Improving Emotional Health
To be emotionally healthy is to be in control of one’s emotions and behaviour. This helps to handle the challenges in life and to build strong relationships. Maintaining your emotional health requires the same, if not more, effort to maintain your physical health.
Being emotionally healthy doesn’t mean never experiencing bad times or going through emotional problems. Disappointment, loss, and change are all normal aspects of life, and they cause sadness, anxiety, and stress. The difference is that people with good emotional health have an ability called resilience. This involves having the ‘tools’ for coping with life’s setbacks. They remain focused, flexible, and creative in trying times.
People who are mentally and emotionally healthy have positive characteristics that allow them to participate in life through productive and meaningful activities. Some of these characteristics are:
- A sense of contentment.
- A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
- The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
- A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
- The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change.
- A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
- The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
6 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Health
- Do things that positively impact others. Being useful to others and being valued for what you do can help build self-esteem.
- Practice self-discipline. Self-control naturally leads to a sense of hopefulness and can help you overcome despair, helplessness, and other negative thoughts.
- Learn or discover new things. Think of it as “intellectual candy.” Try taking an adult education class, join a book club, visit a museum, learn a new language, or simply travel somewhere new.
- Enjoy the beauty of nature or art. Studies show that simply walking through a garden can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. The same goes for strolling through a park or an art gallery, hiking, admiring architecture, or sitting on a beach.
- Manage your stress levels. Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies can help you bring things back into balance.
- Limit unhealthy mental habits like worrying. Try to avoid becoming absorbed by repetitive mental habits—negative thoughts about yourself and the world that suck up time, drain your energy, and trigger feelings of anxiety, fear, and depression.
Other things you may consider:
- Appeal to your senses. Stay calm and energized by appealing to the five senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Listen to music that lifts your mood, place flowers where you will see and smell them, massage your hands and feet, or sip a warm drink.
- Engage in meaningful, creative work. Do things that challenge your creativity and make you feel productive, whether or not you get paid for it—things like gardening, drawing, writing, playing an instrument, or building something in your workshop.
- Get a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for one makes you feel needed and loved. There is no love quite as unconditional as the love a pet can give. Animals can also get you out of the house for exercise and expose you to new people and places.
- Make leisure time a priority. Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.
- Make time for contemplation and appreciation. Think about the things you’re grateful for. Mediate, pray, enjoy the sunset, or simply take a moment to pay attention to what is good, positive, and beautiful as you go about your day.
When to seek professional help:
The following are some ‘red flags’ that may require immediate attention. If you or someone close to you is experiencing any of these, consider making an appointment with your GP or mental health professional.
- Inability to sleep
- Feeling down, hopeless, or helpless most of the time
- Concentration problems that are interfering with your work or home life
- Using nicotine, food, drugs, or alcohol to cope with difficult emotions
- Negative or self-destructive thoughts or fears that you can’t control
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: November 2014.