Labels are tags that we attach to people, objects, emotions and mind states to describe what it is or how it makes us feel.

As human beings, our attention can get caught up in our thoughts, emotions and mind states. We think ‘I am tense’, or ‘I am worried’ and we are fused with these labels as reflecting us.

But, if we develop open attention, we can step back from these thoughts that arise within us, and we can simply observe them.

Research has shown that by labelling negative emotions, people can solve problems and recover control. (*1,2,3)

If we become aware that there is worry or that there is tension, let’s recognise that we are not the worry or the tension. It is simply a feeling arising in our mind, in the way that a breeze can blow, or rain can fall.  We can observe without it defining us.

Awareness increases our insight into our inner landscape and can help us stop projecting onto people, things or events, our negative perceptions.

By labelling thoughts and distractions, we can create an open relationship with our mind.


1) Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli. Matthew D. Lieberman, Naomi I. Eisenberger, Molly J. Crockett, Sabrina M. Tom, Jennifer H. Pfeifer, and Baldwin M. Way. Psychological Science 2007;18(5):421-428.

2) Subjective Responses to Emotional Stimuli During Labeling, Reappraisal, and Distraction. Matthew D. Lieberman, Tristen K. Inagaki, Golnaz Tabibnia, and Molly J. Crockett. Emotion 2011;11(3):468-480.

3) Neural Correlates of Dispositional Mindfulness During Affect Labeling. J. David Creswell, Baldwin M. Way, Naomi I. Eisenberger, and Matthew D. Lieberman. Psychosomatic Medicine 2007;69(6):560-565.

About the Author

Dr Ashleigh McLellanDr Ashleigh McLellan

Ashleigh is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist with 20 years’ experience in the NHS. She is trained in a broad range of psychological models and specialises in Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).