Modern life can be a challenge.
Familial, societal, and economic pressures are constantly pushing us, and it can be overwhelming.
That’s where emotional health comes in — the ability to deal with those pressures in a healthy way. Maintaining it keeps us healthier and happier.
Taking care of your emotional health is as important as taking care of your physical body. If your emotional health is out of balance, you may experience high blood pressure, ulcers, chest pain, or a host of other physical symptoms.
When you feel good about yourself, it’s much easier to cope with life’s little ups and downs as well as bigger events, such as divorce or a death, says Jeff Gardere, PhD, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in New York City.
What is emotional health?
Emotional health refers to how a person is able to manage their thoughts, feelings, and emotions through the ups and downs of life.
Someone with good emotional health and emotional wellness is aware of their emotions and has strategies to deal with both everyday situations and traumatic experiences (such as losing a loved one, losing a job, or divorce).
Why is emotional health important?
Emotionally healthy people are typically in control of their thoughts, feelings, and actions and can cope with life’s challenges and bounce back from life’s setbacks. Being emotionally healthy doesn’t mean that we’re never sad or angry or frustrated.
Having good emotional health is a key part of fostering resiliency, self-awareness, and an overall sense of well-being. Our emotional health also plays a role in how well we interact with others, including how we take in and respond to feedback and criticism, how we give guidance, and how we observe and interpret what others around us are doing and why.
Having the skills to maintain good emotional health is key if we want to succeed and thrive in our professional and personal lives.
For example, as we’ve all seen over the past twelve months, the world of work is less predictable than ever before, and it’s never been more important to be able to regulate our emotions and be in control of how we respond to challenging situations.
We’re also bound to face challenges in our personal lives, so our ability to have skills in place to manage both our positive and negative emotions is key.
What’s the difference between mental health and emotional health?
1. Mental health is broader than emotional health
The scope of mental health is far wider than that of emotional health.
According to the CDC, mental health encompasses our “emotional, psychological, and social well-being.”
Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. The WHO (World Health Organization) defines good mental health “as a state of being where every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life and can work productively.” Mental health, like physical health, is closely connected with how productively and easily we engage with our world over time without causing ourselves distress.
From this definition, we can see that emotional health is one big contributor to overall mental health.
2. Processing information vs expressing emotion
Emotional health and emotional well-being are about how well we manage our emotions and the impact our emotions have on us and the people around us. As noted above, mental health is concerned also with our engagement with others as well as how well our minds process and understand information.
For example, if someone loses their job, they may feel angry, betrayed, or afraid. Someone with poor emotional health might give in to their emotions and react in a negative way. This could include lashing out at their boss or loved ones or becoming despondent and withdrawn. This kind of behavior creates a negative spiral that can lead to further difficult situations and painful emotions.
Someone with good emotional health might experience all of the same feelings as above. However, they can recognize and acknowledge these feelings while keeping them in perspective to not get out of control and make the situation worse.
Neither of these examples has to do with the person’s understanding and processing of the facts and timeline: you are being let go, you have 2 weeks. In both of these examples, the individual has understood and processed the information but had two very different emotional reactions.
On the other hand, someone’s mental health, regardless of their emotional reaction, might cause them to internalize or interpret the facts of losing their job differently. For example, someone with poor mental health might believe, “Of course I got fired. I screw everything up. I am a failure.” Or, they might hide the fact of their job loss from their friends and family if they aren’t confident in their social well-being. Someone with good mental health, after the initial sting, might say, “I lost my job because the business was not doing well. It’s a tough economy. I might have to look longer for something new.”
3. Emotional health doesn’t equal mental health
One distinction between emotional and mental health is that someone can be in a good place with their emotional health but still struggle with their mental health or experience mental health problems.
For example, if someone lacks the energy to go to work, they may still be able to use emotional health strategies to get through the day. Their lack of energy may be pointing to a deeper mental health issue that requires further attention.
Signs that are you are struggling with emotional health
Stress is a normal part of life, and — unfortunately — there’s no making it go away. However, there’s no denying that the better we feel, the better we tend to handle our stress. If you’re experiencing any of the following, it may be a sign that you’re struggling with emotional problems:
- You feel drained all the time or have energy than usual
- You’re either sleeping too much or too little
- Your performance at work is beginning to suffer
- Taking care of your hygiene and personal health feels like too much
- You find that you’re eating too much or too little
- You’re often anxious or irritated with loved ones
- You have physical symptoms of stress, like high blood pressure or heart palpitations
- Your confidence or self-esteem is affected
- You get the Sunday scaries more and more frequently
Ways you can practice better stress management and boost your self-esteemThese strategies will help you stay resilient through everyday stresses and when larger personal issues arise.
Develop a Passion by Investing Time in a New HobbyEveryone should have at least one hobby, Gardere says, whether it’s taking care of plants, collecting antiques, or listening to music. You should do something that brings you some real joy — a passion that’s all yours and that no one can take from you. Having a hobby and taking pride in it is a great way to boost self-esteem.
Have Sex to Build Confidence and Self-WorthIntimacy within a committed relationship has all sorts of emotional benefits — it can help make you feel good about yourself and boost self-esteem. “Figure out a schedule that works for you and your trusted partner — that could be once a week or three times a week or twice a month,” Gardere says.
Get Moving to Improve Mood and Lessen AnxietyAny form of exercise that you enjoy will do. “Regular exercise works as a good partner for people who are on medication,” Gardere says. Exercise also works well for people who have mild or moderate depression and don’t need to be on medication. Think of it as a great tool for stress management.
Learn More to Lessen the Fear of the Unknown“Knowledge is power,” Gardere says. If you have a problem, learn whatever you can about the issue or the health condition you’re facing. The more you know, the less you will fear what might happen, Gardere says.
Grow Your Circle of Friends to Expand Your Support System“It’s very important that you have a support group of friends and family,” Dr. Gardere says. “You need people whom you can talk to about your problems — people who will listen to you when you need to get things off your chest — so that you know you’re not alone in whatever it is.”
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Eat and Drink Healthfully and in ModerationAlcohol can be a good stress reducer, but you must indulge in extreme moderation, Gardere says. The same advice applies to indulging in food. You can eat what you want and enjoy it as long as you eat smaller portions and get regular exercise, he says. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for your physical and your emotional health.
Meditate or Practice Yoga to Relieve Stress
These types of activities are effective for stress management. Meditation is a focused form of guided thought. Yoga and tai chi, while movement-oriented, are also proven stress busters.
Other stress-reducing techniques include deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. If you’re unsure of how to get started, take a class and learn how to practice on your own for 30 minutes, three times a week.
Manage Your Time by Setting Weekly GoalsIf you make a schedule and set goals for yourself for the week, “you’ll be more on top of your days, and when you’re more on top of your days, you’re more on top of your life,” Gardere says. As you cross off the tasks on your to-do list, you will feel a sense of accomplishment which will help reduce stress, he adds.
Get Enough Sleep to Maintain Energy and Increase Productivity“People who get a good night’s sleep wake up with more energy and tend to be more productive,” Gardere says. If you are overly tired, every task and responsibility can seem exaggerated, and even small problems will feel like big ones.
Learn to Say No and Refrain From Overextending Yourself
If you try to do more than you can handle, you will only end up frustrated and stressed out. If someone asks you to do something you absolutely can’t do, say no. At the very least, ask for help. And if you can’t do it, explain why kindly but firmly.
Nurturing your mind is as important as nurturing your body, and it will make you better able to handle whatever life throws at you. However, if your emotional problems are serious and you can’t seem to shake them yourself, or if you’re having issues with anxiety or depression, it’s very important that you see a mental health professional and get help, Gardere says.
It can be scary to open up about your mental and emotional health. However, the reality is that every single person deals with it. We all have good days and bad days, and we all benefits from making our mental fitness a priority. Just like physical health conditions, emotional health is an important part of our overall health. That means that when your health is in jeopardy, you should take action — the same as you would for a medical condition.
If you find your emotions are getting on top of you, try to ensure you’re taking care of your core needs by getting enough sleep, keeping a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Reach out to your friends, family, or others for social support. Practicing mindfulness and self-care will help you develop new skills and the ability to work through negative thought patterns.
If you need further help, never hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional who will be able to give you the right tools and strategies to improve your emotional health. Along with your social connections, a therapist or coach can be an invaluable part of your support network.
Managing our emotions is part of being human. Learning to manage your thoughts, feelings, and emotions in the face of stress is a skill that pays dividends — both in your relationships with other and your relationship with yourself.