The golden ticket to a happier, healthier life might be one’s emotional health—but it’s not as simple as that.
In fact, “good mental health is more than the absence of psychological distress or psychiatric disorder,” explains licensed clinical psychologist Jenessa Bieler, PsyD.
Emotional health, however, “focuses on being in tune with our emotions, vulnerability, and authenticity—not necessarily being happy all the time! It also involves having an openness to respond to emotions rather than being overwhelmed by them.”
What is Emotional Health?
Being emotionally healthy doesn’t mean you’re happy all the time. It means you’re aware of your emotions. Emotionally healthy people still feel stress, anger, and sadness. You can deal with them, whether they’re positive or negative.
They take steps to improve their lives when they need to (get help when needed). They know how to make themselves feel better when things go wrong. They have good relationships with other people and treat them well—even if they don’t always get along ideally. They manage their feelings so that they don’t control them or cause problems in their lives or relationships.
Here are some signs of Emotional Health:
- Setting a good example for your children and others
- Asserting yourself when necessary instead of getting walked all over
- Taking care of yourself and making healthy choices (eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep)
- Communicating what you think and how you feel in a clear and respectful way
- Knowing when to seek help because you’re feeling overwhelmed or struggling with something
- Emotional health is an essential part of overall health. Emotionally healthy people are in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They’re able to cope with life’s challenges. They can keep problems in perspective and bounce back from setbacks. They feel good about themselves and have good relationships.
People who lack Emotional Health may:
- Be depressed or anxious
- Struggle to keep healthy relationships with other people and find themselves in abusive relationships that they don’t know how to get out of
- Rely on drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, etc. as a way to escape emotions instead of dealing with them in a healthy way (Healthy coping mechanisms can include exercising, talking about your feelings, reading, taking time for yourself, listening to music)
- Feel like there’s no reason to go on living because everything seems overwhelming and hopeless
Here are some steps for building good emotional health:
- Listening to your body and feeling what needs to be felt is crucial.
- Acknowledge the power of our thoughts and how they create our emotions. Once you start recognizing that your thoughts are not facts, it can be easier to let go of negative ones.
- Feel your feelings without judging them as good or bad. If you find yourself making value judgments about negative emotion, ask yourself if there is a different way you could look at it—like perhaps putting an end date on the feeling or looking at it from someone else’s perspective.
- What are our biggest fears? Recognize what makes us feel most uncomfortable with ourselves, i.e., what are the things we say to ourselves? Most people have some identity that their family and/or culture have conditioned.
- Figure out what coping skills work best for you. Everyone has different tools to cope with life’s struggles—not everyone is good at talking through feelings or issues, so try to challenge yourself to figure out what works for you.
- Social connections are paramount for our mental health, particularly during times of stress or loss. It can help to develop a sense of community and connection with others by reaching out. This might be joining a group, participating in volunteer opportunities, etc.
- Identify your most significant source of pleasure and joy because that will become your motivation when things get tough. This could include meaningful relationships, hobbies—even simple pleasures like getting outside every day or cooking dinner together as a family. Learning how to feel thankful can also be a powerful tool for positive emotions.
- Lastly, anyone can develop good emotional health with practice. It does not happen overnight, but the benefits are enormous!
Additional tips for building good Emotional Health:
- Learn how to cope with uncomfortable emotions in healthy ways. For instance, if you’re feeling anxious at night, try writing down your thoughts before bed instead of having them bounce around in your head all night long.
- Reach out to loved ones when you need support—it doesn’t have to be formal or planned; sometimes, just making yourself available or accepting their offer to help is enough! Being vulnerable and open about our struggles is also an important part of developing intimacy.
- Pay attention to what you are saying to yourself—be mindful of the thoughts that are running through your head and whether they’re helpful or unhelpful.
- Thoughts do not define who we are as people, so let them go! Remind yourself every day that “a negative thought is just a thought.” It can take some practice, but it gets easier over time. Remember: thoughts are just one small part of our big picture. If you find yourself getting stuck on negative thoughts for more than 20 minutes, seek out the support of someone else—perhaps even write down your feelings in a journal or speak with a counselor if you find discussing these things very challenging.
- Sometimes, each day for yourself is to do whatever makes you happy or brings you joy.
Remember that self-compassion is also an essential part of emotional health! It’s hard to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes when we don’t love ourselves enough.