What do you think of when you read the words “mental health”? If the words “crazy”, “weak”, or “sick” popped into your mind, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, a lot of people think of it that way too. There’s people who seek help from mental health professionals, and “normal” people who don’t.
This isn’t true.
Yes, there are people who are clinically diagnosed with a mental illness, but lacking one doesn’t necessarily equal mental wellness. Mental health isn’t as black and white as it seems. It’s a spectrum, and all of us are on it. Let’s be real, we all have our days (or weeks). Sometimes we feel amazing, and sometimes we feel like sh*t. We may technically be mentally healthy, but are we mentally and emotionally well?
Wait, hold up, what do you mean by emotionally well? We’re so glad you asked.
If you think emotional wellness means to be happy all of the time, you’re setting the bar high for yourself, and that doesn’t quite hit the mark. Being emotionally well doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re happy all the time, it means that you’re able to change course to feel better.
Emotional wellness refers to “the awareness, understanding and acceptance of our feelings, and our ability to manage effectively through challenges and change.” For the most part, a symptom of being human is having challenges and problems, most of us don’t go through life completely unscathed. That being said, challenges and problems don’t need to drag us down. As the iconic Dolly Parton says, “if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” In other words, it’s all about how you deal with the challenges you face that determines your emotional wellness.
Naturally, emotional wellness is critical to our wellbeing and mental health. So…how do we become emotionally well? How do we become more aware of our emotions, accept them, and manage them effectively when sh*t hits the fan?
A big part of becoming emotionally well entails slowing down and being more mindful. Focusing on the present moment, without looking back too much into the past or the future, allows you to be more aware of your emotions. We know, easier said than done, but as they say, practice makes perfect. A great way to practice being mindful and present is to meditate. Luckily, for all you beginners out there (don’t worry, we are too), there are great apps that can get you started, like Headspace which offers amazing meditation and mindfulness exercises created by Andi Puddicombe, an ordained Buddhist monk (literally).
It’s also important to remember that awareness and acceptance don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Emotional wellness requires you to accept the emotions you’re now aware of, even if they’re negative. Once you’ve accepted it, you can adjust your attitude about it. Dani DiPirro’s Positively Present is a great example of how to look at your glass as half-full rather than half-empty.
The more aware and accepting you are of your feelings, the better equipped you’ll be to act on them, and this will translate well not only in how you treat yourself, but also how you treat others. The longest study on happiness ever (we’re talking nearly 80 years) found that the most important ingredient in the recipe for happiness is our relationships. Happiness doesn’t go away when we share it, it actually does the opposite (we got this from Sharon Salzberg’s Instagram and it cannot be more true).
Our social connections have a powerful effect on our emotional wellness. With emotional awareness and acceptance in your arsenal, you can foster healthy relationships. Strengthening your social circle (see what we did there?) is so important for emotional wellness, because as we like to say, we only get better together. Mark Groves is a specialist in healthy relationships, and his page createthelove is a great place for lessons you can apply in your life.
The path to perfection doesn’t exist, but practicing awareness, acceptance, and connectedness will get you well on your way to emotional wellness. Good is good enough, and you are good enough. Glass half-full, remember?