What does it mean to be emotionally healthy and what can we do to improve our emotional health?
According to familydoctor.org, “People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They are able to cope with life’s challenges. They can keep problems in perspective and bounce back from setbacks. They feel good about themselves and have good relationships.”
As a psychotherapist, I help people increase their emotional health. This includes healing from trauma, understanding their emotions, communicating their needs, pursuing their goals, creating healthier relationships, and increasing their self-esteem and confidence. How we go about making these changes is a more difficult question (and could easily fill an entire book). In this article, I hope to give you a place to start – some things to focus on, that when done consistently, will help improve your emotional health.
14 Things you can do for your emotional health
- Forgive yourself for past mistakes. It’s time to stop beating yourself up for things you did wrong, for missed opportunities, for not knowing what you know now. We all have regrets, but dwelling on them weighs us down unnecessarily. Self-forgiveness begins with acknowledging your mistakes, making amends (if appropriate), learning from your mistakes, and deciding to focus on the present and future rather than the past.
- Treat yourself with the same love that you give others. For most of us, it’s easier to be kind to others – even strangers – than it is to be kind to ourselves. We hold ourselves to mercilessly high standards and feel undeserving of a kind word or even basic self-care. Try treating yourself like a valued friend. Notice when you’re being cruel or withholding comfort from yourself and instead give yourself what you’d give a friend – a hug, validation, encouragement, or a treat.
- Have fun. Hobbies, play, and laughter are all good for our mental health. Be sure your calendar includes activities that you do purely for enjoyment. If you’re not sure what you like to do for fun, read more here.
- Trust yourself. In order to trust ourselves, we must consistently meet our needs; we have to show up for ourselves in times of need with kindness and comfort. We need to feel confident that we’ll act in our own best interest, value ourselves, and protect ourselves. You can start building self-trust by committing to do one small thing for yourself today and following through. It’s essential that this commitment is doable, so don’t choose something that’s a stretch. It might just be saying you’re going to bed at 10 O’clock and then doing it. Consistently keeping your promises to yourself builds self-trust.
- Rest when you’re tired. Rest is essential and the appropriate response to both physical and emotional depletion. At yet, so many people feel guilty for resting, for not being productive all the time. Rest or taking a mental break improves productivity, memory, creativity, and concentration. It allows us to integrate what we’ve learned, rejuvenate, and clear our minds. It’s certainly not a waste of time!
- Set boundaries. Boundaries protect your time, energy, and personal safety. They communicate your expectations and help others understand what’s okay with you and what’s not. However, when you’re not used to setting boundaries, it can be scary and confusing. Take it slow. Learning to set boundaries is a skill that we learn with practice. Start by identifying what you need, how you want to be treated, and remind yourself that your needs are valid and communicating them assertively is healthy. Read more here.
- Let go of resentments. Are you holding onto anger and grudges? This sucks up energy that you could be using for more positive and productive pursuits. Letting go of anger doesn’t mean you’re forgiving or choosing to continue in a relationship with someone who has hurt you. It only means that you’re choosing not to put any more mental energy into negative thoughts and feelings. Write (or talk with a therapist) about what happened and how it has affected you, identify what feelings you have beyond anger, acknowledge how you may have contributed to the problem, practice self-compassion, and consciously choose to release your anger.
- Say goodbye to negative, difficult, or unsupportive people. Ending a relationship – even an unhealthy or conflicted one – is painful. Spending time with people who are consistently negative, judgmental, critical, or unsupportive can contribute to anxiety and depression, deteriorate your self-esteem, make it difficult for you to pursue your goals and take good care of yourself. Sometimes ending relationships with such people is the only way to restore our emotional health. Ending unfulfilling relationships also makes room for healthier people in your life.
- Accept your feelings without judgment. How often do you dismiss or minimize your feelings or even tell yourself that your feelings are wrong? Your feelings are messengers trying to tell you something important and when you ignore them, they contribute to health problems, unhealthy coping behaviors like overeating or drinking, and stress. Instead, make space for your feelings. Invite them in without judgment. Be curious about why they are there, comfort yourself in healthy ways if they are difficult, and remember that feelings don’t last forever.
- Take responsibility for your life. Others may have hurt you or held you back in various ways, but ultimately you are responsible for your own life — and blaming others (or circumstances) doesn’t help you create a more satisfying life. Own your mistakes and choices; don’t blame others for your problems or get stuck in a victim mindset. Learn from what isn’t working and take responsibility for changing what you can.
- Focus on what you can control. Many things in life aren’t in our control, especially what other people think and do. And when we put our time and energy into trying to change people or situations that are beyond our control, we usually end up frustrated and resentful. It’s wiser to differentiate what we can control (namely ourselves) and what we can’t and then focusing on changing our thoughts and behaviors.
- Take chances rather than always playing it safe. Perfectionism and fear of failure can keep us from trying new things and taking chances. We just do what we’ve always done (even if it causes problems) because it’s comfortable and safe. We don’t want to fail, or be criticized, or look foolish, so we only do things we’re already good at. The problem is that we miss out on opportunities and we limit our success, creativity, and fun when we play it safe. I’m not suggesting that you abandon reason, but that you step out of your comfort zone from time to time. Try something new and consider the possibility that things may turn out better than you think – and if they don’t, you can probably bounce back.
- Notice the positives in your life. It’s easy to notice everything that goes wrong, what we don’t have, our problems, failures, and frustrations. It’s much harder to notice what’s going right, how much we have, our joys, successes, and progress. But with intention and practice, we can learn to notice the good stuff, which is encouraging and motivating; it helps us be gentler with ourselves and others and gives us a more balanced outlook on life.
- Speak up for yourself. Many of us fail to be assertive because we think it’s rude or selfish, so we stay silent. We allow others to mistreat us, we don’t voice our ideas and opinions, and we build resentments because we expect others to know what we want or need – even when we don’t communicate our wants/needs. When we’re passive, we don’t respect and value ourselves. Assertive communication shows respect for ourselves and for others. It’s thoughtful, polite and calm. And we owe it to ourselves to speak up!
Which of these changes will help you improve your emotional health? You don’t need to tackle them all at once. Small changes build on each other. So, make a commitment to start with one small change today and let that be the beginning of a healthier you!