When we hear “emotional well-being,” we tend to think of joy, happiness, contentment, and other pleasant emotions. But for most people, life is not filled with sunshine and rainbows. Instead, we must learn to resolve heartache, stress, grief, anger, and other negative emotions. How well we manage these feelings is the most significant gauge of emotional wellness.
What is emotional well-being?
Psychology Today defines emotional well-being as “the ability to practice stress-management and relaxation techniques, be resilient, boost self-love, and generate the emotions that lead to good feelings.” (1)
In other words, emotional well-being is an active process in which you take the steps necessary to improve your emotional state. Your quest for emotional well-being will never be complete because there will always be new challenges that threaten your peace and happiness. How well you manage these challenges is key to your emotional well-being.
Many people confuse emotional well-being with mental well-being (mental health), which is understandable. After all, mental health involves cognitive processes that influence emotional health.
What is mental well-being?
According to the CDC, “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.” (2)
The most significant difference between emotional and mental well-being is that the latter has a broader scope, while the former is limited to just emotions and feelings.
What is physical well-being?
Psychology Today says that physical well-being is “the ability to improve the functioning of your body through healthy living and good exercise habits.” (3)
It is not just the absence of disease but an active process in which you take steps to prevent illness and achieve a balanced state of mind, body, and spirit.
The state of your physical health can also affect your mental and emotional state.
How to improve your emotional well-being
Here are seven tips that can help improve your emotional health.
The best way to manage upsetting emotions is to notice them as they arise and to wait a few minutes (or days or weeks) before responding. This gives you time to process them and to choose a productive way of responding.
For example, if you’re angry at a friend, you may choose to see her actions in a more positive light, i.e., she didn’t realize how her statement sounded versus she was intentionally hurtful. You can then, with gentleness and compassion, ask her to clarify her intentions.
Don’t wait too long to respond to an upsetting emotion, though, as this could result in suppressing your feelings rather than managing them.
A large body of research suggests that mindfulness benefits physical, mental, and emotional health.
In a review of empirical studies on mindfulness, researchers found that:
“Overall, evidence from correlational research suggests that mindfulness is positively associated with a variety of indicators of psychological health, such as higher levels of positive affect, life satisfaction, vitality, and adaptive emotion regulation, and lower levels of negative affect and psychopathological symptoms.” (4)
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that you can adapt to your lifestyle and schedule. It involves bringing your full attention to the present moment with all your senses. For example, if you’re washing dishes, notice how the dishcloth feels in your hand as you wipe a plate. How does the soapy water feel and smell? What sounds do you hear? Be curious, as if this is the first time you’ve ever washed dishes.
Do this a few times a day, focusing on different activities. You can also formerly practice mindfulness meditation by going to a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed, closing your eyes, and focusing on whatever your mind and body are experiencing. Don’t try to stop your thoughts. Instead, notice how each thought arises and fades away. Again, be curious about each sensation in your body.
Start with just 5-10 minutes, gradually extending the time as you become more adept at the practice.
We all know that regular physical activity supports health. It turns out that getting regular exercise is also one of the best ways to improve your emotional state.
In clinical research studies, aerobic exercise — such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming — improved mood and reduced depression and anxiety. (5)
Why does aerobic exercise have such a positive effect on emotions? Well, researchers believe it’s at least partly due to an increase in blood flow to the brain and its impact on the adrenal system, which alters emotions. (6)
To reap the emotional benefits of exercise, researchers recommend that you perform 15-30 minutes of rhythmic aerobic exercise using large muscle groups — i.e., jogging, swimming, brisk walking — of moderate and low intensity at least three times a week. (7)
Cultivate strong social connections
Humans are innately social; thus, social connections are essential to our mental and emotional health. Indeed, numerous studies indicate that having a social support system is crucial to psychological and physical health. Positive social support, for example, has been shown to help people withstand stress. It can even reduce mortality. (8)
You can cultivate social connections by regularly calling or visiting friends and family members. Joining groups, volunteering, and taking classes at a community college are other great ways to make new friends and grow your social group.
Get quality sleep
A growing body of research suggests that lack of sleep negatively affects emotional regulation. Why? A brain-imaging study published in Current Biology shows that “lack of sleep can lead to greater activation of the brain’s emotional centers and disrupt the brain circuits that tame emotional responses.” (9)
So, to improve your emotional health, experts recommend that you get at least eight hours of quality uninterrupted sleep every night.
Research shows that in helping others, you also help yourself emotionally. Let’s face it, doing something good for another makes us feel good!
There are many reasons for this, but one of the most intriguing is “helping others regulate their emotions helps us regulate our own emotions, decreases symptoms of depression, and ultimately, improves our emotional well-being.” (10)
Specifically, a recent study by Columbia University suggests that when we help others handle stressful situations, we enhance our emotional regulation skills, thus improving our emotional wellness. (11)
Therefore, volunteering at a local organization, visiting residents at a long-term care facility, donating to a worthy cause, and other activities are great ways to help others while helping yourself!
Be compassionate and forgiving toward yourself
Many of us are highly critical of our performance and mistakes in the belief that being so hard on ourselves will motivate us to achieve our goals and succeed in life. But, unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
Research suggests that self-criticism makes us less likely to succeed in life. This is because self-criticism elevates stress hormones that interfere with clear, rational thought and prevent learning from the situation. It also negatively affects our mood.
On the other hand, self-compassion, a state in which we treat ourselves with the same loving-kindness and understanding that we’d treat a friend, increases your chances of success, happiness, and emotional well-being. One of the reasons for this is that self-compassion may activate our biological nurturance system, leading to a feeling of emotional well-being.
To practice self-compassion, simply change your perspective. For example, a failure isn’t a failure; it’s a learning opportunity. This automatically lifts your mood, making you eager to learn the lesson rather than blame yourself for the loss.
1- Davis T. What Is Well-Being? Definition, Types, and Well-Being Skills. Psychology Today. Jan 2, 2019. Accessed Sep 21, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201901/what-is-well-being-definition-types-and-well-being-skills#:~:text=Emotional%20Well-Being.%20The%20ability%20to%20practice%20stress-%20management,body%20through%20healthy%20living%20and%20good%20exercise%20habits.
2- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Mental Health. CDC. Page last reviewed: Jun 28, 2021. Accessed Sep 21, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm
3- Davis T. What Is Well-Being? Definition, Types, and Well-Being Skills. Psychology Today. Jan 2, 2019. Accessed Sep 21, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/click-here-happiness/201901/what-is-well-being-definition-types-and-well-being-skills#:~:text=Emotional%20Well-Being.%20The%20ability%20to%20practice%20stress-%20management,body%20through%20healthy%20living%20and%20good%20exercise%20habits.
4- Keng SL, Smoski MJ, Robins CJ. Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: a review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev. 2011;31(6):1041-1056. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006
5- Guszkowska M. Wpływ ćwiczeń fizycznych na poziom leku i depresji oraz stany nastroju [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood]. Psychiatr Pol. 2004 Jul-Aug;38(4):611-20. Polish. PMID: 15518309.
6- Guszkowska M. Wpływ ćwiczeń fizycznych na poziom leku i depresji oraz stany nastroju [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood]. Psychiatr Pol. 2004 Jul-Aug;38(4):611-20. Polish. PMID: 15518309.
7- Guszkowska M. Wpływ ćwiczeń fizycznych na poziom leku i depresji oraz stany nastroju [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood]. Psychiatr Pol. 2004 Jul-Aug;38(4):611-20. Polish. PMID: 15518309.
8- Southwick SM, Vythilingam M, Charney DS. The psychobiology of depression and resilience to stress: implications for prevention and treatment. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2005;1:255-91. doi: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.143948. PMID: 17716089.
9- National Institutes of Health. Lack of Sleep Disrupts Brain’s Emotional Controls. NIH. Nov 5, 2007. Accessed Sep 21, 2021. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/lack-sleep-disrupts-brains-emotional-controls
10- Schrader J. In Helping Others, You Help Yourself. Psychology Today. May 30, 2018. Accessed Sep 21, 2021. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/between-cultures/201805/in-helping-others-you-help-yourself
11- Doré BP, Morris RR, Burr DA, Picard RW, Ochsner KN. Helping Others Regulate Emotion Predicts Increased Regulation of One’s Own Emotions and Decreased Symptoms of Depression. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2017 May;43(5):729-739. doi: 10.1177/0146167217695558. Epub 2017 Mar 20. PMID: 28903637.