This guide for young people explains how you can recognise and understand difficult 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.”
Feelings can be hard to make sense of. You might be having new feelings you don't understand, like:
“Sometimes admitting that something might be wrong is the hardest part of recognising your feelings.”
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:
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.”
There are lots of things that can affect the way you feel, like:
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.
“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.”
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:
For example, if we’re late for something, we may:
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.
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!”
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.”
Asking for help can feel like a really hard step, but reaching out for support can help you to:
“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.”
“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.”
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.