Over the last twenty years or so we have seen an increase in obsessions in physical fitness wherever you go. There has been a phenomenal increase in the growth of fitness clubs and gyms. Maybe social media has played its part and people are more conscious of their body image more than ever. People will try to find sensible and sustainable ways to achieve and maintain a physical health yet, tend to overlook another important aspect of their well-being, their emotional health.
Emotional heath should be considered an integral part of a person’s mental health but neglecting your emotional health can actually damage your physical health in the process. Research has shown that one of the leading contributors to illness is stress caused by unresolved issues.
Understanding Emotional Health
Psychologists believe that emotions, such as fear, joy, sadness, and anger are mental responses to events, circumstances, people, or our own thoughts and memories. They course through our conscious and unconscious mind at critical junctures or during seemingly inconsequential moments of our lives.
Biologists, on the other hand, tell us that our emotions are rooted in self-preservation, triggering physiological reactions that enable us to find food, escape danger, and reproduce. In his work entitled Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman pointed out that,
‘…all emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us.”
Emotions have also evolved into facial expressions and body language so that each member of the group can signal his or her wants and needs to other members. As John D. Mayer, a leading expert in the study of emotions has remarked: “Emotions convey information…about relationships.”
Emotions are so powerful and actually possess the ability to make us sick, as well as provide healing. Emotions are relayed to the immune system through the autonomic nervous system. When people experience anxiety, depression, and other painful emotions, the immune system can be affected and may cause a risk for a whole host of illnesses. In the same way, having a healthy emotional outlook in life can boost the resistance against disease.
Mayer has emphasized, “Many people reason with emotions in the same way they reason with cognitive information. So, you can solve emotional problems just as mathematicians solve math problems.” However, he also acknowledged that some emotions, such as grief and anger, can be harder to control or reason with. The interplay of various emotions make that form of ‘reasoning’ very difficult.
Not all experts agree that human beings are born with a full range of emotions. Instead, some theorize that people were born with instincts and urges, along with an innate capacity for feeling. As people grow older, they develop personalities and nurture relationships with others, which are valuable experiences that help them expand their feelings into full-fledged emotions. Having a complete range of emotion is important for overall health and well-being, here are a few steps you can take.
Emotional health consists of five key components:
- Being aware of your emotions. Emotionally healthy people are in touch with their emotions and can identify and acknowledge them as experience.
- Being able to process your emotions. After connecting with their emotions, emotionally healthy people develop appropriate ways of expressing them.
- Being sensitive to other people and their emotions and having the ability to empathize. The ability to identify their own emotions enables emotionally healthy people to identify emotions in others and to have an intuitive sense of what it feels like to experience them.
- Being self-empowered. People with Emotional Health honour their emotions, which empowers them to fulfil their goals.
- Being in healthy relationships. Using their emotional intelligence and empathy, people with emotional health build and maintain strong, functioning relationships.
Healthy Body Helps Mental Health
Just as emotional health can affect a person’s physical health, the same is true with one’s lifestyle making a direct impact on emotional health. Vitamins and minerals stimulate the production of chemicals in the brain. These are known as neurotransmitters that regulate our physical and mental health functions, including the way we process emotions. Minor deficiencies of these nutrients can lead to depression and irritability, as well as hamper our ability to concentrate and stay motivated.
Definitely, unhealthy foods can adversely affect emotional health. Excessive intake of caffeine demonstrates many of the same physiological and psychological symptoms as people suffering from anxiety, while a diet with too much sugar has been linked to depression, aggression, and impaired judgment.
Many experts believe that people with strong spiritual fervor tend to have healthier immune systems and are less prone to depression and high blood pressure. It can be surmised that the faith of religious adherents gave them an enhanced sense of well-being which helped reduce their levels of stress.
Mental And Emotional Health
Can you remember a time when you became a little irritated with someone and made a sharp comment that may have hurt, one which you later regretted? Have you ever writhed in the pain of emotional agony over some loss or missed opportunity? Do you recall a time when you felt so overwhelmed by emotion that you withdrew from everything and everyone? In any of these cases to a lesser or greater degree the emotional part of your brain has produced a questionable response or perhaps a response that you may have regretted later.
Researchers generally agree that there is an appropriate ‘alarm’ system in the brain. This system effectively overrides the thinking part of your brain in emergencies and causes an action or reaction that can be lifesaving.
The same system causes you problems when it creates inappropriate and unreasonable responses in your daily life in non-life-threatening situations. Maybe your loved ones see your anger and it hurts them or your relationship to them? Perhaps you experience other consequences that would have been averted had you greater control over your emotional brain?
Taking Emotional Control
You can exert control over the reactionary part of your grey matter. The first step is realizing why these unwanted and seemingly uncontrollable responses happen. Just being cognizant that your emotional alarm system sometimes triggers at inappropriate times is half the battle. With awareness, you will be primed to take the next step.
Using your will to produce a calmer state is the second step. You’ll want to exert some effort from the rational or thinking part of your brain. Your thinking mind must not be timid and should be a bit stronger in applying a conscious influence over your emotional reactions. You can learn to control the alarm response with persistence and patience and reset the threshold to a more appropriate ‘setting’.
Once you begin to recognize the emotional response before it happens, you begin to develop the ability to stop that response and engage the more rational part of your brain.
When successful, you will find that you no longer ‘snap’ at others. You will be happier, and your emotional side will not run ramped like an out of control team of horses racing away with the wagon of your rationality.
Calmer Means More Compassionate
Instead, you may find yourself becoming calmer, more relaxed and better able to handle situations in a way that helps everyone and allows the wonderful person that you truly are to shine through.
Developing a more compassionate and kinder nature may help. Becoming less quick to judge a situation and more understanding of the perceived transgressions of others may be useful in resetting the threshold of your emotional alarm system.
Ridding yourself of thoughts of arguing or fighting with others may also leave you in a better state of mind. Allowing things to happen naturally and letting go of the need to be in control of every situation will allow you to feel better about yourself and the world around you.
Consider practicing that sage-like advice that comes from a most unusual source, bumper stickers. You have probably seen the ones that say, “I practice random acts of kindness’ If you actively do so, you may find your threshold for emotional responses naturally adjusting upwards.
Checking inappropriate responses is a great reason to pay attention to your emotions and feelings. Yet, there is an even more positive benefit that hasn’t been mentioned yet.
Consider this quote from the inside front jacket of Daniel Goleman’s book, “Emotional Intelligence“.
“Emotional Intelligence includes self- awareness and impulse control, persistence, zeal and self-motivation, empathy, and social deftness. These are the qualities that mark people who excel in real life: whose intimate relationships flourish, who are stars in the workplace. These are the hallmarks of character and self- discipline, of altruism and compassion -basic capacities needed if our society is to thrive”.
Clearly, you have the power to make changes that vastly improve the quality of your mental health, life and the lives of those around you. The answer rests within and can change your world.