As humans, we all experience a wide range of emotions. From uplifting emotions like joy and contentment to more challenging emotions like anger and sadness, the human emotional experience comes in many shades. Mindfulness of emotions is the practice of bearing witness to whatever emotion we are experiencing – with curiosity, care, and non-judgment. It is not always an easy practice, but it is one that can be strengthened.
In this guide on how to be mindful of your emotions, we will explore:
What Mindfulness of Emotions Is and Is Not
As noted, mindfulness of emotions is simply the practice of paying attention to our emotional experience with care and curiosity and without judgment. Most of us know that this can be difficult, especially in the face of strong emotions like anger, jealousy, or grief. However, it is a skill that can be developed overtime and with practice.
When we pay mindful attention to our emotions, we are doing so without making our emotions good or bad, right or wrong. For instance, if anger is present, we pay attention without trying to assess the validity of the emotion. Rather, we notice the simple fact of what is present along with any direct sensations we are experiencing (i.e. tightness in the shoulders or warmth in the face). If we notice a voice that says, “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” or “I’m right to feel this way,” these too can be held in the light of awareness. We do not need to judge our judgments.
Furthermore, mindfulness of emotions is not a practice used to ‘get rid’ of our emotions or to bypass them. Our emotions might shift or transmute as a result of practice, but the intention is not to change through force or will. Equally, it is not about holding onto our emotions. This practice is simply one of gentle observation that allows our present moment experience to be what it is.
How to Practice Mindfulness of Emotions
Practicing mindfulness of our emotions is simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Awareness is straightforward, and yet we can struggle to quiet the mind and to simply tune in with curiosity and compassion. If you are curious about how to be mindful of your emotions, consider the following steps to practice. This practice is helpful for any difficult emotion you might be experiencing.
Please note that mindfulness of emotions is not a substitute for therapy and that it can sometimes cause an intensification of emotions. If there is considerable trauma in your past, any underlying mental health conditions, or any indication that this practice may be very challenging for you, please consult with a healthcare professional before practicing.
Find a safe space to practice.
First and foremost, mindfulness of emotions is best practiced when we feel we are in a safe and supportive environment. Find a safe and grounding place to sit, settle into a position of comfort, and take a few clearing breaths. You can also choose to practice with a trained professional.
Recognize what is present.
Begin by noticing what is here. What emotion can you identify? As you identify the emotion, see if you can note simply that it is here rather than attaching your ‘I’ identity to it. In other words, you might mentally note ‘anger’ rather than saying ‘I am angry’. This helps to create a bit of distance between you the observer and the emotion being observed. Additionally, welcome the energy of curiosity to enter into this practice.
Notice what the mind is saying.
As you recognize what is here, you might become aware of thoughts or stories that the thinking mind is telling you. For example, is your mind replaying the situation that led to this emotion? Are you trying to strategize how you will ‘get over’ this? Notice any thoughts that are present and then come back to your direct experience of this moment. If this becomes overwhelming at any time, focus on your breath or any other grounding anchor. And remember – you are in control of your meditation.
Notice what is present in the body.
Furthermore, we can practice mindfulness of emotions by noticing how the emotion appears in our physical body. Scan your body gently and with love from the crown of your head to your toes. Are there any sensations associated with this emotion? You might notice tingling, coolness, warmth, tightness, or something else. Bring care, patience, and curiosity to whatever you notice.
It is also imperative to weave self-compassion into your mindfulness practice. In the face of certain emotions, you might find that you are hard on yourself. Open your heart to self-love, care, and support from within. If self-compassion feels difficult to cultivate, consider what you would say or how you would treat a loved one who was experiencing this same emotion. Offer yourself the same care you would offer to them.
Allow the moment to shift.
Lastly, open your heart to the knowledge that all things change. You do not have to force change; it will naturally come on its own. If you find that you are holding onto an emotion, take a breath and see if you can soften that holding with your next exhalation. Cultivate patience and, as always, lots of care.
Whenever I notice something about myself I don’t like, or whenever something goes wrong in my life, I silently repeat the following phrases: This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.
- Kristin Neff -
Frequently Asked Questions
Does mindfulness help control emotions?
To control is to have authority over something or to direct something. Mindfulness of emotions is not about control, but it has been found to improve emotion regulation. More specifically, one study noted that it may help to reduce the intensity of distress, enhance recovery from our emotions, and enhance our ability to engage in goal-directed behaviors.
How does mindfulness affect mood?
Mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect on mood. In fact, one study found it was more effective than distraction in lessening dysphoric mood. In addition to reducing dysphoric moods, one study found that open monitoring and acceptance (a key principle of mindfulness) can increase happiness, calmness, and vigor.
Can mindfulness trigger trauma?
Again, it is important to note that yes – mindfulness can cause symptoms of trauma to surface. This is why it is often recommended that new meditators explore these practices with a teacher. It can also be helpful to familiarize yourself with trauma-sensitive mindfulness and to seek out practices that hold trauma in mind.
The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.
- Carl Rogers -
6 Mindfulness Exercises for Emotions
If you are ready to explore mindfulness of emotions and would like some guidance, consider the following practices. Some of these exercises, such as the mindfulness of emotions scripts, can be helpful tools for mindfulness teachers. Learn more about how to teach mindfulness to increase comfort and credibility in teaching such a powerful practice to others.
This worksheet includes prompts to enhance awareness of the moods we experience. It calls us to notice our moods over the course of one week and at the end, noting patterns and triggers. It is a helpful exercise to increase self-awareness.
For mindfulness teachers, this mindfulness of emotions script can enhance your ability to support others in detaching from the stories of their emotions. Use this exercise in safe and appropriate ways to support your students in becoming more mindfully aware of their emotional experience.
In this video, Eckhart Tolle explores the importance of expressing our emotions. He notes the importance of watching our emotions as an energy field rather than personalizing the emotion – and, he shares that by simply bringing presence to our emotions, our emotions might transmute.
Another practice for enhancing emotional awareness is written out in this mindfulness worksheet. This is another helpful resource for mindfulness teachers or for anyone wishing to get curious about how emotions present in the physical body.
Another mindfulness of emotions script, this is a written exercise to help us become more aware of where our emotions live within the body. Often, we associate emotions more with stories or thought patterns; however, we can enhance emotional awareness by looking inwards towards our physical experience.
Last but certainly not least, the RAIN of Compassion practice by Tara Brach is a beautiful guided exercise for when we experience difficult emotions. This is a heart-centered practice that guides us to recognize, allow, investigate, and nurture whatever our experience may be.