Emotional Nuance: Tips For Learning To Explore Your Emotions

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated May 6, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Emotions are an innate aspect of human psychology, a way for the body and mind to communicate what they want, need, or dislike. Emotions, and emotional responses, may affect actions and reactions, with the potential to drive behavior and impact the choices we make. However, despite how widespread emotions can be in daily life, understanding the information they provide may sometimes be easier said than done. This may be especially true when it comes to emotions that are difficult, intense, or similar to other emotions.  

In this article, we will explore emotional nuance, the importance of developing emotional awareness, and strategies that may be helpful for better exploring and connecting to one’s emotions. 

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The basics of emotions

Before we explore the importance of emotional awareness, it may be worth examining emotions and how they relate to the body and mind. 

According to the American Psychological Association, emotions are “conscious mental reactions (such as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feelings usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body." In other words, an emotion is a response to an event, object, or situation, which may then result in specific sensations, instincts, and behaviors.

For example, if a person perceives a threat, they might experience the emotion of fear, which may be accompanied by distinct physical symptoms. These might include a rush of adrenaline, a racing heartbeat, or rapid breathing. This emotional response may motivate the person to escape the situation causing fear, and potentially influencing their subsequent actions. 

That said, however, the emotions a person experiences in response to a specific trigger may not be the same as the emotions another person experiences. A range of factors, such as thoughts, context, and memories around a specific situation, may influence an individual's emotion in response. For instance, if a person plans to spend the day outside, a rainy day could lead to emotions like disappointment or irritation. Meanwhile, another person might enjoy staying inside when it rains, potentially leading to more positive emotions. Although the situation may be the same, emotional reactions to it may vary from person to person. 

Emotional nuance: The importance of exploring and understanding your emotions

Given how subjective emotions can be and how much they may depend on individual factors, developing an understanding and awareness of them may be important. 

Another aspect of this topic that may be worth considering is the fact that emotions may be nuanced. Certain emotions may even have the potential to be confused with one another. This may be because they stem from similar events or have common characteristics in terms of what they feel like in the body. For example, anxiety and excitement may both lead to a rush of adrenaline, an increase in heart rate or breathing rate, or feelings of tension in the body, which may make it difficult to figure out which one you're actually feeling. 

For this reason, automatically identifying one's emotions may not always be easy, especially when it comes to emotions that may have similar characteristics. One study identified 27 individual categories of emotions, with many having certain overlapping features. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Craving
  • Boredom
  • Anger
  • Awe
  • Awkwardness
  • Sexual desire
  • Aesthetic appreciation
  • Surprise
  • Empathic pain
  • Entrancement
  • Nostalgia
  • Anxiety

Given how nuanced these emotions can be, developing an understanding of one's emotional responses and reactions may be helpful for avoiding confusing one emotion for another. This, in turn, may be useful for choosing one's responses to emotionally complex situations. 

Being in tune with the emotions of oneself and others—sometimes known as "emotional awareness"—may also have many other benefits. For instance, a 2021 review published in the Journal of Intelligence states that emotional awareness "facilitates… better ability to navigate complex social situations and enjoy relationships, and better physical and mental health.”

Conversely, a 2020 study also found that, among children and young adults, lower emotional awareness was associated with more severe symptoms of depression and anxiety. These studies help illustrate the potential importance of understanding one’s emotions. 


Five tips for exploring your emotions

Now that we’ve explored some of the nuances of emotion, it may be natural to wonder how to more easily connect with your emotions and understand what they’re telling you. If you’re interested in developing a stronger awareness of your emotions, learning to distinguish between them, or constructively responding to them, the following strategies may be helpful:

Try journaling

Journaling may be useful for organizing one’s thoughts, understanding what one is feeling, and unpacking complicated or challenging emotional experiences. Freewriting—the practice of writing down whatever comes into your mind, without stopping, for a set period—may be especially helpful for identifying emotions as they emerge in response to thoughts and situations. 

Practice mindfulness or meditation

Mindfulness, or the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment, may also be useful for getting in touch with one’s emotions. This strategy typically involves focusing on physical sensations and allowing thoughts to pass without judging or attaching importance to them. Meditation and mindfulness may be useful strategies for learning to identify how emotions manifest. 

Pay attention to sensations

Similarly to practicing mindfulness, developing an awareness of the body—and one’s reactions to what’s happening in the body—may be helpful for distinguishing emotions from one another. It may also be useful for anticipating intense emotional reactions. By tuning into the physical sensations associated with different emotions, it may be possible to better understand what the body is trying to communicate. 

Give yourself some space

At times, it may be easy to get caught up in the emotions of others, especially negative or strong ones, like stress, anxiety, or anger. In emotionally charged situations, it may be helpful to get some distance from the emotions of others to better get in touch with what you’re feeling—whether by taking a walk or simply getting a few minutes of alone time. This may also be helpful for developing the ability to separate your emotions from those of the people around you. 

Consider counseling

For those searching for extra support in managing, responding to, and understanding their emotions, counseling may also be a helpful resource. By speaking with a licensed therapist, it may be possible to gain awareness of how emotions can affect thoughts (and vice versa) or to learn to respond to strong emotions in a way that supports one’s mental health. 

If emotions get overwhelming, however, commuting to a therapist’s office for in-person counseling may be challenging. In situations like these, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be useful. Offering the option to speak to a counselor from wherever is most comfortable, through video call, voice call, or in-app messaging, online therapy may provide a convenient alternative to in-person therapy. 

Research studies have demonstrated the benefits of online therapy for mental health. For instance, a 2017 study found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was an effective treatment for mental illnesses like depression, panic disorder, and bipolar disorder, among others. 



Emotions are physical and mental reactions to thoughts, situations, events, or objects. Emotional responses may be subjective, and emotions may not always be easy to identify or respond to. However, certain research indicates that developing emotional awareness may benefit mental health, physical health, and the ability to navigate social situations. Strategies for exploring your emotions include journaling, such as freewriting; practicing mindfulness or meditation; getting in touch with sensations in the body; and giving yourself some space in emotionally-charged situations. For those searching for extra support in navigating their emotions, counseling—either in person or through a platform like BetterHelp—may also be helpful.
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