Understanding your Emotional Experience

The “ARC” of Emotions


Do you ever feel like your anxiety “comes out of nowhere?” Do you ever get mad at yourself for feeling anxious for “no reason?” People often experience confusion about their current emotional state, which can lead to emotions becoming more intense and uncomfortable. Frustrating, right?

Understanding Your Emotional “ARC”

A more effective way of interacting with your emotions is by getting curious about the whole emotional experience. Want to try it? Start by getting out a sheet of paper and drawing three columns to monitor the ARC of your emotional experience (Barlow et al., 2011). Label the column on the left A, the middle column R, and the column on the right C. It should spell out “ARC.”

Next, try to think of the last time you experienced an anxiety or fear. Write down the emotion in the R column. The R stands for response. In this same column, write down any thoughts, behaviors and physical feelings associated with the emotion. This will help you increase your awareness of your entire emotional experience.

The left column labeled A, stands for any antecedent. This is what occurred just before you experienced the emotion. Write down what happened right before you noticed the emotion or what may have triggered the emotion. The final column, C, stands for consequences. In this column, write down the result of responding to your anxiety in this automatic way.

The Emotional ARC in Action

Let’s try an example. Say that someone remembered feeling really anxious last week prior to a meeting with his boss about a possible raise. In column A, the person would write “meeting with boss about raise.” In column R, the person would write the emotions (anxiety, fear, stress), thoughts (boss may yell at me, I could get fired), physical sensations (dry mouth, increased heart rate, dizziness) and behaviors (paced in own office, late for meeting), associated with the emotion.

In column C, the person would write the consequences of responding to the emotion this way. For this person, he could write that it increased his anxiety and upset his boss.

Benefits of Using the ARC Model

What is the benefit of writing all of this down? It allows us to realize that our emotions don’t really “come out of nowhere” and that how we respond to our initial emotion actually impacts the entire emotional experience. Over time, becoming more aware of each step in this process can help you notice choice points in this process and help you respond to your anxiety in more effective ways.

For example, if this person could have labeled that he was anxious because he cares about his job and tolerated his anxiety while walking straight to the meeting on time, he could have had a much different outcome. Just like with any new skill, getting the hang of this requires time and repetition. So go ahead, get curious, and start building a new skill in service of improving your experience of your emotions! If you need help during this process, just let us know!

If you or someone you know experiences anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy is a very effective treatment. To learn more, check out our CBT resources page to find books and other resources to help you manage your anxiety. You can also contact us at Behavioral Associates, Los Angeles to find out more about what treatment may be right for you.

Michelle Dexter, Ph.D., Associate | Behavioral Associates Los Angeles

Barlow, D.H., Ellard, K.K., Fairholme, C.P., Farchione, T.J., Boisseau, C.L., Allen, L.A., & Ehrenreich-May, J. (2011). Unified protocol for transdiagnostic treatment of emotional disorders workbook. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.


Behavioral Associates Los Angeles is a group of cognitive-behavioral therapists specializing in the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. To find out more, contact us by phone at 310-205-0523 or by email at treatment@behavioralassociatesla.com.

You can also request an appointment with a Behavioral Associates LA psychologist by submitting a brief patient assessment form on our Website. Our clinical staff will follow up with you within 24 hours of submission.