Posted in Emotion Regulation

A Crash Course on Body Signals: What They Are and How to Use Them

When I have a kiddo struggling with emotion regulation, one of the first things I do is teach them about body signals.  This isn’t knowledge that people are born with and EVERYONE (yes, adults as well!) can benefit from understanding what body signals are, how to identify them, and how to use them to help with overwhelming emotions.


What are Body Signals?  

Body signals are the physiological symptoms that happen because someone is feeling a certain way.  Basically, it’s your body’s automatic response to emotions. People can differ on what body signals they experience – so my body signals for angry feelings might be different than someone else’s. Also, some people may experience the same body signal for different (and opposite!) feelings.


Identifying Body Signals

Most people aren’t really aware of their body signals until they start thinking about them.  Think back to the last time you were extremely happy/mad/sad/worried… do you remember feeling certain sensations in your body?  A lot of times just THINKING about something that makes you feel a certain way can elicit some of these body signals.  Common body signals for happy feelings include heart beating quickly, can’t sit still, and smiling.  Some others I’ve heard from kids include “ants in pants,” singing, crying, and “want to run!”  Common body signals for sad feelings include crying, slow movements, slumped shoulders, and talking in a quiet voice.  Common body signals for angry feelings include clenched fists, red or hot face, yelling and heart beating quickly.  Some others I have heard are “want to hit,” “want to kick,” sweating, growling/groaning, and stomping feet.  Common body signals for worried/scared feelings include butterflies in stomach, heart beating quickly and loudly, and shaking.


How Is This Information Useful?

Once you are aware of your body signals for certain emotions, you can have a better awareness of when you need to do something to calm down.  It’s called a Body SIGNAL for a reason – it’s a signal that you’re becoming overwhelmed with an emotion and need to use a calming/coping strategy to help you calm down and regulate those emotions.  It takes practice though, especially for kiddos!  If you see your kiddo clenching their fists or crying or with slumped shoulders, it might be time for a hug and to prompt them to do something that will help them feel better!

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