So we have accomplished (or as some would say “got through”!) three months of 2014 and how are you feeling? Yes, really… how are you feeling? Have you checked in with yourself lately to find out, or have you been so busy with life that your feet have not touched the ground?

It is frequently recounted that discussing feelings used to be the preserve of well, the touchy-feely brigade and certainly in the UK, had no credence in the workplace and often, not even at home. Some would say that this is still the case. However, I’ve noticed that advances in science are enabling more of a willingness for leaders to ask questions about emotions of those who they inspire and manage, having learnt that how someone feels could be the difference between peak performance or disengagement. Brain and body are indeed connected with positive and negative feelings impacting cognition.

When we feel positive and in a good mood, we are more likely to find solutions to challenges through insight (an aha! moment) and be much more engaged in the task, and with our colleagues. Conversely, when we are feeling negative and have too much stress, our thinking part of the brain shuts down, directing energy towards the emotional response / survival system. We become disengaged and are literally unable to think as clearly.

Fortunately, there is a quick tip that you can do on your own, or with the help of another, to help dampen down any negative feelings and restore the brain’s executive function. It is called ‘labelling’:

Step 1: state in two sentences or less what is on your mind (waffle and you create more of the negative stuff as far as your brain and body is concerned)

Step 2: label the emotion(s) in one or two words (this is essential – it is the labelling that helps switch your thinking part of the brain back on)

Repeat the steps a few times until you feel ‘clear’ (3-5 minutes max).

(Practice makes this easier over time: at first, it may take a while to put some emotions into words, especially if you usually do not allow yourself to express or acknowledge them).

As optimum thinking ability is required, I do this exercise with my clients at the start of every coaching session to ensure any residual stress that could get in the way of the conversation is swept away. Often clients report that they find it such a useful check-in that they use it elsewhere e.g. take a few minutes to label at the start of the day, or before an important meeting.

Labelling will work for day-to-day stresses however for bigger impacts, other emotional regulation techniques such as reappraisal will need to be deployed.