Manage Emotional Experiences

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) utilizes mindfulness skills that are proven to help you regulate, manage, and overcome overwhelming feelings, emotions, and thoughts that lead to anxiety, anger outbursts, and depression.

Mindfulness Skills to the Rescue

The skills ‘Oberve’ and ‘Describe’ are core mindfulness skills from DBT therapy that when practiced, help you increase your tolerance and resiliency to distressing emotions. In order to describe your internal experiences, you must have some capacity to observe, by witnessing without acting, your feelings, thoughts, urges, impulses, and emotions.

With this evidence-based therapeutic approach, which incorporates mindfulness, emotion regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, self-acceptance, and distress tolerance skills, you learn to stay more present rather than avoid, escape, repress, or heighten distressing feelings and emotions. And the research shows that these avoidance strategies actually increase our anxiety, anger, and depressive symptoms.

As Carl Jung said, “What we resist, persists”. So, the vantage point is to do what works by gently turning towards what is happening at the moment; towards the distress with mindfulness, self-compassion, and curiosity. Seems too difficult, not with DBT Skills. Everyone can, with practice and commitment, learn these are doable and accessible skills. That is the beauty of it, even the most cynical clients when they are willing to come and try, make big changes in their lives.

Ready to join one of our DBT Skills Groups, or prefer to do DBT individually with a licensed and trained therapist.

For example, we can practice this by using the DBT skills ‘Observe’ and ‘Describe’, as well as a plethora of other skills that encompass a very comprehensive therapeutic approach that can transform our lives; leaving depression and anxiety symptoms in the past.

“There’s never a good time for Mindfulness, and there’s never a bad time. Mindfulness is one of those things you simply do, because if you practice being aware – completely open to the universe, just exactly as it is – you will transform your life in time.”

― Marsha M. Linehan

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Taking it a step further, you have the comprehensive emotional regulation skill, DBT calls ‘Describe Emotional Experiences’, with worksheets and strategies to go deeper. Use this skill to gain insight and deal better with difficult emotions, such as anger, shame, despair, and hopelessness.

As we observe and name our inner emotional experiences, we increase our capacity to effectively regulate and process experiences, even past traumatic experiences successfully.

Practicing these mindfulness and other DBT skills, over time, can turn emotional dysregulation, trauma, and overwhelming feelings that can lead to anxiety disorders and depression, into deep insight, healing, and effective problem-solving. DBT skills practice has been proven to rewire the brain to better regulate, and greatly enhance our emotional intelligence, executive functioning, and concentration skills. Also, check out our article on goal setting to improve your life.

Observe internal experiences, which encompass thoughts, nervous system changes in your muscles, heart rate, blood vessels, and temperature as well as body sensations and feelings that illicit urges to run, hide, escape, fight, or freeze.

Tell us more about what unwanted behaviors you engage in? Dealing with anger outbursts, anxiety, or depression?

Now, let’s look at how to Describe Emotional Experiences

Step 1: Name Pre-existing Vulnerabilities

Name (Describe), and you can also write down, what pre-existing vulnerabilities may be precursors to the overwhelm and distress you are experiencing, or if reflecting, did experience. Some examples may include:


Work/School Stressors

Family/Home Stressors

Hormonal Changes

Current Transitions



Trauma Anniversary/Trauma Trigger


Step 2: Name Core Emotions

If you feel, or felt, more than one emotion, try to identify the deepest/hardest emotion. Just match as closely as you can and feel free to Name (Describe) and write down all that apply. Focus on what emotions may be primary and what emotions may be secondary. For example, when I feel shame or fear, I may also get frustrated or angry. The shame or the fear is likely to be primary, and the anger comes up as a secondary emotion (a defense) to protect me and take me out of the difficult and vulnerable emotion of shame or fear. Here is a list of core emotions, of course, there are varying degrees and other descriptive words that may match better for each of these core emotions – use what is most relevant to your experience.











Step 3: Name Promoting Event

1. Describe, and then write about the event/situation that triggered the core emotion(s)? (Do the best you can)

2. Describe your interpretation of the event including what thoughts and beliefs came up for you. How did these thoughts and beliefs contribute to the emotional experience? If you check the facts around the thoughts and beliefs you have, or had, do they truly match the situation; are they accurate, valid, and true for you? Reflect, consider, and write as much as you can in a descriptive way about the event.

Step 4: Name Feelings & Expressions

Name (Describe) and write down what you notice, or noticed, that occurred during the emotional experience to you biologically (physiologically), in the body physically, cognitively, and behaviorally. How did you react, or not react?

1. Biological changes: Nervous System. Blood. Heart. Muscles. Temperature

2. Experiences: Body Sensations. Action Urges

3. Expressions: Facial & Body Language

4. Thoughts, Urges & Behaviors

Step 5: Consequences & Aftereffects

1. Name (Describe) what consequences or after-effects you experience due to your behaviors and actions, or lack of actions.

Be open, honest, and vulnerable while describing and writing about how it truly impacts you. Viola, great job!!!!

Do this as many times as you can, during vulnerable distressing experiences, and over time Observe the changes it makes in your life, taking you out of autopilot and providing you with the opportunity to have more self-mastery over emotional experiences.

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