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Medically Reviewed by
Cimone Safilian-Hanif, PhD in International Psychology, on January 31, 2024

Introduction

Imagine you are meeting up with your friends after a hard day at work or school. Although you've been looking forward to having a relaxed and fun time with them, you slowly start feeling uneasy hours before you meet up with them. The uneasy feeling continues to grow, but you can't quite put your finger on what exactly the feeling is or why you are experiencing it. You try to ignore or suppress the emotion and focus on having a good time, but keeping it in only seems to makes it worse - you start experiencing tension in your shoulders or jaw, and you feel stressed. You begin remembering that this happens often, in different situations. Not being able to find a cause or a solution, you begin to worry and start being harsh on yourself.

This exercise is a great tool you can use to clarify what exactly you are feeling. By practicing the exercise, you can become more skilled in identifying your emotions and their causes as they arise during the day. This leads to having more control over your negative feelings and behaviors, as you learn to identify what causes them, what to expect when they arise, and subsequently how to resolve them.

DBT Mindfulness: Describe Your Emotions
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Instructions and Procedure

This mindfulness exercise will help you take a closer look at the emotions you experience and how they may influence your mood and behaviors. Spend above 15 minutes on this exercise, repeat it daily for a week as practice, and utilize this exercise as needed thereafter.

Step One: Pick An Emotion

First, pick an emotion. It can be a positive or a negative one. You can choose an emotion that you are feeling right now, unless that emotion is too overwhelming in a negative way. If you can't identify what you are feeling at the moment, you can pick an emotion that you have felt recently.

For example, maybe you had a bad day at school or work. This situation might have made you feel sad, angry, or hurt. Try to be specific about how you feel/felt. Below is a list of positive and negative emotions that may help you.

Positive Emotions

  • Energetic
  • Hopeful
  • Lively
  • Blissful
  • Joyful
  • Curious
  • Bubbly
  • Loved
  • Loving
  • Excited
  • Respected
  • Strong
  • Relieved
  • Delighted
  • Secure
  • Pleased
  • Happy
  • Interested
  • Satisfied
  • Determined
  • Smart
  • Proud
  • Secure
  • Content
Negative Emotions

  • Hurt
  • Nervous
  • Upset
  • Frustrated
  • Lonely
  • Restless
  • Depressed
  • Hopeless
  • Envious
  • Bored
  • Scared
  • Angry
  • Regretful
  • Shy
  • Empty
  • Sad
  • Indifferent
  • Irritated
  • Embarrassed
  • Enraged
  • Exhausted
  • Guilty
  • Insecure
  • Jealous

After you chose the emotion that you would further like to explore, write it down on a piece of paper.

Step 2: Draw a Picture of Your Emotion

Next, draw a picture of what you imagine your emotion looks like. Although this may seem abstract or silly, it may help you better identify or assign meaning to the emotion. Don't worry about how the picture looks, the important thing is that it makes sense to you. Do the best you can. For example, if somebody is feeling angry, he or she may draw a thunderbolt to represent the emotion.

Step 3: Write an Action Suitable For Your Emotion

Think of an action(s) that is suitable for your emotion. Describe it well. For example, if you feel depressed, maybe the action would be to be alone. If you are feeling curious, the described action might be to go and explore a certain interest or hobby.

Step 4: Describe the Intensity of the Emotion

Describe the intensity of the emotion. Use a scale from 0 to 10, with ten being the most intense. You can also use a creative description to convey the nature of your emotion (e.g. as hot as boiling water, or as cold as ice).

Step 5: Write Your Thoughts Arising From the Emotion

Write down any thoughts that arise as a result of your chosen emotion. Be careful not to confuse the thought with another emotion – so try not to use any words from the lists above. For example, if you felt proud, the related thought might be that you would want to share some achievement of yours with your friends. Or, if you feel exhausted, perhaps the related thought would be that you would like to lay in bed.

Example

1. Pick an emotion Irritated
2. Draw a picture of your emotion
3. Write an action suitable for your emotion Complaining about everyday chores
4. Describe the intensity of the emotion 5 out of 10
5. Write your thoughts arising from the emotion On top of my work responsibilities, I have the same household chores every day! Over and over again."
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FAQs

Is this exercise really going to help me feel better and is it going to make me more effective?

Once you are able to identify your emotions and how you experience them, you will be able to be more in control of how you choose to react to these emotions. Further, as you are able to identify what causes certain emotions, you will have the opportunity to eliminate or reduce situations or interactions that cause you to feel negative emotions. This will help you feel and be more in control of what's happening in your life.

The steps seem simple. Do they really work?

Although the instructions might seem simple, this exercise is an effective way to explore your emotions.

What if I can't do the exercise well?

Just follow the instructions and try your best. Everybody is going to do the exercise a little differently. The more creative parts of the instructions, such as the drawing, may make sense only to you and that is fine. Also, the more you practice the exercise, the deeper you may go in certain emotions, and the more confident you will become in completing it.

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Disclaimer

If you have any behavioral health questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare or mental healthcare provider. This article is supported by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from behavioral health societies and governmental agencies. However, it is not a substitute for professional behavioral health advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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Comments About Describe Your Emotions

  1. I found this exercise very confusing. I used the emotion of feeling empty and can’t see any solution to overcoming that emotion. Maybe I’m not understanding this very well..

  2. I don’t think this exercise is about overcoming an emotion. It’s just about becoming more aware of that emotion.

  3. This exercise is very helpful for me to recognize my trauma response to perceived threats and why I respond so drastically to specific relationship triggers.

  4. Sometimes dbt is hard to understand so I get where you are coming from maybe try to think of things that make you feel more full and go from there

  5. I found this beneficial as it is helping me be more mindful of what emotion I am feeling at any given time. I thought I had lots of negative emotions while attempting this procedure but when I focused on my top emotion it was “relieved”. Relieved to be accomplishing my homework!

  6. It was so hard for me to explain to my therapists my emotions the way her question was worded. This made it so much easier because I was able to pick the emotions and describe them rather than being asked a vague question like ” how are you feeling” or “how does that make you feel.”

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