VP Client Blog

Emotional Granularity: The Precise Art of Mastering Your Feelings

At Virgin Pulse, we recognize that emotional health goes hand in hand with physical health. We also understand that the need for more support and strategies around emotional health is greater now than ever before. The stressors of daily life, in combination with the strain of the past year’s events, have left many individuals feeling exhausted and depleted. We are committed to supporting our members’ emotional health using the most cutting-edge and effective strategies to help individuals garner resilience and flourish in their lives.  

A relatively recent emotional intelligence tool we are excited about is emotional granularity. Emotional granularity is the art of precisely articulating the exact emotion one is experiencing. The framework for this concept was created by neuroscientist, Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, and her team at Northwestern University. Research supports that emotional granularity coincides with an increased ability to cope. Simply put, when we can put exact words to what we are feeling, we are better able to handle stress and challenges in life.

Honing Your Skills

Getting to know our emotions is not something that happens overnight, but it is something we can improve on with practice over time. Here are a few simple steps to get started with the process.

  1. Tune in: When something triggers a strong emotion (whether positive or negative) within, notice it. Take a moment to sit somewhere quiet and take a few deep breaths. Tune into the internal and physiological experience of the emotion, how it impacts your thoughts, and what sensations it creates in the body. Try to name a basic emotion at this point (happy, sad, mad, etc.). 
  2. Get to the root of the emotion: Getting to the root of the emotion can take some internal exploration. It may not be initially apparent what is triggering such a strong emotional response, but self-reflection can help to uncover some powerful insights.  Ask yourself a few questions.
    1. “What event triggered how I am feeling, and why?
    2. “Did I, or someone else, say or do something to spark this emotion?”
    3. “Is this emotional experience connected to a past event that happened to me?”
    4. “What is the more specific emotion that is behind the basic emotion I am feeling (i.e., resentful vs. mad)?”
  3. Increase your emotional vocabulary: Remember those posters from childhood of kids’ facial expressions with a feeling word underneath? Practicing emotional vocab is a lot like that! It is about getting familiar with the variety of words there are to describe nuanced emotions. For example, sometimes it is easier to say we are feeling “mad” because it is a general term that is most readily available in our brains. However, when we stop to think about the more specific emotion that is behind that, it may be transformed in a new direction. Perhaps we thought we were mad, but we are actually feeling irritated, frustrated, infuriated, or disgusted. Getting specific, and granular in this way can help us see how each of these emotions have a different tone and amplification. This is emotional granularity in action! And describing the experience of emotions does not need to be limited to existing words or labels only – creative expression of what we’re feeling or experiencing can, through analogy or metaphor as just two examples, can facilitate greater understanding of it.
  4. Practice discernment with valence and arousal: Similarly, words for our emotions can have difference valence (positive/pleasure or negative/displeasure) and arousal (calm/low arousal or activated/high arousal). When you hear the words happy and euphoric, what effect do each of those evoke? With euphoric, there is a more positive valence, and higher arousal level, than the word happy. Practice conceptualizing how words for emotions can fall on a spectrum from positive to negative, and from high to low arousal, in day-to-day experiences. 
  5. Speak or journal your emotions: Externalizing emotions can be cathartic. Whether through social support means, like talking through emotions with another person, or through private means, like journaling about them, it is an entirely personal choice and one that may vary depending on the specific emotion or the context around it. The next time you experience a strong emotion, try speaking or writing about it, and see how this changes how you feel. Allow time for reflection on the experience or emotion. Give it a size, shape or color for more perspective if needed. Did it change in any of these areas at the end of the journal expression or the next time it was experienced?
  6. Explore paradoxical emotions: Sometimes our emotions are not as straight-forward as we would like them to be. Having conflicting, or ‘paradoxical’ emotions is common and very normal. For example, you may be feeling excited about an upcoming day off from work, and also anxious at the thought of all the emails stacking up while you will be away. We can, in fact, feel two opposing emotions about the same event. 
  7. Radical acceptance: A key strategy to working with our emotions as they arise, is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is a practice of noticing and acknowledging emotions, without attaching to them, or viewing them through a lens of judgement. Feeling a variety of good, bad, weak, and strong emotions is healthy! Emotional granularity helps us to articulate our emotions with more accuracy, so we can accept them and work through them. 
  8. Get connected: Understanding and navigating emotions can feel like an overwhelming task to tackle alone. Getting connected with a VP Coach or Guide can make this process much easier. We have a wide team of coaches and guides with expertise on emotional health. Through goal setting and accountability, we will work with your employees on emotional intelligence skills, like emotional granularity. Our job is to support our members in all areas of health and wellness, so everyone can feel healthy and whole. If struggling with emotions sounds familiar, now is the time to get connected for more support to not only feel better, but also feel energizedelated, and inspired about life again (see what we did there?). 😉 


Learn more about VP Live 

VP Live Coaching features a whole person approach that blends lifestyle optimization with specialization in an industry-leading 22 conditions, providing total population health management that helps the healthy stay healthy, improves clinical outcomes, and reduces costs associated with chronic conditions. Members access coaching resources directly through their app and once paired with a coach, they identify their goals for a thriving life and work together to progress toward their vision and achieve their targeted outcomes. To learn more about VP Live, reach out to your Client Success team. 

Also part of the VP Live product suite, Next-Steps Consult helps members get the most out of their wellbeing program. It is a concierge-style conversation between member and Health Guide, focused on determining a member’s first or next step in their wellbeing journey and personalized guidance of all that Virgin Pulse and employer benefits have to offer. Our Health Guides uncover the best route for a member based on their health status, motivators and obstacles, with deep knowledge of client programs and resources.   


About the Authors:  

Molly BirkelandMolly Birkeland, MA, NBC-HWC 

Molly is a National-Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach with a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a psychology adjunct faculty, a trained yoga teacher, and has a certificate in functional nutrition. Passionate about holistic health and well-being, her coaching specialties include: stress, energy, resilience, time management, sleep, purpose, and nutrition. Molly loves coaching because it is an opportunity to lift people up to their potential and help them experience a new level of happiness in their lives.  


Lisa Johnson, BA, Certified CDC NDPP Lifestyle CoachLisa Johnson, BA, Certified CDC NDPP Lifestyle Coach 

With a passion for behavioral health and wellness, along with understanding how social determinants affect our health outcomes, Lisa has been a wellness content writer and coach for 15 years. A Bachelor of Arts graduate of the University of Alabama – Birmingham in Communications/Sociology, she has a diverse work experience within the health coaching field which includes diabetes prevention, comorbidity conditions and smoking cessation. Her training includes Positive Psychology Coaching and Transtheoretical Model of Behavioral Change. Currently, she is merging her previous life work as a paralegal with health/wellness content to write and review content for diversity, equity, and inclusion within Virgin Pulse.   

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