Emotional health is critical to our overall functioning. It impacts every aspect of our lives including our relationships, our careers, and our physical health. Often, this aspect of our wellbeing is not discussed or approached with the same care and urgency as we approach physical health issues.
The strategies I will discuss here are actionable items that do not require a lot of time each day. They can be implemented right away and, with consistency, will improve your overall emotional health. I am not including sleep, diet, and exercise in this list; however, getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night, maintaining a healthy diet, and having a regular exercise routine are three important components for improving emotional health. Science has proven it repeatedly, so in addition to the action items below, be sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating clean, whole foods, drinking lots of water and exercising regularly.
Strategy #1: Mindfulness
This is one of the most critical components in managing emotional health. Our thoughts (and only our thoughts) create our emotions. I am going to say this again because it is important…our thoughts (and only our thoughts) create our emotions. If you are dealing with something challenging in your life, the situation or circumstance is not causing your negative emotions. It is your thoughts about the situation that are causing your negative emotions.
Practicing mindfulness trains your brain to focus on the present moment, rather than having it beat you up about things from the past or cause you stress and anxiety worrying about the future. It will also help you notice what you are thinking at any given moment. This gives you the opportunity to really notice the thought and decide if it is serving you. If it is not, you can choose a different thought that results in you feeling better. For example, instead of thinking, “What if I never find true love again, I will be so lonely”, you could think, “I know there is a perfect person out there for me and when I find them, it will be worth the wait”.
This takes some practice; however, learning to do this is powerful and worth it. You can practice mindfulness in as little as five minutes per day. The most common way to do this is to sit on the floor with your legs crossed or seated in a chair with your feet on the ground. Close your eyes and breath as you normally would. Notice your breath. Notice how it feels going in and out of your nose or how your chest rises and falls with each breath. Keep doing this and just notice the breath without trying to alter it. When your mind wanders (and it absolutely will), notice that it has wandered from your breath to something else, and then return to focusing on your breathing. The moments when your mind wanders and you refocus it on your breathing, are what strengthen the skill of being mindful.
Every day will feel different and, on some days, you will feel more able to focus than others. This is normal and all part of the process. The key with improving mindfulness is consistency. Just five minutes per day can make a significant difference in helping you be able to notice what is causing stress, worry, anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, etc. Once you notice it is happening, you can change your thought and therefor change how you are feeling.
Strategy #2: Gratitude
You will find what you are looking for. If you are looking for and focused on all the things that are going wrong in your life, or all the ways that life is not the way you wish it was, that is all you will see. The result of this will be poor emotional health. If, however, despite going through hard things, you can see the small, day to day things that are good, your emotional health will improve.
To practice gratitude, write down five to ten things you are grateful for each day. You can do this at any point in the day, however, I find that it works best to do it either first thing in the morning or right before going to bed. This will force you to notice things each day that are good or that cause you to experience positive emotions.
Examples of things I was grateful for when I wrote this were, a healthy and delicious lunch, my warm blanket, a great coaching session this morning, a good workout, and a funny group text with some friends. Any of these things could have come and gone without much thought or appreciation if I were not looking for things to be grateful for.
Another way I practice gratitude each day happens at dinner time. When we sit down to eat dinner, my husband and I each share one thing we are grateful for that happened during the day. This helps us make sure that we don’t sit down to eat dinner and only focus on the stressful things from our days.
Strategy #3: Have positive affirmations / quotes that lift you up
This ties into strategy #1. When we notice that we are having thoughts that are negatively impacting our emotional health and want to change those thoughts, having a list of positive affirmations or quotes that lift you up can be helpful. The important part about this is to make sure that you really feel the words when you read them or say them out loud. What resonates with one person may not resonate with someone else so make sure they are specific to you.
Taking a little time to think about this and identify some affirmations or quotes can be helpful. You can write them on sticky notes, write them on a bathroom mirror, or put them on a note in your phone. Another idea is to set an alarm on your phone and change the name “alarm” to your positive affirmation or quote so that you are reminded of it when the alarm goes off at certain times throughout the day.
Strategy #4: Relationship detox
If you are surrounded by people you consider negative, mean, or challenging, it will take a toll on your emotional health. Many people believe that they must accept that certain people will behave in this way around them. If you experience this, I am here to tell you it does not need to be this way. If you are trying to manage your emotional health, you need to manage what you are consuming from others.
If there are people in your life who are causing you stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions, first remember Strategy #1. It is not what they are doing that is causing you these feelings, it is your thoughts about what they are doing that is causing the feelings. If you notice your thoughts, you get to choose whether you want to change them or not. If you truly believe that someone is being abusive or not treating you in the way you wish to be treated, then you should probably keep the thought and change the circumstance of having them in your life. You could also speak with them and try to reset expectations about what you will and will not accept from them. Finally, you can limit the amount of time you are willing to spend with them.
You can also increase the number of positive relationships in your life. With so many internet groups and other ways of connecting with others, even if you don’t have someone in your immediate life who lifts you up, you can find a community online. Spending time with people who support you, encourage you and want what is best for you will do wonders for your emotional health.
Strategy #5: Habits / Routines
This final strategy ties the others together. Having a consistent plan for when you will implement these strategies will help you see quicker results. These strategies work when you are intentional about them and utilize them regularly. Each morning I practice at least ten minutes of mindful breathing, I then write out what I am grateful for, and then I plan my day and write an affirmation into my plan so I have it on hand throughout the day. Because I have been doing this for a while, I am able to fairly easily notice my thoughts throughout the day and notice if they are helping me or causing me stress, worry, etc.
Even though we did not cover sleep, healthy eating, and exercise in detail, each one is also part of my daily and weekly routine. Combining these with the five strategies above, helps ensure my emotional health is good on an ongoing basis and that I can maintain it, even during challenging times.
Note: As a licensed mental health therapist, I recommend that if you are experiencing any significant mental / emotional health concerns, that you speak with a professional to discuss what might be most helpful to get you feeling better. If you are experiencing any thoughts of harming yourself, seek professional help immediately.