When I was young, I ignored my health in my 20s and 30s. I was invincible. But today, things are different. As I age and my body talks to me every morning when I climb out of bed, I often think about how I could have done things differently in my younger days.
I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like eating right or exercising. Those are important, but the physical improvements aren’t enough. We also need to be emotionally healthy. That means being able to handle life’s ups and downs with grace and good humor. It means having a positive attitude even when you feel down.
The truth is that we all get sad sometimes. We can’t avoid it altogether. But if we don’t deal with our emotions, they will eat away at us from within, thus leading to unhappiness and a feeling of being unfulfilled.
Why Is Health Important Emotionally
Emotional health is the key to physical health, and in addition, we have to start early in life learning how to build good emotional health.
When our emotions are out of wack, it chips away at our health as we age. It affects our ability to sleep well, maintain relationships, manage stress, cope with pain, and more.
Here are some ways that poor emotional health affects our bodies:
1) Stress hormones increase inflammation, increasing the risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases.
2) Negative feelings such as anger, anxiety, fear, and sadness cause us to release cortisol into the bloodstream. Cortisol causes muscle tension, weight gain, and increased blood pressure.
4) Chronic stress damages the immune system making us more vulnerable to illness.
5) Anger and depression are linked to high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
6) Negative thoughts lead to higher blood sugar levels.
7) Anxiety disorders are associated with an increased rate of cardiovascular disease.
8) Depression is linked to a greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The list can go on and on, but this gives us a good idea of how our emotional health affects our physical health.
Times Are More Emotionally Stressful Today
For the past 2 years, the world has had to deal with significant changes as the pandemic lingers and the world financial system becomes more unstable. It is more important now than ever to find ways to deal with the emotions that arise.
We live in a time where people struggle financially, socially, and politically. The news media is full of stories of hate crimes, racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, violence, and death. There is so much negativity around us that it is hard to stay upbeat and optimistic.
We are living through times that are difficult to navigate. Our children are growing up in a world that seems chaotic and unpredictable. Add to that the fact that many parents are working long hours and trying to balance work and family responsibilities.
Why Is It Important To Maintain Emotional Health?
We now know how emotional health can affect our physical well-being, but why is emotional health so important. Is it just the physical aspects that stress can affect, or does it go deeper?
There are two reasons why maintaining emotional health is important; first, it helps us function better physically, as we discussed. Second, it allows us to enjoy life more fully. Oh, now that is the big issue.
We all want to be happy and lead a fulfilling life, and our physical health can be a determining factor in how active we are. But how do we deal with our emotional state when it causes a ripple effect on our happiness.
When we feel stressed or anxious, we tend to withdraw from others. We may become irritable or angry. We lose interest in things we used to enjoy. We may even start to get sick. This is not fun!
So we need to learn how to deal with our emotions that can affect so much of our lives.
How Can We Build Good Emotional Health?
I believe that 3 things must happen to help us develop good emotional health.
1) Learn to identify our emotions, which most adults struggle with because we did not know how to do it. When we are young, we are told not to show emotion or express ourselves. As we grow older, we are encouraged to be strong and keep our feelings inside.
2) Understand what those emotions mean. If we don’t know why we feel angry, then we won’t know how to handle it. If we don’t understand why we feel sad, then we won’t know what to do about it.
3) Practice being kind to ourselves. Many of us are self-critical and judge ourselves harshly. We beat ourselves up when we make mistakes or fail at something. Telling ourselves that we aren’t smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough, rich enough, etc. is poor self-care. We compare ourselves to others and try to figure out if they are better than us.
How To Learn To Identify Emotions?
It is not enough to say we need to identify our emotions when trained for years to keep it all in. We have to have concrete ways to learn this process. Here are some suggestions:
• Talk to someone you trust. Tell them what you are feeling and ask them to listen without judging.
• When you have a strong emotion like anger, write it down. What was going on before you felt that way? Was there anything that triggered it?
• Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment without judgment. Try sitting quietly for 5 minutes each day and see what happens.
• Take an inventory. Do you have any negative beliefs about yourself? Are you critical of yourself? Ask yourself these questions and answer honestly.
Learning to identify our emotions is a huge first step, but we also need to understand them to move forward. How can we understand a feeling?
If we look at the dictionary definition of emotion, we will find it has many different meanings. The definition can be a mental response to an external stimulus. Or it could be defined as a subjective experience that includes thoughts, feelings, and physiological responses. So it seems like emotions are very complex and hard to explain.
The best way I’ve found to explain emotions is by using the example of a car. An emotion is similar to the engine of a car. The engine provides power and makes the cargo. But the engine doesn’t drive the car. We use the accelerator pedal to control the speed of the car.
Similarly, we can think about emotions as the engine of our life. They provide energy and motivation. But they don’t drive us. We use our thinking minds to direct the direction of our lives.
We can manage our negative thoughts that produce negative emotions just as we control a car.
Self-Care Affects Our Emotions
Now that we have identified our emotions and have a good understanding of how we control them, let’s talk about self-care for a second. How can we take care of ourselves to promote emotional health?
1) Get plenty of sleep. Sleep deprivation causes stress hormones to rise, which cause more stress.
2) Eat healthy foods. A diet high in processed food and sugar leads to elevated levels of cortisol which increases anxiety.
3) Exercise regularly. Regular exercise reduces stress hormones and helps us feel happier.
4) Have fun! If we’re having trouble with depression or anxiety, we might want to consider therapy. Therapy can help us change our thought patterns and develop new coping skills.
We have come full circle here. Our emotional health does affect our physical well-being, not to mention that we have to care for ourselves physically to promote a balanced emotional life.
It is important to start caring for ourselves and our health at an early age rather than wait until the body screams each time morning rolls around.
Love yourself when you are 20 and 30 to have a happy and fulfilling life when you are 70.