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5 Cool Ways to Use an Emotions Wheel, Plus Examples & PDFs

Updated: 4 days ago

A feelings wheel can help you recognize, validate, and cope with difficult emotions.

This emotions wheel, also called a feelings wheel or emotions chart, lists common emotions. It helps people recognize what they're feeling and cope with them better. The wheel also includes physical sensations to help with the mind-body connection.

Is that feeling sad or hurt? Mad or embarrassed?

Many of us have trouble identifying our emotions, especially in the midst of them.

An emotions wheel, also called a feelings wheel or emotions chart, can help you or your clients better understand what you’re experiencing.

Below is a bit of background about where emotions wheels come from, followed by several cool ways you can use them.

Want to skip ahead and start using an emotions wheel now? Check out this resource with complete feelings wheels, blank wheels, coping skills, and more.

Article Highlights: Ways to Use an Emotions Wheel

1. Figure out what you're feeling

2. Validate your emotions

3. Express your emotions

4. Recognize your physical sensations

5. Ride out your feelings

6. Practice emotional coping

7. Learn cognitive defusion

Emotions Wheel + PDF & Worksheets

More mental health tools and worksheets

The Original Feelings Wheel

Plutchik’s Wheel

First, here's some quick background on where these wheels came from in the first place.

The idea of a feelings wheel likely originated with psychologist Robert Plutchik (Plutchik, 1982). Although many modern feelings wheels include dozens (if not 100+) emotions, he actually wanted to narrow them down, not expand on them.

He believed there was too much variation in language around feelings, and he wanted to clarify it.

He decided on 8 primary emotions, including:

  • Anger

  • Fear

  • Sadness

  • Disgust

  • Surprise

  • Anticipation

  • Trust

  • Joy

Plutchik believed that emotions evolved as survival mechanisms, and that animals experience them as well.

He also theorized that emotions come in dyads, where two primary emotions make up a third. For example, fear combined with surprise make up the feeling of awe.

Over time, people have built on his idea of using a wheel to identify and understand human feelings. Most often, people use such wheels to choose an emotion that seems to match what they're experiencing.

Emotions wheels are great for figuring out your feelings and can help you deal with them. Here are some ways you can use them.

Download the emotions wheel, emotions chart, worksheets, blank feelings wheel, printables and more.

1. Figure out what you're feeling

It has become common for therapists to use emotion wheels in sessions. It’s a handy way to help clients respond to statements like, “What’s that feeling you’re having?”

Your counselor might hand you a laminated wheel or a similar chart with a whole bunch of emotions, either in a list or as part of a color wheel.

I too find these tools to be helpful, however I’ve found that so many emotions to choose from can be a bit overwhelming and distracting. It doesn’t really matter if someone can tell if they’re “pissed,” or “irritated,” or “frustrated.”

If they have those words in their mind, then that’s great. Otherwise, this feeling can also be simplified to just “angry” or “mad” which work just as well. The important thing is that people have language, or a visual, to explain what they’re going through.

You can check out this more mainstreamed wheel that includes each feelings category along with common physical sensations that go with them.

2. Validate your emotions