Emotional Health: Definition + 19 Tips
What is emotional health? We hear a lot about physical health and how to boost it, but how do you grow your emotional health? Here are 19 science-based tips you can implement today.
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What Is Emotional Health?
Emotional health is a broad term that is not strictly defined. The definition of emotional health generally includes a lack of emotional disorders, but also the presence of positive emotional characteristics like resilience, mastery, self-efficacy, and vitality (Hendrie et al., 2006). Given how broad the concept of emotional health is, there are lots of different things we can do to boost it. We'll talk about some of these here.
How Do You Define Emotional Health?
Before talking about the strategies you can use to boost emotional health, it can be helpful to create your own working definition. So ask yourself these questions to get a better sense of what it would mean to you to be emotionally healthy.
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. It can just be helpful to know where you are now and where you'd like to be so that you can better map out the steps to get from here to there.
Exploring Four Aspects of Emotional Health
Although people may disagree about which aspects make up emotional health, here are four key aspects worth thinking about. Ask yourself how you are doing with each of these aspects to get a better idea of where you stand. For more tips and a personalized report, take our well-being quiz.
Video: How Emotionally Healthy Are You?
Emotional Health Tips
Now that you have a better idea of your emotional health, let's dive into some strategies that can help you boost your emotional health.
1. Do Activities That You Enjoy
One of the easiest ways to boost emotional health is to do activities that you enjoy (Rohde, Feeny, & Robins, 2005). Spend time with loved ones, get out in nature, go to parties with friends, or make more time for your favorite hobby. To make sure you stick to actually doing these activities, block out time for them in your calendar. If you want to maintain your emotional health, your rest and fun time should be just as important as meetings and other responsibilities.
If we are not aware of who we are, how we feel, or why we do things, we have a harder time living our lives in ways that are good for our emotional health. So it can be helpful to spend time in self-reflection. Try to better understand what pushes your buttons and what brings you joy. Then build the skills you need to think happy thoughts and engage in behaviors that make you feel good emotionally.
3. Build a Healthier Relationship with Technology
You may have heard that our smartphones are hurting our emotional health. Indeed, spending too much time on our phones or the Internet is associated with higher levels of depression and loneliness (Kraut et al.,1998). But the interesting thing is that technology use is not actually bad for everyone's emotional health—it depends on how you are using technology. That's why I spent about two years writing a book on how we can use technology in ways that help our emotional health instead of hurting it. Check out my book, Outsmart Your Smartphone to learn more.
Video: Bad habits online and IRL rob us of mental strength
4. Train Your Brain for Positivity
The more information our brains have on a subject, the easier it is to recall anything related to that subject (Newberry & Bailey, 2019). That means that the more positive information, words, and memories we have related to positive things, the easier it should be to drum up positive thoughts and emotions. Basically, by creating a strong neural map or "memory tree" for positive stuff, we should be able to increase the speed and accessibility of that information in our brains. One way to do this may be to memorize words that have been rated as highly positive. Check out our positivity workbook for a collection of words.
5. Detox Your Stress
I've done quite a bit of research on stress because I've struggled a lot with stress in my life. I not only have the dreaded COMT gene mutation, which makes it difficult for my body to remove stress hormones, I also have several other genes that increase stress in my body (get your emotional health genes tested here).
Long story short, a few years back all this reached a boiling point and I developed significant stress-related illnesses. No amount of relaxation and de-stressing was enough to fix it. I had to get these stress hormones out of my body and prevent them from returning—I had to do a stress detox. But nobody talks about stress like this so it took me a long time to figure out what really works. Check out my stress detox if stress is what is harming your emotional health.
6. Go Easy on Yourself
Judging ourselves harshly or thinking negative thoughts about ourselves is especially problematic for emotional health. In fact, self-acceptance is pretty much essential for happiness and optimism (Oltean, Hyland, Vallières, & David, 2019). So, try to go easy on yourself. Challenge negative thoughts and consider using positive affirmations like, “I love myself for who I am”. Fight back against perfectionism and work to develop skills like self-compassion.
7. Practice Positive Reappraisal
Reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy where we reinterpret a negative situation in ways that make us feel better. Poor reappraisal in the context of stress can contribute to higher levels of sadness and depression (Garnefski et al.,2002). But the good news is that reappraisal is a learnable skill. You can practice reappraisal by actively thinking about the positives when you encounter tough or negative situations. Practicing this strategy regularly can help you improve this skill and grow your emotional health.
8. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is good for your emotional health. In fact, the more gratitude we feel, the happier we tend to be. And there are so many ways we can boost our gratitude. For example, having a gratitude journal is a great way to keep gratitude lists and note down the things we appreciate and are thankful for (Kaczmarek et al., 2015). We can also write notes or letters of gratitude to others or collect things, like ticket stubs or momentos, that make us feel grateful for our experiences.
9. Self-Distance From Negative Experiences
Another strategy you can try to grow your emotional health is to self-distance. Self-distancing involves mentally removing yourself from your situation to gain a greater perspective (Ayduk & Kross, 2010). For example, try imagining being “a fly on the wall” or someone walking down the street. By viewing your situation from an outsider's perspective it can take some of the emotional sting out of your experience and help you more effectively manage your emotions.
Video: How to practice emotional first aid
10. Set Small, Achievable Goals
The simple experience of working towards goals can help us improve our emotional health. This may be because setting goals helps us clarify for ourselves what is personally meaningful, and working towards those goals can give us a greater sense of purpose (Emmons, 2003). In addition, achieving our life goals helps us satisfy important psychological needs like competence, autonomy, and relatedness, which all enhance emotional health (Sheldon & Elliot, 1999). You can set big goals too, just be sure to break these big goals into smaller parts that can be accomplished in shorter periods, like a day or week.
11. Stop Rumination Cycles
When we get stuck thinking about something distressing over and over again then we are stuck in a rumination cycle. Rumination is horrible for our emotional health and is often thought to be a key contributor or component of depression. Luckily, there are some techniques that can stop these cycles.
First, recognize that thinking the way you have always thought is easier than thinking new thoughts or in a new way. It's not your fault, but if you are a ruminator, your brain has been wired to keep ruminating. And as you probably know, simply willing your brain to stop is futile.
A better strategy for stopping these thoughts is to force your brain and your body to focus on other things. Two of the best ways to do this are by taking an ice-cold shower or going for a high-intensity run. Your body then redirects its energy to your muscles and activates other biological processes that help you short-circuit your negative thoughts.
12. Savor the Past, Present, and Future
To savor, drum up positive emotions. You can do this for the past, present, or future. For example, try thinking about a good event you experienced. Then try recalling all the positive things about that event. Now try to focus on the good things in the present moment. Hold onto any positive emotions you're able to drum up.
Next, try thinking about something you're looking forward to. It can be something big like a wedding or something small like being done with your workday. Again, try to hold onto these positive emotions for as long as possible. By savoring, we can bring more positive emotions into our lives and boost our emotional health.
13. Find Meaning
Meaning and purpose in life come from many things. By bringing more of these things into our lives, we can enhance meaning and boost emotional health. Some of the things we can work on are living by principles or personal values, having clear intentions for how we want to live, and viewing our life as interesting or engaging (Morgan & Farsides, 2009). Doing these things may not always be easy, so start with what is easiest and go from there.
14. Know Your Strengths
Knowing our strengthens and weaknesses can help us make good decisions for how to achieve our goals and improve our emotional health. We can use our strengths to get our needs met, we can work on improving our weaknesses to overcome obstacles, or we can do both. That's why knowing our abilities and where we stand is so important.
17. Watch What You Eat
Our diet has so much impact on our emotional health. For example, sugar, caffeine, and junk food make us feel worse in the longterm and can even potentially contribute to depression and anxiety. So keep an eye on what you eat. Focus on eating lots of different colored fruits and veggies, and eat grass-fed, antibiotic-free meat if possible. Listen to your body for any cues about food intolerances and consider cutting out foods like wheat and dairy for a short period of time to see if these changes make a difference.
18. Process Your Emotions
If we're having a lot of negative emotions, we may tend toward avoiding or suppressing them so that we don't have to feel or deal with them. Unfortunately, shoving down our emotions is bad for emotional health.
Emotions are natural things that arise to motivate us to engage in behaviors that are good for us. Sadness motivates us to rest or seek out comfort. Anger motivates us to make changes in our lives. And anxiety motivates us to avoid danger. Letting these emotions exist and serve their purpose is okay. Where it gets tricky is when we're creating extra negative emotions with negative thought patterns or negative behaviors. But our negative emotions need to be allowed to exist so we can work through them.
Video: How to process your emotions
19. Be Nice to Yourself
Growing our emotional health is a lifelong process. It's important not to be too hard on yourself along the way. You'll have good days and bad days regardless of how good your emotional health is. The goal is for the bad days to get fewer and to be less intense. With time and effort, you'll see that emotional health is something you can grow.