Emotions, feelings, relationships, communication, boundaries and our internal self talk all play a role in our emotional health and wellness. It is easy, even common, for people to be disconnected from their emotions and not know how they feel, why they feel that way, or what to do with their feelings. How well do you know yourself?
You walk into a room and feel like everyone, all at once, stops and looks at you. You feel a mental buzz, your heart rate quickens, your mouth goes dry and your palms become sweaty... what emotion(s) is this?
You return home and you hear the clatter of four little feet on the hardwood floor, you find your cheeks shoot up, as you feel a genuine smile reach your eyes and you have a sense of peace, love and acceptance wash over you as the oxytocin hits your bloodstream. Then you see a furry blur bound into the living room, whole body shaking with excitement. Your dog is overjoyed to see you and he just can't contain himself, nor can you... what emotion(s) is this?
You're watching a movie that is so engrossing and relatable that you feel like you are the protagonist of the story. They just experienced the loss of a loved one and it brings a flood of memories from your past so strongly to the present that you find yourself weeping with the main character, forgetting entirely for the moment that this is just a movie and not real life... what emotions(s) is this?
These are just a few of the many, many emotions that we as humans can feel and experience. They are the texture of our internal world... but what does it mean to be emotionally well? Is it the same thing as mental health? Is it always experiencing positive emotions like happiness and joy? In this blog, we we will be exploring what it means to have emotional wellness and how you can have more of it in your own life.
What Are Emotional Health and Wellness?
Emotional Health and Wellness are similar to emotional intelligence. They have to do with being in touch with, and aware of, not only your own feelings and emotional states, but also of those around you. They are also related to how we cope with both positive and negative emotions. This includes and starts with being aware of them. Emotional awareness allows you to have meaningful relationships and helps you cope with life events and ultimately live a more fulfilling life. However, it does not mean that you will always be happy, instead it means you will be aware of your happiness (and all emotions, positive or negative) when you have it. There is also much evidence that emotional wellness improves many aspects of physical health.
Awareness of Emotions
Many people experience a diverse array of emotions without actually being aware of them at the time. Instead, they notice that everyone bothers them and is super annoying today, when in fact, they are actually just in a foul mood and it is them that is annoyed, rather than everyone else that is being annoying.
Why awareness of emotions is the key to emotional wellness is that it allows us to notice, in real time, our emotional and mental state and reflect on how this alters our perception of reality- people, places and things. Once we have this awareness, we can then take the steps to better regulate our emotions and choose how to respond to things, rather than simply being reactionaly and expressing any and all emotions, or letting them control our actions. When we act is such a way, we often lash out and do and say things that we do not truly mean and regret later; leading to impaired social relationships and a less pleasant internal world.
Now, you're probably wondering how to become more aware of your emotions and internal world. The best methods to do so are the insight and meditation traditions from all over the world, but most expanded on in Asian spiritual traditions like Buddhism and Yoga. These time honored and science backed methods really do work. (For more on these topics and how to start a meditation practice, check out our Yoga Blogs and Meditation blogs).
Two additional things that can help with awareness of self and emotions are our internal self talk and cognitive behavioral methods. There is an ongoing internal dialogue that runs in your mind, sometime seemingly nonstop (Monkeymind). Self talk is when this internal mental chatter is turned towards the self. The important thing is to be aware of whether your self talk is kind or serves as an incessant internal critic that undermines your self esteem and constantly puts you down.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (often referred to as CBT) techniques are all about how thoughts, emotions and behaviors impact each other and are inter-related. It is a form of talk therapy, where people are guided by a mental health professional to look at maladaptive thoughts and thought processes to identify cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions include things like overgeneralizing, magnifying negatives, minimizing positives and catastrophizing. In CBT, rather than diagnosing someone, they help them learn how to better identify their cognitive distortions, realizing that they are just that, distortions of reality (by reading into things, making assumptions, etc.) as well as how to better manage and deal with these things.
Once you have some level of self awareness, it is important to turn this awareness into real world action. This is often done through learning to set better, clear and healthy boundaries.
Boundaries are a bit like walls we build around ourselves to protect ourselves. There are unhealthy boundaries and healthy ones. Unhealthy boundaries lead to things like social isolation, never letting people in and the inability to ask for help. We are not talking about those boundaries. Rather, we are talking about learning to set healthy boundaries. Healthy boundaries require self awareness, communication and assertiveness. They exist to buffer us from those that do not respect us or our needs.
It is important to set boundaries in a way that they can be heard and received, we do not want people to feel threatened or like we are attacking them when setting our boundaries. Instead, we want to set our boundaries in an open and respectful manner. According to positive psychology, setting healthy boundaries is about:
1. Being clear and straightforward, without raising your voice.
2. Stating your needs as a request and in terms of what you would like, rather than what you do not want.
3. Accepting any uncomfortable feelings that may arise in this process.
Healthy Boundaries include:
- Declining offers you don’t like.
- Expressing your feelings openly and nicely.
- Talking about your side of things and how you feel honestly.
- Replying in real time.
- Talking about things with the person(s) involved directly, not going through a third party.
- Making your needs clear and not assuming people will figure them out on their own.
Setting boundaries can be extremely difficult, especially for those that have issues with confrontation or are people pleasers. It is important to remember that setting healthy boundaries is not selfish and is vital to you feeling safe and respected, so that you can be your best self and have good relationships. People that really care about you will be able to hear your needs and respect them. This process is tough at first and does require some practice and tact. The key to setting healthy boundaries is effective communication.
Effective communication is not actually about speaking, rather it is about listening actively. Active listening is a practice that goes well beyond simply hearing words.
Active listening includes:
- Being fully present in the moment and showing interest in the conversation.
- Listening to understand, rather than to respond and reply.
- Withholding unsolicited advice and personal judgements.
- Asking open-ended questions to further understand.
- Paraphrasing or reflecting back what you have heard and how you understand what was said.
When we speak, we often have issues of miscommunication due to poorly articulating what we mean or reading into things and adding all sorts of ideas to what was actually said (think back to cognitive distortions). Practicing active listening allows for greater levels of understanding through clear communication and checking for understanding.
Beyond active listening, we can be better received through practicing nonviolent communication (NVC). NVC is about expressing ourselves in a way that does not attack someone or trigger their ego. It takes the fault from the person and puts it on the action. It's not that you don't like them, it's that you don't like what they did, in this specific situation. They are not eternally damned, or a bad person, it is not an all or nothing discussion. NVC was developed by the Psychologist Marshall Rosenberg and is based on four components-
For example, suppose you felt like you were not being heard or respected, so you say something like "You never listen to me." This statement could lead to the other person feeling attacked and they may turn off completely or feel defensive, both of which causes communication to break down, the exact opposite of what we would like to happen. It is not an issue of what was said, rather it is an issue of how it was said. Non Violent Communication techniques allow us to reframe our words, so that they are better received. NVC has been proven to lead to more effective communication and improved relationships.
Instead, of wording this as "You never listen to me" give an example of what happened based upon what you observed. Explain how it made you feel, express your needs and make a specific request that is framed in the positive (what you do want, not what you don't want). The same statement could be reframed in NVC terms as "At lunch today, when we were having an important conversation, you were texting on your phone (observation). This made me feel like what I said was not important to you (feelings). It is important to me that I feel heard and like you respect me (needs). In the future, I would appreciate it if you were fully engaged in our chats when we have lunch (request)."
We humans are profoundly social and emotional creatures, and as Maya Angelou famously said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Emotional health and wellness are all about our ability to cope with, accept and fully experience our emotions and that of those around us, so that we can have better relationships and a richer life. There are many ways to go about this, but learning to be aware of our internal world and emotions is paramount. From here, we can foster a better relationship with ourselves through Cognitive Behavioral Methods, Mindfulness and working on our self talk; and with others through learning to set healthy boundaries and practicing effective communication. This work is important and it is not selfish, for you cannot pour from an empty cup.
*This blog is created and published online for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health or personal advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.