Mindfulness Tools: Emotion Cards!

Saturday , 25, January 2014 3 Comments

As I try new (and old) tools for staying in touch with myself and my life, I hope to post about both what I try and how each goes.  Today’s is a time-proven method for me.

Caveat #1: You are NOT allowed to judge me for the content of this post, even if it makes me sound like I have the emotional intelligence of a toddler.  If you can’t agree to that, then stop reading right now.

Glad some of you are still with me.

I’ve always really struggled with putting honest, detailed names to what I’m feeling.  I’m a master avoider, and part of my lack of mindfulness is connected to that avoidance.  Best friend KT and I developed a new rule recently that, upon receiving a text from the other person asking how our day has been, we are NOT permitted to say, “good.”  We have to do better than that kind of BS, disconnected, unthinking/unfeeling answer.

I kind of cringe to admit how hard that is for me.  Often.  Frequently.

Thankfully, best friend KT provided me with a solution when I went to visit two summers ago–a handy dandy stack of emotion cards!  Ok.  Yes.  Generally she uses this tool with her clients, all of whom are children/teenagers and need extra help expressing themselves.  I joked about needing these once during a therapy session, and my (awesome) therapist offered to get me a stack (which I suspect she also keeps around for her child/teen clients).

Whatever.  I have no shame in admitting that I need these, particularly on days when something just feels wrong.  When I’m not sure what’s bothering me, and I’m not sure what to do about it, but I can just tell something is off.  I don’t think this makes me all that unique–and, if you can relate to those days, you know it can create a totally infuriating feeling of helplessness–after all, if I don’t know what’s wrong, how do I figure how what I need to change to feel better?

So.  Here’s the idea.  Each card has a different emotion on it, and they’re color-coded: gold are happy/good feelings, red are anger-related, blue are related to sadness, green are related to being scared, and purple are shame-related.  Here’s a sample:


There are about 15 in each pile with the exception of gold, which has closer to 30 (since it holds all of the “feel-goods”).  My instructions were, when feeling particularly disconnected from myself, to go through and choose at least one from each pile.  Or at least that’s what she does with her clients–she told me that I’m allowed to skip piles that don’t relate, but I always have to find at LEAST one gold card to include.

Sounds pretty simple, right?  No-brainer?  Actually, I’ve been amazed at how this simple activity helps bring me back to the here-and-now.  It forces me to really tune into my body, my thoughts, my emotions, and what’s going on around me.  When I’m feeling disconnected from myself and my life, that’s invaluable.  Usually, putting words to the amorphous emotions I’m feeling helps me to better understand what’s going on to make me feel off or wrong.  Whether I ultimately choose to act after that, it always helps me feel less helpless and lost.  Great example from this past summer:


That particular day, I knew I was feeling sad, but I couldn’t get beyond just the word sad despite a gnawing feeling that there was something more too it.  After pulling out these cards, I realized that I wasn’t really just sad.  I was feeling a deep need for nurturing.  Ah ha!  Seeking out nurturing from myself or those who love me is something I can do.  It didn’t completely fix the issue, but that insight helped me better understand what was really going on and in turn helped me ask for what I really needed.

I’ve also found it’s a great way to capture positive emotions, too!  After a particularly great night for work last spring, I didn’t want to forget or lose the great feeling I was having.  So I did this, and took a photo:


Another great way to remember a particularly meaningful success.

I’m sure you can buy cards like this somewhere, but I think the homemade-nature of these helps me connect on a deep level.  I know they were created from a place of care and nurturing by someone I love dearly.  Automatic great start when I’m trying to get in touch with myself!

Side note:  I always leave “brave” on the top of the pile so it’s the first one I see.  It take bravery to stand up for  myself, it takes bravery to admit when I’m wrong, it takes bravery to speak up when I need help, it takes bravery to know that I’m enough just as I am, etc.  “Brave” is the card I’d pick out of the whole deck if I had to pick one forever, so I leave it on top to remind me of that.

What do YOU do to stay connected to yourself on those off, wrong, strange days?

3 thoughts on “ : Mindfulness Tools: Emotion Cards!”
  • Katie Choate says:

    YAY! So glad you love them as much as I do! I use them with arguing couples and parents too, not just the young ones. And with myself. 🙂 Sometimes I use listening to or singing songs like emotion cards. John Denver for spiritual days, Dar Williams for sad days, Fruit or Alanis Morisette or one particular Billy Joel song for anger. Disney songs when I want to play and be childlike… It helps somehow.

  • Lori Tisher says:

    I love emotion cards! I usually use the large sheet with faces for each emotion, but I really like the different colored categories that you have!

    • Kelly Stephens says:

      Aw, I love that you use them too! The color-coding was all Katie’s thing. And, of course, having them in her handwriting means they’re something I’ll treasure forever!

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