Blog :

Emotional Barometers and Your ‘Inner Weather’

Oct 11, 2022
Emotional Barometers and Your ‘Inner Weather’

5 minutes - enough time to switch off from work and enjoy a small snack 🍌

Last time someone asked: ‘How are you?’

You probably said ‘fine’, right?

The thing is with ‘fine’, it doesn’t really mean anything. We say it because identifying how we really feel at that moment, much less expressing it, is hard. ‘Fine’ is easier.

It’s also a default response that the majority of us turn to - particularly in a work setting. It’s easier to brush it off rather than engage in an in-depth conversation.

Have you ever heard of an emotional barometer?

It’s a tool often used in schools; there’s a wheel with an arrow to select options. In the centre you write the emotion word - happy, sad, angry – then use the arrow to choose the intensity of the feeling, from ‘a little bit’ to ‘too much’.

The aim is to help children develop the skills of sensing, identifying, and expressing their emotions. Sounds like something adults could use some help with too, doesn’t it?

That’s precisely why emotional barometers for adults exist too. By using them, we too can develop greater emotional literacy. 

They take a slightly different form, with a wide range of emotional words to choose from, which themselves indicate the intensity of the feeling; think of the difference between annoyed and enraged.

These are more sophisticated and nuanced emotional words and concepts better grasped by us grown-ups. Serenity. Admiration. Disapproval. Grief.

We’ve become used to using various forms of emotional barometers in daily life, from Facebook's ‘say how you’re feeling’ status feature, to ‘rate your pain’ tools used in hospitals, which express the level of distress we’re in. 

Ever searched an app for an emoji to send to a friend, and found yourself typing ‘exasperated’ or ‘nervous’ into your phone? Another great example of emotional barometers in daily life is helping us to identify and articulate how we feel.

The question we’re interested in is, why ‘barometer’, ‘thermometer’, why this language of the weather?

The concept of ‘Inner Weather’ is as old as the hills, constantly updated and refreshed by contemporary thinkers. 

Take this quote by popular author Matt Haig:

“Minds have their weather systems. You are in a hurricane. Hurricanes run out of energy eventually. Hold on” — Matt Haig

We are good at attaching emotions to the weather; ‘a raging storm’, ‘a calm sea’.

These natural phenomena are like visual and sensory manifestations of emotions, perhaps because they mimic the thoughts in our heads, chaotic and loud like a storm, or gentle and rhythmic as the waves.

The key thing about this metaphor is that we have no control over the weather, and we readily accept that. 

Emotions, even negative ones, are natural. Sometimes the distress we experience can come from our struggle to control or repress them.

“I had to learn very quickly to look further and understand that I am not capable of controlling the weather, to exercise the art of patience and to respect the fury of nature”

— Paulo Coelho

If emotions are weather, think of life as coming in seasons. Just as we get more rain in winter, and heat in summer, many of us may experience a higher concentration or frequency of certain emotions in certain periods of our lives. 

Every chapter, or season, comes with both good and bad. It’s helpful to accept and be prepared for this. Embracing the unknown can be very liberating. 

Moreover, this is a reassuring and affirming mindset. Whatever negatives you are going through now are likely to end or change as this particular season comes to a close; knowing that the positives will evolve and change too reminds us not to take them for granted.

Periods of great change are emotionally difficult, that’s why moving house is statistically voted one of the most stressful things we experience.

Considering an upcoming change, a new job, a breakup, a wedding, or even reaching a big life goal, the end of one chapter and the start of a new one, can remind us to do two things:

  • Check-in with ourselves. Know that you may be excited or trepidatious about what’s to come, as well as relieved to be rid of what came before, or grieving for what has ended. All at once. If you’re going through change: it’s emotionally demanding, so go easy on yourself.

  • Develop some strategy. If we can look at our upcoming season and identify the Inner weather likely to come with it, we can set in place some healthy ways of coping. Like counteracting increased stress with grounding routines, or increased isolation by scheduling time and ways to connect with people.
    download our handbook for mental health at work


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