Every October we observe Emotional Wellness Month, but this year it seems more important than ever to take time out to examine our emotions and the impact they are having on our life.
What is Emotional Wellness?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines emotional wellness as “the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.” Emotional wellness doesn’t mean a person is always happy. Instead, they have the ability to recognize negative emotions, accept them and cope in healthy ways; they don’t act impulsively in response to emotions.
Why is Emotional Wellness Important?
Emotional distress has a negative impact on physical health. When a person is under stress, the body produces the stress hormone, cortisol. Chronically high levels of cortisol lead to inflammation in the body. Stress also decreases the number of white blood cells in the body, which weakens the immune system and makes a person more susceptible to illness and infection. If a person is under high levels of stress for a prolonged period of time, they are at higher risk for physical illnesses such as heart disease, ulcers, diabetes and even cancer.
So, How Does a Person Achieve and Maintain Emotional Wellness?
There are many ways to improve emotional wellness. Here are six tips to get you started:
Become Aware of Your Emotions The first step towards emotional wellness is beginning to recognize your emotions and understand why you are experiencing them. One way to do this is to keep a journal or use a mood tracker. You will be able to identify patterns and begin to understand what triggers certain emotions. Once you become aware, you will be able to better regulate your emotions.
Manage Stress Levels Nobody can completely eliminate stress in life and during the current pandemic, everyone’s stress levels are higher than normal. Right now, life may seem pretty overwhelming and out of control, which is why it’s important to remind ourselves to focus on what is in our control. We don’t have the power to end the pandemic, but we can take steps, like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, to keep us safe. We can also control how we treat our body. Exercise and healthy food decrease stress levels even though Netflix and junk food may sound more appealing. Here’s a stress screening tool from Mental Health America to gauge how stressed you are. Here are some great stress management tips from The Mayo Clinic and Verywell Mind that can be helpful. Don’t forget to check out The Hub’s Wellness page for additional resources.
Get Enough Sleep If you’re sleep deprived, your physical and mental health are negatively impacted. You probably know that lack of sleep weakens your immune system, but did you know that it prevents your brain from properly processing thoughts and emotional information? The National Sleep Foundation states, “Sufficient sleep, especially REM sleep, facilitates the brain’s processing of emotional information. During sleep, the brain works to evaluate and remember thoughts and memories, and it appears that a lack of sleep is especially harmful to the consolidation of positive emotional content. This can influence mood and emotional reactivity and is tied to mental health disorders and their severity, including the risk of suicidal ideas or behaviors.” Learn more about sleep and mental health and get tips for improving your sleep.
Eat Healthy & Get Moving Diet and exercise are important for good physical health, but it keeps our brains healthy too! According to Mental Health America, “People who eat a diet high in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fish and unsaturated fats (like olive oil) are up to 35% less likely to develop depression than people who eat less of these foods.” Find out more about the impact of nutrition and exercise on mental health.
Practice Mindfulness According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, “mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” When you stay focused on the present moment, you aren’t worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, which helps reduce stress and improve wellbeing. Here are 10 ways mindfulness improves health.
Foster Social Connections Social connectedness is tied to high levels of happiness, better physical health and even a longer life. You may find it difficult to stay connected during the pandemic. Here are some local and online resources to keep you connected.
Get a Check-Up from the Neck Up!
Wellness Month is the perfect time to give yourself a mental health check-up. We get a yearly physical to ensure our body is healthy and strong, but we often overlook our mental health. Mental Health America offers a variety of free online screenings. You can also download screening forms from our website that you can print and go over with your healthcare provider. Please keep in mind, self-assessments and online screenings do not replace an evaluation by a mental health professional.