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 builds up, but you can't quite put your finger on what exactly that feeling is or why you are feeling that way. You try to ignore or suppress the emotion and focus on having a good time, but bottling it up only makes it worse - you start experiencing tension in your muscles, and you feel stressed. You begin remembering that this happens often, in different situations. Not being able to find a solution you silently start judging yourself.

This exercise provides a great tool that you can use to clarify what exactly you are feeling. By practicing the exercise you can become more skilled in recognizing your emotions (their nature and quality) as they arise during the day. This leads to more control over your behavior, as you learn to separate the doing from the feeling you can choose behaviors more thoughtfully and feel more free and effective.

DBT Mindfulness: Describe Your Emotions
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Instructions and Procedure

Dig deeper into emotions that you are currently experiencing and see how they affect you. (15 minutes) Repeat daily for a week.

Step One: Pick An Emotion

First, pick an emotion. It can be a positive or a negative one. It would be great if you choose to describe an emotion that you are feeling right now, unless that emotion is too overwhelming in a negative way. If you can't really identify what you are feeling at the moment, you can pick an emotion that you were feeling recently. For example, maybe you had a bad day at school, college or work. This situation might have made you feel sad, angry or hurt. Try to be specific about how you feel. Below is a list of positive and negative emotions that may help you choose one.

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

Then, draw a picture of what you imagine your emotion looks like. Although this may seem abstract or silly, it may help better identify 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 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. like boiling water, or cold as ice).

Step 5: Write Your Thoughts Arising From the Emotion

Write down any thoughts that arise as a result of your emotion. Be careful not to confuse the thought with another emotion. Try not to use any words from the lists. For example, if you felt proud, then the related thought with it might be that you would want to share some achievement of yours with your friends. Or, if you feel indifferent, perhaps the related thought would be that you can't make decisions fast and effectively.


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

This exercise can help you be more in control of how you choose to behave, in spite of feeling a certain way. This is helpful because if you feel some negative emotion, for e.g. if you are sad, indifferent or bored, this exercise can help you see that it is just an emotion that doesn't have to direct your actions. So, you can 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 give 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.

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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

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