And, feel free to spread the word – sharing is caring 🙂

About me

Hi, I’m Suzanne, midlifer, Transformational Coach and Nutritional Therapist.

As a midlife and menopause coach I work with women ready to prioritise their needs, be proactive with their wellbeing and navigate towards the bright and vibrant future they deserve.

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