By Mark Mahoney, Ph.D., RDN
As uncertainty seems to be the “norm” in this ever-increasing fast-paced society, (as reported in the news on a daily basis, particularly in the realm of politics), wouldn’t it be good to have some strategies and tips for achieving good mental health, and improving our emotional well-being?
Emotionally healthy individuals have better life-outcomes when they are in control of their emotions and their behavior. Such people are
able to build strong relationships, recover from setbacks and handle life’s challenges. However, you may be asking yourself, “How can I improve my own emotional health?”
What is Emotional or Mental Health?
Emotional or mental health refers to your overall psychological well-being. Having good mental health is not just the absence of mental health problems. It refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Not feeling bad is not the same as feeling good. Although you may not necessarily have negative feelings, you still need to do things that make you feel positive in order to achieve mental and emotional health.
Individuals who are mentally and emotionally healthy possess:
- A sense of contentment
- The ability to confront stress and bounce back from adversity
- The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change
- The ability to build and maintain relationships that are fulfilling
- A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships
- The ability to find a balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
- A passion for life and the ability to laugh and have fun
- Self-confidence and high esteem
Now that we’ve defined what emotional health is and looked as some of the characteristics of individuals who have good mental health we can summarize some major components that can assist us in achieving this state. To summarize, some important components follow:
Role of Physical Health in Relation to Mental and Emotional Health
Improving your physical health leads to experiencing greater mental and emotional well-being. Exercise (physical activity) for example, does not only have the potential to strengthen your heart and lungs but also releases endorphins, chemical substances that can energize us and improve our mood and outlook.
Consider the following recommendations:
- Get enough rest
- Learn about good nutrition (and practice it)
- Exercise to relieve stress and improve your mood
- Get a dose of sunlight every day (10 to 15 minutes per day)
- Limit alcohol and avoid cigarettes and other drugs
Take Care of Yourself to Improve Mental and Emotional Health
Pay attention to your own needs and feelings to maintain and strengthen your mental and emotional health. Try to maintain a balance between undertaking daily responsibilities and doing things you enjoy so that it is less likely that stress and negative emotions will build up. Taking care of yourself will give you the preparation to deal with challenges if and when they arise. Consider the following:
- Do things that have a positive impact on others.
- Practice self-discipline.
- Learn or discover new things.
- Focus on enjoying the beauty of art or nature.
- Manage your stress levels (stress management strategies can help bring things back into balance such as meditation or yoga).
- Limit unhealthy habits like worrying.
Supportive Relationships as the Foundation of Emotional Health
As humans, we are social creatures and have an emotional need for relationships and positive connections with others. Finding social interaction with someone who is a good listener will foster a supportive relationship as they can “hear” the feelings behind your words and not interrupt or judge or criticize you. Develop a relationship with someone who you can talk to regularly which can lead to a supportive relationship of listening to each other. Some possible ways to connect to others:
- Get away from your computer/TV screen.
- Take daily time to spend with people you like, face-to-face (make it a priority).
- Volunteer (doing something that helps others).
- Be a joiner (join networking, social action, conservation, special interest groups…).
Mark Mahoney, Ph.D., RDN served as a Peace Corps Volunteer for over four (4) years in Latin America, has been a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (R.D.N.) for over 32 years and completed graduate studies in Public Health at Columbia University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.