Small changes can set positive tone
With various ways to express emotional well-being, I like these two definitions.
• Ark Behavioral Health describes emotional well-being as “an awareness, understanding, and acceptance of our feelings, and our ability to manage effectively through challenges and change.”
• The National Institutes of Health defines it as “the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.”
Both definitions point to elements of challenges and adaptability. They do not say emotional well-being is always feeling happy, being optimistic, or even finding the silver lining in life.
We can all agree the past 18 months have been a lot, I mean A LOT, of challenge and adaptation. In fact, as the demands on our ability to stretch continue, we might be experiencing fatigue, restlessness, anger, irritability, depression, anxiety, despair. These are all normal responses, my friends, to feeling like we’ve just run a marathon and then been told the finish line is not here – it is over the next hill!
Reflect for a moment on a recent change you’ve made in your own life (because change is easier to recognize than habit). If you’ve done something more physical – for example, maybe walked in your neighborhood, have you also noticed a change in other parts of your life? Maybe you’ve been inspired to talk more with neighbors (social) or thought you might want to read about or try meditating (spiritual). I don’t know what you’ll find, but the point is we are like mobiles or sets of dominoes – when one thing changes, so do others. As we consider ways to improve our emotional well-being, realize you can have a great impact upon your entire system by shifting a small thing.
Factors relating to emotional well-being
There are a number of areas to consider when you think about your well-being. Think about these as they relate to your life and how you move through it.
Mindfulness – The state of being aware of something. Are you doing all the things without noticing you’re doing them to end your day and wonder where the time went? If you are, that is closer to acting in “habit” than being mindful. Noticing what is happening as it is happening is mindfulness and helps us regulate our nervous system, make better decisions, and not get activated.
Sleep – We probably all need more! Can you put yourself to bed in enough time to get eight hours of sleep before needing to start the next day? Can you begin to shut off all the ways in which you zone out with entertainment in the evening that interfere with sleep? These are important aspects to consider. To rest well we need to get off devices, not ingest alcohol, and allow the nervous system and adrenals to decrease. This takes time, my friends, so back the eight hours in properly so you can rest and heal your mind/body.
Coping with loss – Another area we tend to overlook. As a species we’ve had an enormous amount of loss in the past couple years. Loss of loved ones, freedoms, life as we knew it, safety. We have all experienced traumatic loss, and we need to acknowledge and grieve. Let yourself feel it, let yourself be in it if needed. Trying to “get through it quicker” is a sure-fire way to keep yourself stuck.
Stress reduction – Our bodies need stress to function. We get into trouble when we have too much stress or when we don’t know how to down-shift our stress response (mostly in the adrenals which creates overload, lack of sleep and likely auto-immune disorders) and allow the body to relax. We can release stress through physical movement, losing ourselves in a hobby or something that seems to stop time for us, being in nature, listening to music, and witnessing or creating art – among many other ways. Whatever is your way to reduce stress, please do it – you have a giant pass for doing it more!
Managing emotions – This one can be a bit tricky. It requires that we know our emotions and then respond to them correctly. Said another way, this does NOT mean to ignore our emotions. That is another disaster waiting to happen, so try not to do it. I know it’s a long-held habit for many of us and we were likely told different things about emotions (e.g., boys don’t cry, don’t be a baby, you’re too sensitive, get over it ….) but these are not helpful ways of responding to your emotions and are in fact interfering with your emotional well-being and ultimate life satisfaction. Emotions are present to guide us in our lives, but we don’t get to act them all out on other people either. Delicate balance perhaps – stay in the middle of the boat on this one.
Please reflect when you have opportunity and notice if there is an area you’d like to modify. You can start with what seems most accessible and as always, don’t be judgy or heavy-handed with yourself.
Dr. Gwin Stewart founded the St. Louis Wellness Center in 2007. You can write her at DrGwin@hotmail.com. Read more about her HERE.