How to Improve Emotional Wellness: 5 Tips
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and after the year we’ve just endured, it can’t come soon enough.
Before we dive into things you can do to improve your emotional wellness, we need to distinguish between mental health and emotional health. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same.
Mental health is a person’s ability to process information.
Emotional health is a person’s ability to express feelings (which are based on thoughts and information).
Mental health and emotional well-being are closely linked—you can’t really have one without the other. Think of them as partners working together in a constant dance.
Nurturing your emotional health can also help improve your mental health. But this is not to say that mental health is purely a matter of the choices you make. People struggling with issues like major depression, phobias, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often need specialized medical care and medications to manage their condition. There’s absolutely no shame in this.
Building good emotional health is a process. Chances are you’re already doing some things to foster emotional well-being. Here are some to consider:
1: Ask for help
Stigma around mental illness prevents too many people from getting the help they need. If you’re struggling emotionally, it’s ok to ask for help.
Our culture teaches us to suppress our emotions and be stoic. But burying negative feelings doesn’t make us stronger or more resilient. Asking for help or accepting support—whether from a friend, a licensed therapist, or someone else—can help you through tough times.
2: Establish boundaries
If you grew up in a household where boundaries weren’t clear, you might have a hard time recognizing and setting boundaries. By boundaries we mean things like:
● Letting others know what is and isn’t acceptable to you
● Saying no when you don’t want to do something
● Thoughtfully considering how you spend your time
Imagine one of your coworkers constantly corners you into long-winded conversations about her personal life. If this makes you uncomfortable or monopolizes your time, it’s a boundary violation. It’s ok to interrupt her and politely excuse yourself.
Advocating for yourself may take some practice, but it can keep you from feeling overwhelmed by the expectations of others.
3: Practice emotional regulation
Learning how to cope with stress and negative emotions can help you respond more effectively in tough situations. Here are some proven coping strategies:
Journaling – Writing things down can be therapeutic. It gives you time to calm down and process your feelings so you can address problems with a clear head.
Meditation – Research shows mindful meditation helps control negative emotions, in addition to many other cognitive benefits.
Talk therapy – You may need additional guidance and support to help you manage or get in touch with your emotions, and that’s ok.
Exercise – We know the physical health benefits of exercise, but it also has significant mental and emotional health benefits. Moving your body releases chemicals in the brain that enhance mood and feelings of well-being.
4: Connect with others
Social connections can have a powerful effect on our emotional health. Staying connected with friends and family can help you weather challenging times. Nurture social bonds by spending time with important people in your life, by phone, video call, or in person (with social distancing precautions).
If you don’t have a strong network of social connections, join a group of like minded individuals or a support group.
5: Work on self-acceptance
If you wouldn’t let a stranger call you hurtful things like “stupid,” “ugly,” or “useless,” you shouldn’t accept these words from yourself. Self-judgement, perfectionism, and self-doubt can keep us from reaching our full potential. Don’t let your inner critic hold you back. Start by becoming more aware of negative thoughts through mindful meditation and self-acceptance exercises.
Good emotional health is crucial to well-being. Having good emotional health doesn’t mean never having negative emotions or being happy all the time. But actively working on things like self-acceptance and emotional regulation can help you become more resilient, self-aware, and content.
Want to learn more about mental health and emotional wellness?
Check out Inner Space, a podcast about mental health hosted by Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen. She travels the world to talk with leaders in politics, film and television, fashion, wellness, and more about how to take control of our mental health.
We tell stories you won’t find anywhere else.