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  • Sara Mann

Coping Skill: The Tangled Ball of Emotions.

Hello Everybody!!

I hope you are all having a lovely weekend so far!

It’s been a while since I have shared a coping skill, and since I used this one a lot the last couple of weeks, I thought I would share it! It’s called The Tangled Ball of Emotions.

Oddly enough I didn’t learn of this coping skill from my therapist or anything affiliated with eating disorders. During all this Covid stuff my church has been having morning devotionals on Facebook and every once in a while one of the missionaries of the church leads the devotion! This particular morning, a couple of months ago, it was a missionary in France who I actually went to high school with! (Hey Halle!!!) She is amazing and into all the arts, (music, painting etc.) so she is very my style. She shared how the pandemic had been effecting her and then shared this cool coloring sheet that helps you kind of work through the emotions you are having in order to figure out how you are really feeling and what you might need.

Since I love anything that has to do with coloring and also anything that will help me process how I’m feeling in a more helpful way then food restriction, I clicked on the link she shared, downloaded The Tangled Ball of Emotions and printed off ten copies! I told myself I would do it right away. Truth is, I didn’t do it for the first time until a few weeks ago! Whoops!

So what exactly is this Tangled Ball of Emotions?

Basically it is a worksheet that has a large “ball” (a circle) in the middle of it that looks like a ball of yarn. Each strand has an emotion written on it. For example: proud, drained, confident, frustrated, lonely, get the idea. It then has four boxes listed below. The first is labeled, “emotion I’m feeling right now.” The second is, “Emotion I’ve been feeling recently.” The third is, “Familiar emotion, but not recently.” The last box is, “Emotion I rarely experience.” Then It asks the question, “What do you need?”

Here is a picture of The Tangled Ball of Emotions and you can find it and download it HERE.

So how does this thing work and how does it actually help?

Well, I’m going to get all vulnerable and share the past two I have done so you can see. At first I felt a little nervous about sharing something so personal. I don’t want people to judge me or see my private emotions, BUT, I’ve always promised to be real and if you have read my blog at all you already know that there are ups and downs in recovery, and also in just life in general, so whatever, lets do it!

About two weeks ago I really started to struggle emotionally. My anxiety was getting worse, I felt all over the place and couldn’t figure out what my problem was. All I knew was I was starting to become more and more anxious, obsessed with my appearance, wanting to restrict food and sliding back into eating disorder behaviors. I told myself I needed to slow down, do some coping skills and get back on track. Lucky for me, I had The Tangled Ball of Emotions printed out and sitting on my desk from a couple months ago ready to use. I decided to give it a whirl.

I went to my bedroom, turned on some classical music, locked my husband and dogs out of the room and whipped out my markers. I thought that if I didn’t really get anything helpful out of it, at least I got to color!

I labeled each box with a different color and went to work sorting out how I was feeling. Honestly, this exercise ended up being extremely helpful. I took my time with each color and with each word to quietly reflect and allow myself to figure out where my emotions were at and how I was actually feeling. It allowed me to realize how bad my ED thoughts had become. My once confident self was now feeling lonely, unsupported, shameful and frustrated.

Here is a photo of my first tangled ball...

So what do I do with this colorful ball I just colored in? Well, the point is to untangle my emotions so I can figure out what I need. So if you look above, I wrote down what I needed based upon what emotions I had colored. I found that I really needed rest. I was feeling hopeless and needed to gain some hope back. I wasn’t feeling love, connection, support or value so I needed to find a way to reclaim those things in my life. I realized I was feeling stuck and like I was defeated. What I needed was a win and to see some progress!

After I wrote down what I needed, I then wrote down the words, “What can I do?” Just knowing how I was feeling and what I needed wasn’t enough. What’s the point of coloring these emotions in and seeing what I need if I’m not going to take some action and DO things that will help? So I brainstormed and set some achievable goals.

  1. Plan a date. I was feeling disconnected in my relationship. Which is odd because during this pandemic we have been together 24/7. But, just being around each other isn’t necessarily connecting.

  2. Move my body - I have been doing a lot of walking, but decided maybe I needed to switch up how I exercise and move. Try something new. A new goal. This will help me to feel like I’m making progress and it usually renews my confidence.

  3. Practice self care - I realized I had just been so busy I hadn’t really been taking care of myself! So I decided to make a hair appointment and take time to read, paint my nails and allow myself to feel.

  4. Rest. This seems obvious, but if you know anything about me you know I have a hard time resting. I always need to be PRODUCTIVE. I have to consciously allow myself to rest and I have to do it intentionally.

  5. Set a goal. I decided that I wanted to start giving piano lessons, so I set a goal to make a flyer and deliver it that week. This way I can feel a win and some value again.

  6. I also new it was time to really practice some real coping skills to get back on track, I used the STOP method, thought logs, sticking to fact as well as using the word AND instead of the word BUT.

Over the next week or so I did all of these things and you know what? I started to feel better. My emotions began to change and I my ED thoughts became a little more quiet. I rested! I allowed myself some naps and we went camping to get away from the hustle and bustle. I got my hair done so I felt refreshed. I started a lifting program with my hubs. It’s not excessive but it changed things up and made me feel productive. I went on a date with my husband and spent lots of time talking about life things while we were camping which made me feel loved and connected. I passed out my piano lesson flyers and I already have a student!

The tangled ball of emotions helped me to sort out how I was feeling when I felt anxious and overwhelmed. When I saw how I was feeling I was able to see clearly what I needed. When I saw what my needs were I was able to set small achievable goals that will help me meet those needs. It really worked!

It worked so much that two weeks later I decided to check in with myself and do it again.

Here is a picture of my second one!

As you can see my emotions are very different then the first one! (I used the same colors as the first one so I could compare). It’s clear that in the past two weeks my little goals helped me to feel more supported, focused, proud and creative, and less anger, guilt, exhaustion and frustration. Some of my needs remained the same. Which honestly, isn’t that surprising. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I realized I still am needing some love, confidence, hope and the feeling of progress. I came up with new goals to spend more time with God, make a doctors appoint, list my “wins,” limit my time on social media, cuddle with my dogs and do three acts of love.

Now does coloring in a ball of emotions and setting these little goals fix everything and make my bad emotions go away? No. But they do help! They help me to slow down and work through them instead of getting more and more lost IN them. It helps me to find healthy ways to cope with my emotions instead of masking them and pushing them down until they are numb with my eating disorder. Reacting to all my emotions by setting small goals to meet my needs is WAY better and healthier then cutting out carbs and restricting calories until I don't even care if I'm angry or not because I'm starving and losing weight.

I also noticed something else. If you look at my examples you might see that I have some pretty dark emotions sometimes. Feeling lonely, unsupported, hurt, jealous, empty, guilty. These are certainly not great feelings to have and can be kind of worrisome if they are colored in as emotions I'm feeling right now or emotions I've been feeling recently. What I also noticed is that a week or so later I didn't have those same emotions. I didn't feel abandoned or hurt or empty or guilty as much. What this proves to me is emotions are not always FACTS. When I check the facts I know my husband loves me and have tons of friends that I talk to almost every day! Why am I feeling unsupported and lonely then? I also know that I am smart and super creative and fun, so why wasn't I coloring in those feelings of fun, joy and inspired? I think the answer is, when I get overwhelmed with triggers and emotions my mind just goes to a negative places of lies and ugliness. When I work through my triggers and take care of myself, I remember I'm freaking awesome and killing it in recovery! It also reminds me that since emotions CLEARLY change from week to week, day to day and sometimes even hour to hour, I need to work through them and not give them TOO much weight. I can be feeling low, but that certainly doesn't mean my life isn't worth living, because I know in a couple days I won't feel as low again. It's these ebbs and flows of emotions that we need to remember happen so we don't always get stuck in the mindset that things will never change. They do! I can feel stuck and tired and frustrated one week, work through it and then the next week feel like I'm kicking butt and taking names! The truth is this tangled ball of emotions helps us to figure out how we are feeling so we can address it, but we must also remember our emotions change and we can also do things and make active choices to help them change as well!!!

If you are feeling all over the place with your emotions and you can’t figure out how you are feeling or what you need, I strongly recommend trying this coping skill out! It can be super helpful and like I said before, who doesn’t like to color?!?!


- Sara -

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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