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About This Resource

What It Does

This article will teach you about:

The difference between being "emotion-centred" and "action-centred"
Identifying what you're really feeling
Identifying situations that trigger strong emotions

How It Helps

This tool can help you:

Understand what your emotions are telling you
Calm down when you're feeling strong emotions
Learn healthier coping strategies

This article will teach you about:

The difference between being "emotion-centred" and "action-centred"
Identifying what you're really feeling
Identifying situations that trigger strong emotions

This tool can help you:

Understand what your emotions are telling you
Calm down when you're feeling strong emotions
Learn healthier coping strategies

In addition to resources like this one, Homewood Health and Kids Help Phone also offer 24/7 confidential counselling at no cost.

If you'd like to speak to somebody, you can call or text the numbers below:

📞 Phone. Call 1-866-585-0445 (Adults) or 1-888-668-6810 (Youth) to speak with a counsellor.

📱 Text (SMS). Text WELLNESS to 741741 (Adult) or 686868 (Youth) to connect with a trained volunteer crisis responder for support.

However, If you’re interested in finding more resources like this one, including self-guided courses, webinars, peer-to-peer support groups, live counselling, mindfulness meditations, and more, you can create an account for free. You’ll also be able to complete a wellness assessment and track your progress towards your wellness goals.

This resource is part of a series on low mood and depression. You can find the other parts here:

1. Intro | 2. Healthy Habits | 3. Manage your feelings | 4. Get active | 5. Reduce Tension | 6. Stay connected

Manage your feelings

When we’re distressed or upset, we sometimes let our emotions guide our behaviour. For example, when we feel stressed, we may try to deal with our feelings by eating. Or when we're angry, we may yell.

When feelings determine our behaviour, we are living our lives according to our emotions. In other words, we are "emotion centred."

Rather than let feelings determine your behaviour, try becoming more "action centred." In other words, focus on what you need to do in a situation, despite any temporary feeling(s) you may have.

Action-centred living means acknowledging your feelings and learning from them. You can ask, “why am I feeling this way?” or “what does this emotion tell me about my situation and what I need to do?”

Once you know why you are feeling a certain way, you can then decide the best action to take. You can decide what would help resolve the feeling or contribute to the situation in a positive way.

For example:

  • If you are angry, don’t yell. Instead, take a breath, relax for a moment, and then calmly try to resolve the situation.

  • If you are anxious, don’t avoid the situation. Instead, think about why you are feeling anxious. For example, you may realize “I am worried that I will not do a good job.” Then you can take steps to prepare yourself or do whatever is most helpful in that situation.

  • If your mood is low, don’t withdraw from life. Instead, say to yourself, “Even though I don’t feel like doing anything right now, I’m going to go outside and walk for 15 minutes.”

The three steps to becoming "action centred" are:

  • Step 1: Identify the situation where your troubling feelings come up.

  • Step 2: Learn from those feelings.

  • Step 3: Take constructive action.

Step 1: Identify the "emotion-centred" situation

First, identify a situation where your feelings guide your actions.

On a piece of paper, write about a situation that occurred within the past week where your emotions determined how you act. For example, you could write about a situation where you felt stressed.)

Consider: Who was involved? What did you do? What were the circumstances?

  • Example 1: “Last week, I was so angry at my husband after he stayed out late drinking with his friends that I yelled at him.”

  • Example 2: “I heard someone criticize my work and it made me very unhappy. I stopped what I was doing and just sat there for the rest of the afternoon without actually doing anything.”

Step 2: Describe your feelings in that situation

The next step is to describe your feelings in that situation. What were you feeling? What were you thinking? What did you fear might happen? What were you experiencing? Write it down.

  • Example 1: “I was feeling very angry. I felt as if I was being neglected because my husband didn’t phone me to let me know he would be out with his friends. I felt as if I came second in his life.”

  • Example 2: “I was feeling worthless. I felt as if the work I was doing was of poor quality and that I might as well stop doing it altogether.”

Step 3: Describe what you would do differently if you did not feel the same way

The next step is to describe the action you would have taken if you were in that same situation, but not feeling the same way. Imagine what you would do if you were completely calm and free of any unwanted feelings.

  • Example 1: “If I weren’t feeling neglected and angry, I wouldn’t have yelled at him when he got home. Instead, I would have told him that I would like him to call first. I might have also said that I want to feel like I come first in his life, and that sometimes it doesn’t seem that way.”

  • Example 2: “If I weren’t feeling worthless, I would have done my work the way I usually do. I certainly wouldn’t have sat there wasting time and feeling sorry for myself.”

What would you do in that situation if you didn’t have these unwanted or uncomfortable feelings? Write this down.

Step 4: Learn from feelings

What can you learn from your feelings? What does your feeling or experience in that situation say about you? What is the message that your feeling(s) were giving you? What does this say about you? About your situation? About what you need to do differently?

  • Example 1: “I’m learning that I need a lot of reassurance and that I’m not really angry at him. I’m also learning that he really does love me but he doesn’t always know how I feel. Maybe I can work on my need for reassurance. Maybe together, we can work out something that will help us communicate better.”

  • Example 2: “I’m learning that I need to be less sensitive to what other people think and instead trust my own judgment. I’m learning that I take one person’s opinion and allow it to ruin my mood. I can think of other people who like me for who I am.”

Write down your answer.

Step 5: Take constructive action

Now that you have reflected on what you can learn from this situation, ask yourself: “How can I act differently if that same situation arises again?”

  • Example 1: “If this happens again, I’m going to ask myself whether I’m angry at him because I need reassurance, or because he is being truly inconsiderate. And I’m not going to yell at him about drinking with his friends because that’s not really the issue. I’m also going to ask him to let me know if he’s going to be staying out late. This way, I can plan my time, too, and we can both have a good time.”

  • Example 2: “If this happens again, I’m going to ask myself if I’m exaggerating one person’s opinion. I’ll also ask myself whether or not that opinion is worth getting upset about. And I’m going to remind myself that I do good work.”

Step 6: Identify any obstacles

What might interfere with acting differently if that situation arises again? (Some examples include a lack of motivation, forgetfulness, or being unsure of how to behave differently.) Write down potential obstacles and how you will deal with them.

  • For example: “My biggest obstacle is that my feelings will overcome me. If I feel that this is happening, I will take a few deep breaths to clear my mind and decide what I should be doing.”

Step 7: Track your progress

Successful change requires that you track your progress. How will you keep track of your progress? Write the details of what you can do.

  • For example: Keep a journal or daily diary. Write down your accomplishments every time they happen (e.g. taking constructive action instead of acting on temporary feelings). You could also post a “calendar of success” on your refrigerator.

 Step 8: Reward yourself

Finally, a good action plan includes a reward to celebrate your success. How will you reward your progress? How often will you reward yourself?

  • For example: “The next time I do something positive and constructive, rather than act on the whim of how I feel, I will buy myself a fun magazine to read,” or “At the end of each week I’ll reward myself by attending a movie with a friend.”