#234: Express Strong Emotions in English | How to Talk About Indescribable Feelings

by | Mar 9, 2022 | 17 comments

Like me, my team, and my students, you may be struggling to express the feelings, heartbreak, and anguish you’re experiencing with the war in Ukraine.

For the Speak Confident English Team, this is deeply personal.

We have a team member, students, and community members living in Ukraine.

We stand firmly with Ukraine. We echo global calls for peace and an end to this aggression.

We also stand with our Russian students and community members who are indirectly hurt and had no choice in these events.

To help us all give voice to these strong, indescribable feelings, I’m sharing this lesson.

Below the video, you’ll find:

– The transcript

– More about what we’re doing in response to what is happening in Ukraine

– How you can help if you don’t know where to start

Express Strong Emotions in English — Transcript

What words can you use to describe the indescribable in English?

During times of crisis, we often struggle to put voice to those profound feelings of shock, worry, anxiety, and grief.

Sometimes there are truly no words, but when we have those surges of strong emotion that are often accompanied by physical reactions as well.

It is important to talk about them when we can. Talking through them can help us process what is happening, what we’re seeing or experiencing. It can also help us feel calmer and think more clearly, moreover, it can be comforting to talk to others who are sharing that experience with you.

Like many of my students, you might be struggling with how to do this in English right now.

If you don’t already know, I’m Annemarie with Speak Confident English, everything I do here is designed to help you get the confidence you want for your life and work in English.

One way I do that is with my weekly Confident English lessons, where I share confidence and fluency-building strategies and topic-specific vocabulary. As I’m doing in this lesson today.

If you find this lesson helpful to you, be sure to subscribe to this channel. So you never miss one of my Confident English lessons.

Now, if you’ve been following me for a while, you might know that I have a lesson on how to express kindness, comfort, and sympathy in English, which of course is helpful in any moment of crisis.

I also recently shared a lesson on how to demonstrate empathy in English.

I’ll share a link to both of those lessons below this video, but in this lesson today, we’re going to focus on how you can express those strong indescribable emotions, expressions we use to talk about the weight of feelings, and how to name the physical reactions that often correspond with those strong emotions.

Before we go there, I do want to acknowledge that this lesson, this topic is a hard one. Experiencing shock crisis, and disbelief can be overwhelming.

I hope that this lesson today helps to give you words that you can use that allow you to connect with others sharing that experience with you or sharing with others who can empathize with you.

Let’s start with words we often use to describe the indescribable. The feelings that are so strong, so over overwhelming, that we don’t even know what they are.

Several adjectives that we use to describe this are to be speechless, to be inconceivable, to be unfathomable and to be unspeakable.

Let’s talk about a couple of those. When we feel speechless, we feel incapable of using words to talk about what we’re experiencing or how we’re feeling. For example, if you listen to someone share an unbelievable story, after listening, you might feel speechless or you might be speechless.

You don’t know what to say, or you don’t have words to describe how you feel.

When something is inconceivable, it’s impossible to believe or comprehend. For example, it’s inconceivable that this can happen in the 21st century.

The same can be true with the words unfathomable and unspeakable.

That word unspeakable can be used as a synonym to mean that something is incomprehensive or impossible to understand.

It can also be used to mean that something is inexpressibly bad. For example, after a natural disaster, there may be people who are living in unspeakable living conditions. In other words, bad beyond belief.

Another example: history is full of unspeakable acts.

In addition to these four adjectives, here are a few more, we often use with the verbs to be and to feel: to feel undone, to feel a sense of existential dread, to feel disconnected, to feel a profound sense of ____.

For example, to feel a profound sense of worry, to feel a profound sense of disbelief, to feel a profound sense of overwhelm.

When we talk about that first one to feel or to be undone, that word undone means that something isn’t finished, but when we use it to talk about how we feel, it has a much different meaning. If someone feels undone, it can mean that they feel hopeless, ruined, or to feel a great sense of loss.

For example, I was undone after watching a few of the most recent news clips.

We can also feel undone if we’re experiencing a sense of existential dread. What that means is to have this general sense of unease or insecurity as it relates humanity and the meaning of life.

That’s a huge topic. It’s a heavy topic. This whole lesson, as I mentioned earlier, is a really difficult topic, but these are human emotions that we all experience and we often share.

So as we continue, I hope that this helps to give you the language you need so that you’re able to express what you’re experiencing and what you’re feeling so that you’re able to share that with others and have that shared human experience, which is so helpful as we try to process things that shock us and try to move forward as well.

Before we move on to talking about the weight of all of these emotions, I want to talk about how we can make these statements even stronger.

They are already very powerful words. They have a lot of feeling to them, but sometimes we need them to be even stronger.

And so we might use an intensifier a word like utterly. I’m utterly undone. I’m totally speechless. This is absolutely unspeakable.

Utterly. Totally, absolutely help to intensify those already powerful words.

It might seem strange to use the word weight when talking about feelings, but perhaps you’ve experienced an emotion so strongly that it felt like there was a physical weight on your chest.

And we have several ways to talk about this feeling in English. We can describe it as a crushing weight. For example, you might say, I have this general feeling of a crushing weight on my chest.

In English, we also talk about being heavy-hearted. Again, the sense that your heart in your chest has weight to it, and it’s heavier than usual. It’s hard to carry around.

The last example we often use to talk about the weight of these strong feelings is to feel like you are carrying a heavy weight on your shoulders, on your chest, in your heart or in your soul. All of those are quite common.

For example, if you know someone that had a terrible car accident, you might say that ever since the accident you’ve been carrying around a heavy weight on your shoulders, or you’ve been carrying around a heavy weight in your soul.

With all of these strong emotions we’ve talked about, these indescribable feelings, there are often physical reactions associated. These strong feelings impact us physically.

So in moments of crisis, you might also have some of these physical reactions: you may feel or be jittery.

You might feel nauseous, foggy, out of body, paralyzed, or you may feel that you have a tight chest, very similar to those feelings of having pressure or weight on your chest.

Let’s talk about a few of those. When someone is jittery or when someone feels jittery, it means that they are exhibiting a state of mind or body movements that indicate a sense of panic or great anxiety.

If you think for a moment about an accident that almost happened. In those first moments, after an accident or a near accident, you might feel jittery and you might need to move in a way that allows your body to release some of that anxiety. Again, those strong, overwhelming emotions.

So when you’re in situations that are shocking or deeply worrying, you might also be having a physical reaction. You might be feeling jittery.

Sometimes you might also have a feeling of being foggy.

This word course is typically used when we’re talking about the weather, but when we use it in this sense, this feeling of being foggy, this physical reaction to a strong emotion, it means that you’re unable to think clearly.

It might feel like you have clouds in your mind. And as a result, you can’t put all of your thoughts together. You can’t decide what to do next. It’s a struggle to think clearly.

Another common physical reaction to these strong emotions is to feel out of body. It’s that feeling of being separated from your body and watching events like it’s a movie, not real life.

Earlier I talked about the word disconnected, to feel disconnected. And that’s a great alternative when you’re having that experience of being out of body.

The last one on our list for how to describe the physical reactions we have to those strong overwhelming feelings is to feel or be paralyzed.

If you feel paralyzed after experiencing a crisis or while watching a crisis happen, it means that you’re unable to move or react. You don’t know what to do, and you feel frozen.

If you’re are currently experiencing these strong feelings of shock, disbelief, anxiety, or grief, I hope that this lesson helped to give you specific words and phrases that will allow you to express that.

I also want to invite you to practice here as always, you can choose some of the vocabulary from this lesson and share it in your own example sentences, whether you want to share things that are true about how you’re feeling right now, or you simply want to practice, you can always share with me in the comment section below.

Thank you so much for joining me this week. And I look forward to seeing you in the next Confident English lesson.

Supporting Those Directly Impacted in Ukraine

As I mentioned above, the crisis in Ukraine has impacted our team significantly.

Our immediate focus has been on the safety of our team member, her loved ones, our students, and community members.

We have worked to support them directly in numerous ways including continued access to our programs without payment.

Also, with our Fluency School course coming soon, we will be donating $30 USD for every new enrollee among the four organizations listed below.

If you’d like to join us in helping, here are organizations to get you started:

1. Save the Children — Ukraine – Having worked in Ukraine since 2014, Save the Children is assisting children and families in numerous ways including winter kits of clothing and blankets, creating safe spaces for children to play, and ensuring unaccompanied children and minors are protected.

2. The Kyiv Independent – An English media outlet that launched only 3 months ago and which is maintaining a free, independent press in the most challenging circumstances imaginable. They have created a Go Fund Me campaign to help keep them going.

3. International Organization for Migration (IOM) – As of March 8, more than 2 million people in Ukraine have fled their homes. The IOM helps by providing assistance to those fleeing and those displaced internally around the world. They are a leader in humane, orderly migration. 

4. Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights – Supporting women, transgender, and nonbinary activists in Ukraine.

For more, please visit Stand With Ukraine. 🇺🇦

And finally, volunteer locally. Volunteer your time, your home, whatever is needed to support refugees where you live.

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