Written by: Hilary Jacobs Hendel, LCSW, author of It’s Not Always Depression
Are you struggling with mood swings? Thinking about how to manage your emotions? Then there is much to learn about emotions that increase emotional well-being and help you improve your emotional health.
6 Concrete Ways To Improve Your Emotional Health
1. The basics: Eat healthy food, get enough sleep, move your body, and use vices in moderation.
Like a car needs working parts and fuel to run smoothly, humans need healthy food, exercise, rest, and not poison our minds and body. The key to making positive change is to set attainable goals.
If you recognize that change has been hard in the past, you might be pushing yourself too much. Instead, figure out and commit to one small change that you know you will and can do, like adding a salad or green vegetable to your lunch and dinner for a week and seeing how you take to it.
After dinner, try taking a family walk around the block for exercise and bonding—this accomplishes two positive changes at the same time: exercise and bonding with family.
When you are tired, rest, even for five minutes. One family member of mine said that to sleep better, their new year’s resolution was to read before bed instead of looking at their cell phone. I’m going to try that as well.
Think about what would make you feel proud of yourself and try making a small change in a positive direction. Experiment to find what works for you. Be nice to yourself when something doesn’t work and then try another idea.
Use guilty pleasures in moderation, like food, drugs, alcohol, video games, and smartphones. Be aware that underlying emotions may be causing discomfort that you try to soothe with under-eating and over-eating food and vices.
Instead of self-medicating in ways that hurt you or make you feel bad about yourself in the long run, strive to calm your mind and body in healthy ways.
Below, I share what works for me and many others. Suffice it to say that every new habit we cultivate starts with willingness, courage, and education.
2. Learn about emotions!
Emotion education has the power to transform anxiety and depression, bolster your confidence, and help you spend more time in calmer and authentic states of being.
Do you know the difference between your thoughts and your emotions? Did you know we cannot control whether we have emotions, just what we do with them once they are triggered? Did you know that if we bury core emotions, they make us anxious? Did you know emotions are there to make us move?
Did you know that depression is often caused by anger towards another person that gets turned against one’s self? Did you know that shame is an emotion from which we all suffer?
Did you know there is a healthy shame that civilizes us and toxic shame that impairs us? Did you know the brain can change and heal from the day we are born until the day we die?
Society doesn’t provide formal education on emotions and how they affect both our mind and body. Nor do we learn in high school the many concrete skills available that help builds emotional health and resilience. Society leaves us to flounder on our own.
To make matters worse, we are raised with myths and misinformation about emotions. Therefore, we must take it upon ourselves to get an emotional education.
Men, I am talking to you too. I know emotions scare you. Society has hurt you by teaching you that emotions are unmanly and something to be pushed away. Even learning the science of emotions brings forth anxiety and avoidance.
The irony is that people avoid learning about emotions because of the myths and stigma in our society. Yet it’s only with a basic education that we can correct falsehoods and ignorance. It’s with an education that we learn skills to prevent, ease, and even heal anxiety and depression.