Finding ourselves in a completely different situation to normal, with much uncertainty and stress, can have a real impact on our emotional health and our ability to feel holistic wellbeing. Improving emotional health will help you feel more resilient, able to face the uncertainties, to connect well with others and to feel well.
What is emotional health?
Emotional health is a component of mental health. Mental health also includes psychological health and wellbeing. It encompasses how we think and feel and act. Some aspects of mental health deals with how we think about things and process information and experiences. Emotional health is that component that is concerned with how we feel, how we process and express emotion.
People with optimal emotional health have high levels of self-acceptance. They routinely practice self-care, caring for their whole self. They have good emotional agility and are able to thrive through challenges using a variety of coping skills. High emotional health means people can be kind and act with integrity. They manage stress well, practicing calm and emotional regulation.
Why is emotional health important?
Emotional health is important for both our mental health and our physical health. Emotional health helps us to build and maintain resilience and helps us to be content. Good emotional health aids our interaction with others, especially in stressful times. Emotional distress is linked to a range of physical health such as cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system.
How can I improve and maintain emotional health?
Enjoy the little things
A key component of emotional health is enjoying the little things. Taking time out to appreciate the things that make you smile, sigh with contentment or just allow your shoulders to socially distance from your ears helps us spot more uplifting moments. Improving our gratitude and our ability to spot the positive, contributes to self-care, our coping skills and our ability to manage stress.
Connect socially – but in a healthy way
Social connection matters. Being socially connected is a massive predictor for resilience and is also a way to improve our emotional health. However in these days of physical distancing, our social connectedness can become tied up with social media. Social media can be harmful to our emotional health, especially when we start comparing our insides with the outside snippets people share.
We tend to use social media because it is an EASY way to connect and can make us feel part of a group. If social media is getting you down, here are a few tips to help you maintain connectedness without the harmful side effects.
✂️ Sanitise your feeds. Snooze, unfollow or unfriend people whose posts incite negative feelings. Leave groups that leave you feeling anxious, angry or upset. Remember you can't control what they post, but you can control if you see it and how you react to it.
✋ Stop reading things that annoy, upset or anger you. I love having comments on newspaper articles, but sometimes I have to choose not to read them as I know there will be comments I don't want to handle.
📞 Set up connections that you can access away from social media. Group chats (carefully selected), emails, phone calls, texts, letters, postcards. There are many options that don't have to go through social media.
💭 Know your limits. Take note of what tips social media from helpful to unhelpful and build your limits around this.
😔 Assess your mood regularly. Some days you will feel emotionally healthy and resilient, some days you will feel easily irritated or upset. Adjust your social media accordingly.
🤗 Know who to lean on. Know which friends and family you can easily rely on. Know who you can ask for support from. Understand who you can support and how.
Know your emotions
In order to be fully aware and able to express our emotions, we need to know them. Too many people were raised with the idea that being 'emotional' is negative, disregarding the fact that a) there are many positive emotions and b) everybody has emotions! Have a look at all of these different emotions. Find 5 you may have experienced lately, even if you weren't aware of it being that emotion at the time. Get into the habit of naming your emotions as precisely as possible. This will really help you to be more emotionally aware and expressive.
Be more present
Re-playing the past and worrying about the future are both very common. But being more present and fully engaged in the moment enhances both our gratitude and our ability to see the positives. Easy ways to become more mindful include meditation (here’s a deep breath meditation you can do) or just setting aside 5 minutes a day to be present. Create a habit tracker and reflect on how you feel after 5 days.
Journal for greater awareness
Building your self-awareness helps you figure out why you are feeling your emotions. Being more aware can lead to greater emotional regulation.
Try keeping an emotion journal for 3 days. Write down your emotion and what has led you to feel that. Was it an action, an observation, a thought, a physical sensation? What do you notice about your observations? What patterns are there? How can you use this information in future?
Worry decision tree
If you tend to hide your head in the sand or avoid stress, challenge yourself to create a worry decision tree. Write down what is stressing you and whether you can do anything about it. If no, actively tell yourself that you can do nothing and shift your focus of attention to something proactive you can do instead. If you can do something, either do it right away or schedule it. When you get to the point where you cannot do anything else, reassure yourself you have done all you can and switch your attention. Over time, it will become easier to believe in your ability to do this.
If it feels like your emotional health is low right now, please know you are not alone. Almost everyone is going through ups and downs. We’re living in very uncertain times and it’s not unusual for this to raise some intense emotions. That’s ok. Take this as an opportunity to improve your emotional health now, to become even more resilient for the future. If you feel like your emotional health is significantly impacting on your mental health, please do look here for an array of resources to support you.