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Understanding my feelings – for young people

This guide for young people explains how you can recognise and understand difficult feelings.

Mae'r dudalen hon hefyd ar gael yn Gymraeg. This link will take you to a Welsh translation of this page.

Understanding my feelings

Sometimes our feelings can be upsetting, scary or confusing – especially if you’re not sure why you feel the way you do.

Whatever you’re feeling right now, we’re here to help.

This page covers:

Don’t run or hide from emotions: acknowledge and accept them. The more often you do this, the more comfortable you will feel with dealing with them.

Are emotions and feelings the same thing?

You might hear people using the words emotions and feelings. They mean slightly different things, and we try to understand them as:

Emotions – how we feel about something and how our body reacts. For example, if we experience fear, we might feel our heart beating faster or notice our hands shaking.

Feelings  how we experience our emotions and give meaning to them. They are different for everyone. For example, you might associate your hands shaking with feeling anxious.

In this guide, we use the word feelings to talk about your experiences and how they affect you.

What's happening to me?

Feelings can be hard to make sense of. You might be having new feelings you don't understand, like:

  • Just not feeling yourself
  • Feeling something isn't right
  • Finding it hard to enjoy things you normally would, like seeing friends or partners, or doing your favourite hobby
  • Feeling angry or sad
  • Feeling like you want to be alone
  • Having strange thoughts you don't understand
  • Feeling energetic or hyper
  • Struggling to concentrate or focus
  • Feeling out of control

If you're worried about anything you're feeling or experiencing, opening up to someone can help. They can talk things through with you, or help you to find support.

“Sometimes admitting that something might be wrong is the hardest part of recognising your feelings.”

How can I recognise what I’m feeling?

Recognising your feelings is the first step towards understanding them and learning how to cope with them.

It might feel difficult at first, but with time and practice, it will get easier.

Here are our top tips:

  • Download and fill in our emotion wheels resource. This can help you to name feelings that are hard to pinpoint (PDF – new window).
  • Set aside time to check in with how you’re feeling. You could use a notebook, journal or your phone to write down your feelings.
  • Practise paying attention to your feelings in the moment. For example, how do you feel when doing something you enjoy? Or how do you feel when doing something you find difficult or scary?
  • Express your feelings creatively. You could draw, paint or try arts and crafts.
  • Talk to yourself like you would to a good friend. You could ask yourself: ‘Is this a new feeling?’ or ‘What does this feel similar to?’

Remember: how we experience our feelings is unique to each of us. Your feelings and reactions might be different to others, even towards the same thing, and that’s okay. You might also feel lots of different things at once, and that’s okay too.

Although it’s important to pay attention to your feelings and try to recognise them, you don’t need to do it all the time. Making time to relax and clear your mind is just as important for your wellbeing. Take as many breaks as you need.

“It can be really scary to stop and think about how you’re feeling, especially when those feelings are negative. I spent a long time convincing myself that there was nothing wrong, even though there clearly was. Looking back, I regret not exploring my feelings sooner.”

Why am I feeling this way?

There are lots of things that can affect the way you feel, like:

  • Problems at home, school, or in your relationships and friendships
  • Losing someone important to you
  • Confusion about who you are, your sexuality or beliefs
  • Big events or changes in your life
  • Pressure from yourself or others
  • Feeling lonely or like nobody understands you
  • Feeling unwell
  • Being bullied
  • Being abused
  • Worrying about what's happening in the world or on the news
  • Worrying about things you see on social media
  • Experiencing something traumatic or frightening

Sometimes there might not be a reason for what you’re feeling, and that’s okay. You’re not alone and you still deserve help

Understanding your feelings can feel more confusing when you’re questioning your sexuality and gender identity. For LGBTIQ+ support, you can visit Stonewall, Mermaids and The Proud Trust.

“When we’re really busy, like if we have exams or have started a new job… we might forget to check in with how we're feeling and that could lead to negative feelings building up.”

How are my feelings and mental health linked? 

Understanding the link between your feelings and mental health can be confusing.

It can help to understand the difference between your thoughts, feelings and behaviours first:

  • Thoughts what we think about ourselves and situations.
  • Feelings part of our emotions and how we experience them.
  • Behaviours the way we act and respond.

For example, if we’re late for something, we may:

  • Think – badly about ourselves. We might tell ourselves it’s our fault and think of what we should have done differently.
  • Feel – worried, stressed, guilty and irritable.
  • Behave - rush, forget things or avoid going.

We might end up being later or not going at all, which starts the cycle again.

When a situation arises, our thoughts, feelings and behaviours connect to give us our experience.

Being aware of our thoughts, feelings and behaviours can help us to judge how mentally well or unwell we’re feeling. You can use them as signs that something needs to change, like if you feel sad or low for a long period of time. Or you can use them as encouragement to keep doing something that makes you feel good.

If you have trouble recognising and understanding your feelings, you may find it harder to cope with difficult feelings. You may not know how to react, or you may react in a way that can be harmful to yourself or someone else. See our info on how to recognise what I'm feeling for our tips.

Are my feelings becoming a mental health problem?

As we get older, we go through lots of emotional and physical changes. We might experience a range of feelings from moment to moment, or day to day, and some can feel more difficult to manage.

If the way you’re feeling, thinking or acting lasts for a long time, becomes difficult to cope with, or stops you from doing the things you enjoy, it might be a sign that you need more help. To find out more, see our page on understanding mental health.

Remember: whether your feelings are part of a mental health problem or not, you still deserve help if you’re struggling to cope with them.

“Low mood doesn't need to be caused by anything. It can just occur, and that is okay!”

When should I ask for help?

It's normal to wonder whether you can handle things on your own, or even just feel like you don't know where to start. Whatever you’re feeling, big or small, you don't need to cope on your own. You can open up to someone as soon as you feel ready.

It doesn’t matter how long you have been struggling with your feelings, it’s always okay to ask for help.

“The secret of my struggles was weighing down on me like a ton of bricks, and I decided I had to tell someone.”

Why should I ask for help?

Asking for help can feel like a really hard step, but reaching out for support can help you to:

  • Find support to help with how you're feeling
  • Feel like you're not alone
  • Share how you feel with someone you trust
  • Understand your feelings better
  • Speak to a professional, like a doctor, counsellor or mental health expert
  • Stop things from getting worse
  • Start to feel better

“It's important to try and learn to recognise and address these feelings, and get the right support at that time to cope with them.”

What can I do right now?

You could:

  • Think about how you can share your feelings with someone you know. You could talk to a friend, partner or trusted adult. If you don’t want to talk or aren’t sure what you’re feeling, you could try writing a letter or drawing a picture. See our page on opening up for more ideas.
  • Call a helpline to have a confidential chat with an advisor. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to someone you don’t know. See our useful contacts page for ideas on who to contact.
  • Visit your doctor. See our page on talking to your doctor for our guide on how to do this.
  • Explore options for support. See our page on finding support for more information.
  • Take some time to do something you enjoy or find relaxing. For tips on things you could try, see our page on looking after your wellbeing.

“I find it difficult to understand my feelings which is what makes me feel out of control. However, with practice I've found techniques to help understand how I’m feeling, and I use positive coping mechanisms to help me.”

< Back to our intro to mental health hub

Go to our main info hub for young people >

This information was published in March 2022. We will revise it in 2025.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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