The two types of health are tightly connected, and without the other, you could be doing yourself a lot of harm.
So, how do you restore that balance in your life and look after your health as a whole?
What is emotional health?
Your emotional health relates to how you feel and cope with positive and negative emotions. Therefore, the better your emotional health, the easier you find it to cope with your emotions in a non-destructive way.
Many people falsely believe that to be emotionally healthy, you need to be happy all the time. This is both unrealistic and harmful. You will always have a mix of emotions – it’s what being human is all about. The distinction is that an emotionally healthy person doesn’t regularly have extreme emotions that change quickly.
In the TedTalks talk below, Guy Winch explains the importance of emotional health check ups, and performing 'emotional health first aid' when needed.
Emotional health vs mental health?While emotional health and mental health may be thought of as the same thing, there are some key differences between the two. The most notable difference is what they mean. Mental health refers to how your mind processes different information and experiences. Emotional health refers to how you express your emotions to these different experiences.
Another key difference between emotional health vs mental health is that one is not dependent on the other, and in fact one can thrive without the other. You could be experiencing poor mental health, while at the same time be maintaining good emotional health. For example, your mental health may be facing depression and anxiety, when at the same time you can still communicate your emotions effectively.
Why is protecting your emotional health so important?Your emotional health is strongly tied to your physical health. When you are unable to cope with your emotions in a healthy way – predominantly negative emotions – you are at a much higher risk of developing illnesses such as digestion problems, high blood pressure, migraines, chronic muscle pain, and much more.
Sometimes the problem is more subtle than this. When we use destructive coping mechanisms for negative emotions, the coping strategy may lead to physical illnesses. For example, people who use food or cigarettes to deal with uncomfortable emotions may be at higher risk of health risks later in life.
That’s why, if you are struggling to cope with your emotions and have developed unhelpful coping mechanisms, it’s important to seek help – it’s never too late.
Seven ways to improve your emotional health:
1. Set clear boundaries
It is important to make sure the people in your life are aware of your boundaries. If you agree to things that make you unhappy just to please others, you are doing a great disservice to yourself and your emotional health.
Equally, you must learn where something is crossing a boundary and when you are avoiding people and events out of fear, as this can be just as damaging to your health.
Therefore, it’s essential to learn when to say yes, and when to say no.
2. Realistic expectations of your emotionsAs I said before, it’s important to understand that emotions work on a spectrum, and negative emotions are a normal part of life. So if you are someone that actively avoids negative emotions, it is a good idea to do some introspection and find out why you feel so scared, and then put steps in place to deal with them (which may include asking for help).
Once you discover that root cause, you’ll be able to ride the rollercoaster of life without fear of your emotions, feeling fully in control.
3. Be open about how you are feelingBottling up your emotions is not healthy. The more you keep your negative emotions whirling around in your head, the more you will suffer.
It’s great if you have someone you feel you can confide in when you are feeling down, but if you think you don’t have that person in your life at the moment, that’s ok. You can either reach out to an organisation like the Samaritans to help, or you can use a journal to write down your feelings.
Whichever method you choose, getting your feelings out of your head will help you work through them and move forward.
4. Stop comparing yourself to othersSomething we are really good at is comparing our lives to other people. And with the rise in social media, it’s never been easier to do this.
What our brain always leaves out is that you are usually comparing yourself at your worst to someone else at their best – how fair is that to yourself?
Whether it's academic achievements, career milestones, or physical appearance, many of us are making ourselves miserable comparing ourselves to other people.
So it’s important to remember that the only person you are in competition with is yourself. And even then, you won’t always be on your A-game, so just focus on doing the best you can on any given day, whatever that looks like.
5. Stay connected with your loved ones
We are social creatures by nature, and as such, we need to interact with others. Even introverts! It can be easy when you are in a dark place to push people away because you don’t feel worthy of love or feel unable to be yourself.
But remember that loneliness can cause emotional health to deteriorate further. And the people in your life worth keeping around will be just as supportive of you and love you just as much in your bad days as they do in your good. So, for health’s sake, don’t isolate yourself!
6. Look after your physical healthThis one’s pretty straightforward. Your emotional health affects your physical health, which affects your emotional health … it’s a never-ending cycle.
So, eat well, exercise often, and get a good night’s sleep. Your mind will thank you for it!
7. Watch how you talk to yourselfBullying is wrong. And I’m sure you would agree. So, why do we find it acceptable to bully ourselves?
Many of us struggle with negative self-talk, telling ourselves we are unworthy, stupid, or not good enough – no wonder our emotional health suffers!
The next time your mind starts to bully you, check that voice and challenge it with kinder thoughts about yourself.
Final thoughts on emotional health
Your emotional health is as vital to your overall wellbeing as physical health is, so it’s essential to make it a priority.
It can be difficult to rewire your mind to be kinder to yourself and develop healthy coping mechanisms if you’ve had a lifetime of the opposite. But remember, if you struggle with the steps above, you don’t have to do it alone; you can always reach out for help.