My Emotions

After completing this section, you will be able to: name three parts that make up an emotion; recognise emotions; explain why emotions are important; describe the window of tolerance; name the five stages of the emotional arousal cycle; and, understand primary and secondary emotions.

Recognising emotions

Sometimes recognising the emotions we feel is hard. A good guide to knowing our emotions better is our own bodies. How do we feel physically? How are we behaving in response? The figure below shows how emotions are felt in the body.

Learning Zone Brain

Other people’s emotions

Are you sure you can always recognise other people’s emotions? Body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice all give clues. Try the quiz below and see if you can spot what emotion the person is feeling.

The Feelings Wheel

There are many different types of emotions. The more accurately we identify our emotions, the more we understand our needs. Use the ‘feelings wheel’ below to pinpoint how you feel.

Learning Zone Brain

Emotions as messages

Emotions are messages. They are trying to tell us something. When we find ourselves in a tricky situation, emotions can help us make sense of what is important to us and what we should do about it.

Download Emotions, Messages and Needs Worksheet PDF

Window of tolerance

Emotions become unhelpful if over-regulated or under-regulated. When we can cope with our emotions in a healthy way, we call this our ‘window of tolerance’, which is the ‘green zone’ below. When we can’t cope, we move into our ‘red zone’ where emotions are under-regulated. If we can’t feel or recognise our emotions, we might have moved into our ‘blue zone’, where emotions are over-regulated.

Our window of tolerance can grow and shrink depending on who we are with, what's going on in our life, our past experiences, and how much sleep we've had.

Feeling Wheel

Emotional arousal cycle

Follow the ‘Emotional Arousal Cycle’ below and you’ll recognise the path we take when overwhelmed by emotions. In the ‘Crisis Phase’, we struggle to control our urges. What do you think might be your triggers that set you off down this path? How might we recognise our ‘Escalation Phase’ to stop ourselves reaching crisis point?

Emotional arousal cycle

Emotion iceberg

There are two types of emotions: primary and secondary. So far, we have been talking about primary emotions. Sometimes we only see the secondary emotion and have to go back to figure out what our primary emotions are to understand how we’re feeling. Like an iceberg, we only see what’s on the surface – but there is more going on underneath.

Emotional Iceberg


  • Emotions are made up of three parts: the subjective experience, the physiological response, and the behavioural response.
  • Sensations in the body can help us recognise our emotions.
  • Behavioural responses like facial expressions, body language and movements can help us recognise other people’s emotions.
  • Emotions are like messages to the brain carrying important information about what we need.
  • When we are in our window of tolerance, we are able to cope with our emotions.
  • The Emotional Arousal Cycle maps the phases we go through when we’re triggered.
  • Primary emotions are the raw emotions. Secondary emotions can mask primary emotions.