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What's the difference between emotions and feelings?

Updated: Apr 23

There are many, many different definitions of these. I use the following ones.


Emotions occur physiologically. Chemical changes happen inside our bodies which cause internal activity e.g. blood draining from our extremities, heart rate increasing or decreasing etc.


We can experience an emotion without being aware of it e.g. calmness, anxiety.

When we become aware of it, (i.e. when we FEEL it), it becomes a feeling. We notice our tense shoulders, headache, nausea, butterflies, pounding heart etc.


Humans can NAME feelings. "I feel stressed/ anxious/ relaxed etc."


Research shows that naming feelings helps to defuse them.


Animals can't name feelings. They will just be aware of what they are FEELING in their bodies. Imagine how uncomfortable this must be for them, especially with high intensity feelings like extreme anxiety and fear.


We humans often strive to avoid feelings which are uncomfortable for us.

Animals are likely to try and avoid uncomfortable feelings too.


Of course, humans are story tellers. With our stories, we can induce and inflate feelings, which can increase our suffering. (We can also tell ourselves stories which calm us down.)


As far as we know, animals can't modify their feelings with their thoughts, they modify them with their behaviour. To do this, they need to be in a healthy enough physical state to carry out the behaviour, and to be in an environment which supports them to do it e.g. a horse can't run away from a threat if they are chronically lame or closed into a stable. A dog on a leash can't necessarily escape something which worries it.


Inability to modify feelings causes more stress. We know this for ourselves. We become anxious about being so anxious!


Animals who are frightened/ anxious etc about something that's happening, are also likely to become more distressed when they can't escape/ avoid their feelings about it.


Under high levels of stress, an animal will shut down and do absolutely nothing. This is not a choice they make. It's an evolutionary response to extreme danger.



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