Going to your doctor for an annual physical is not anything unusual. You may put it off for a year, but eventually you get there, and they draw your routine blood work. You expect to have them check your blood sugar, cholesterol, kidney and liver functions. It may be time for your mammogram or a prostate exam. Now, think back, how often have you been asked questions about your emotional health?
What is Emotional Health?
Emotional health and wellbeing can be used interchangeably. They refer to the way a person views the world and how resilient they are to “bounce back” from the low points in life that we all experience. The Mental Health Foundation defines emotional health as “a positive state of wellbeing which enables an individual to be able to function in society and meet the demands of everyday life.”
Emotionally healthy people can control their:
- Resiliency to life’s obstacles
No one is asking you to be happy all the time. But ideally you have the emotional resources to respond to adversity. A stroke or severe illness can challenge your ability to “stay on track,” but your emotional health may determine how well you respond to a serious illness.
Warning Signs You Need Help
Most of us do not hesitate to respond to a high blood sugar or blood pressure reading. We may change our diet, start to exercise and take the pills our doctor prescribes. The early warning signs of problems with your emotional health may not be so obvious. Here are a few more subtle early signs.
- Low energy
- Fighting with friends or family
- Feeling like nothing matters
- Decreased work productivity
- Difficulty staying positive
During your brief visit, your doctor may not have inquired about your emotional health or steered you toward some useful strategies to counter any problems. Here are some strategies you can start working on today.
People who live in a society, enjoy looking into each other’s eyes, who share their troubles, who focus their efforts on what is important to them and find this joyful—these people lead a full lifeAlbert Einstein 1927
Strategies to Improve Your Emotional Health
- Self-awareness—do an inventory of what is having a negative effect on your emotions.
- Discuss how you feel with those close to you.
- Make sure you have social interactions.
- Friends may be hesitant to call you after a stroke or illness. Take the initiative. Call them and set up a time to meet.
- Make a list of what is right in your life and work toward being more optimistic.
- Focus on hope.
- Start a gratitude journal and each day record what you are grateful for.
- Sleep is important. Do you snore? You may have obstructive sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor.
- If you feel overwhelmed at times, take a break. Sing a song, go outside, play your favorite music. I have a “happy playlist” of 80 songs on my iPhone that make me smile.
- Make a list of “Can Do” and “Can’t Do” items. You will be surprised at the length of the “Can Do” list. Then make a plan to deal with the “Can’t Dos.”
Pick one or two strategies to start. Your emotional health is as important as the things that your doctor checks on a regular basis. It is time to give it equal attention.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has both a checklist and toolkit to help people evaluate and improve their emotional health. It is easy to use.