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David Burns’ “Daily Mood Log”
Step 2:  Your Emotional Reaction


     The Daily Mood Log has five steps:

On this page, we’ll focus on identifying and rating your emotional reaction to the event.


          We suggest you begin this step of the Log by spending a few minutes with your favorite breathing, relaxation, or imagery exercise(s) – without thinking about the event or focusing on your reaction.                

Observing Your Emotional Reaction Mindfully

          Now comes the tricky part. You’re going to bring to mind the event, notice your reaction to it, and do your best to maintain the same calm, quiet, relaxed state you were feeling while you were doing the breathing or relaxation exercises.  Be very gentle with yourself about this – it's very challenging. 

          If you find that you aren’t able to look at the event without becoming upset and reliving your intense reaction to it, its very important that you stop for a moment . . . breathe, relax, and then try again, or come back to it some other time. 

          Please don’t judge yourself if you find this difficult.  It is difficult, especially at first.

          If you try to continue without getting calm, you'll just get caught up in the whirlwind of your emotional and instinctive brains.  And that would only strengthen the neural pathways associated with the negative reaction.  This makes it more likely you’ll continue to react that way in the future.   

          Once you get at least a taste of the calm at your core, you can return to describing the reaction. 

Helpful Reminders

        It may help to remind yourself that it’s not the event that is causing your reaction. It’s some judgment, belief, or attitude you have toward the event. 

       It can be very liberating to stop blaming other people or outer circumstances for your discomfort - and to recognize that the power to change how you feel is within you.  But beware of turning around and starting to blame yourself!  That would just give you another distressing event you’d need to do a Daily Mood Log for.

Naming the Reaction

                 dejected                            alarmed                                     worried                             despairing

          Now it’s time to actually get down to writing in your Log.  

          From the list of “emotion” words below, choose the word or words that most fit your emotional reaction to the event.  (Two or three words is usually sufficient for capturing the emotion.)

          Then rate the intensity of each emotion on a scale of 1 (completely neutral) to 100 (extremely intense). 

          David Burns provides his patients with a list of “emotion” words.  This is a somewhat longer one, but feel free to come up with your own list as well.

  • Sad, blue, depressed, down, unhappy, gloomy, miserable, despondent, grieving, alienated, dejected, homesick, disappointed, hurt, tormented
  • Anxious, worried, uneasy, panicky, nervous, frightened, afraid, scared, terrified, alarmed, shocked, horrified, hysterical, shy, insecure
  • Guilty, remorseful, bad, ashamed, regretful
  • Inferior, worthless, inadequate, defective, incompetent
  • Lonely, unloved, unwanted, rejected, alone, abandoned
  • Embarrassed, foolish, humiliated, self-conscious, mortified
  • Hopeless, discouraged, pessimistic, despairing, helpless, powerless
  • Frustrated, stuck, thwarted, defeated
  • Angry, mad, resentful, annoyed, irritated, upset, furious, livid, enraged, outraged, cross, irate, displeasure, jealous, envious, aggravated, agitated, grouchy, grumpy, exasperated, bitter, scornful, spiteful, vengeful, contemptuous, disgusted
  • Bored, dull, blasé, disinterested, turned off, jaded, weary, apathetic, disheartened, worn-out, drained, beat

          When you’ve done that, you’re ready to go on to automatic thoughts.

The more practice you have with being neutral toward the event, the more quickly you’ll be able to release negative emotions when they come up.  And the less you’ll need to use the Daily Mood Log.  Meanwhile, the DML is an excellent tool for helping to cultivate a neutral stance.

The Power of Words

To give you a sense of the power of words, after reading that long, rather dismal list of emotions, notice if you feel any different after reading this list:

  • Loving, kind, empathy, forgiving, trusting, respect, sympathy, affectionate, admiring, caring, appreciation, adoration, compassion
  • Inspired, awe, wonder, interested, fascinated, enthralled, energized, exuberant, invigorated, passionate, spirited, zealous
  • Happy, joyful, enthusiastic, grateful, ecstatic, euphoric, cheerful, rejoicing, amused
  • Peaceful, serene, tranquil, content, accepting, humble, satisfied, calm, at ease, balanced
  • Inner Strength: Courageous, confidant, capable, daring, decisive, invincible, resolute, secure, tenacious

Some people question whether one should distinguish between positive and negative emotions.  They’re concerned that doing so tends to suggest that some emotions are good and some are bad, and that we shouldn’t judge our emotions as bad.

We're using the words positive and negative here not as judgments, but to distinguish between those emotions that help to connect you to your core, and those that tend to block your experience of the core.