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How to achieve and improve emotional health

September 8, 2021 - 23 min read


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What is emotional health?

Why is emotional health important?

What's the difference between mental health and emotional health?

8 signs that are you are struggling with emotional health

5 characteristics of an emotionally healthy person

How to achieve and improve emotional health

What are some examples of emotional health?

Real-world examples of emotional health

Final thoughts

Modern life can be a challenge.

Familial, societal, and economic pressures are constantly pushing us, and it can be overwhelming.

That's where emotional health comes in — the ability to deal with those pressures in a healthy way. Maintaining it keeps us healthier and happier.

In this article, we'll give a complete breakdown of what emotional health is, why it's so important, and look at some examples of how you can improve your own emotional health to live a fuller, more satisfying life.

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What is emotional health?

Emotional health refers to how a person is able to manage their thoughts, feelings, and emotions through the ups and downs of life.

Someone with good emotional health and emotional wellness is aware of their emotions and has strategies to deal with both everyday situations and traumatic experiences (such as losing a loved one, losing a job, or divorce).

Why is emotional health important?

Emotionally healthy people are typically in control of their thoughts, feelings, and actions and can cope with life's challenges and bounce back from life's setbacks. Being emotionally healthy doesn't mean that we're never sad or angry or frustrated.

Having good emotional health is a key part of fostering resiliency, self-awareness, and an overall sense of well-being. Our emotional health also plays a role in how well we interact with others, including how we take in and respond to feedback and criticism, how we give guidance, and how we observe and interpret what others around us are doing and why. 

Having the skills to maintain good emotional health is key if we want to succeed and thrive in our professional and personal lives.

For example, as we've all seen over the past twelve months, the world of work is less predictable than ever before, and it's never been more important to be able to regulate our emotions and be in control of how we respond to challenging situations.

We're also bound to face challenges in our personal lives, so our ability to have skills in place to manage both our positive and negative emotions is key. 


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What's the difference between mental health and emotional health?

1. Mental health is broader than emotional health 

The scope of mental health is far wider than that of emotional health. 

According to the CDC, mental health encompasses our "emotional, psychological, and social well-being." 

Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness. The WHO (World Health Organization) defines good mental health "as a state of being where every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life and can work productively." Mental health, like physical health, is closely connected with how productively and easily we engage with our world over time without causing ourselves distress.

From this definition, we can see that emotional health is one big contributor to overall mental health.

2. Processing information vs expressing emotion

Emotional health and emotional well-being are about how well we manage our emotions and the impact our emotions have on us and the people around us. As noted above, mental health is concerned also with our engagement with others as well as how well our minds process and understand information.

For example, if someone loses their job, they may feel angry, betrayed, or afraid. Someone with poor emotional health might give in to their emotions and react in a negative way. This could include lashing out at their boss or loved ones or becoming despondent and withdrawn. This kind of behavior creates a negative spiral that can lead to further difficult situations and painful emotions.

Someone with good emotional health might experience all of the same feelings as above. However, they can recognize and acknowledge these feelings while keeping them in perspective to not get out of control and make the situation worse. 

Neither of these examples has to do with the person's understanding and processing of the facts and timeline: you are being let go, you have 2 weeks. In both of these examples, the individual has understood and processed the information but had two very different emotional reactions. 

On the other hand, someone's mental health, regardless of their emotional reaction, might cause them to internalize or interpret the facts of losing their job differently. For example, someone with poor mental health might believe, "Of course I got fired. I screw everything up. I am a failure." Or, they might hide the fact of their job loss from their friends and family if they aren't confident in their social well-being. Someone with good mental health, after the initial sting, might say, "I lost my job because the business was not doing well. It's a tough economy. I might have to look longer for something new."

3. Emotional health doesn't equal mental health

One distinction between emotional and mental health is that someone can be in a good place with their emotional health but still struggle with their mental health or experience mental health problems. 

For example, if someone lacks the energy to go to work, they may still be able to use emotional health strategies to get through the day. Their lack of energy may be pointing to a deeper mental health issue that requires further attention.

Here are a few strategies to maintain your emotional health:
essential traits of emotional health

8 signs that are you are struggling with emotional health

Stress is a normal part of life, and — unfortunately — there's no making it go away. However, there's no denying that the better we feel, the better we tend to handle our stress. If you're experiencing any of the following, it may be a sign that you're struggling with emotional problems:

  • You feel drained all the time or have energy than usual
  • You're either sleeping too much or too little
  • Your performance at work is beginning to suffer
  • Taking care of your hygiene and personal health feels like too much
  • You find that you're eating too much or too little
  • You're often anxious or irritated with loved ones
  • You have physical symptoms of stress, like high blood pressure or heart palpitations
  • Your confidence or self-esteem is affected
  • You get the Sunday scaries more and more frequently 

5 characteristics of an emotionally healthy person

1. They're self-aware

Someone who is self-aware can perceive themselves accurately and understands how their behavior comes across to others.

As marriage and family therapist Amy McManus puts it, "self-awareness is the ability to look at your own actions from a perspective outside of yourself."

2. They have emotional agility 

Emotional agility, similar to cognitive agility, refers to an individual's ability to deal with stressors and discomfort in work and life. Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan David describes emotionally agile people as knowing how to draw insights from their feelings and use them to adapt, align, and perform at their best. Rather than ignore or repress their emotions, they accept them, "holding them loosely" and with an open mind.

Someone with strong emotional agility shows resilience in the face of adversity and can handle setbacks in a way that doesn't drive them to engage in negative behaviors or coping mechanisms.

3. They have strong coping skills

Emotionally healthy individuals tend to have strong and healthy coping skills that help them in testing and trying circumstances.

Some of these healthy coping skills include...

  • Practicing meditation and relaxation techniques. 
  • Spending time with friends.
  • Finding time for hobbies. 

A few more strategies:

how to deal with stress and anxiety

(Image Source)

4. They live with purpose

Purpose means different things for different people, and our own sense of purpose often intertwines with the goals we set ourselves. 

Unfortunately, most people don’t wake up one day and have a ‘eureka’ moment where their life purpose is suddenly clear, and there will always be an element of trial and error when it comes to discovering a sense of purpose. 

To start this process, focus on taking a new habit, skill, or hobby. Is there a sport that you've always wanted to try but never had the time to? Is there a practical skill you want to learn? 

If you can define or think of something new to try, start there. Often one positive step leads to another. 

For example, learning a new practical skill could open you up to new career opportunities, which could lead you to earn more money. With this extra money, you could travel the world, buy a house, buy a new car, pay off debts. 

Whatever you would do in this scenario is up to you; the point is that just by taking one positive step, new opportunities and experiences can arise.

5. They manage their stress levels 

Facing stress is a certainty for everyone, but emotionally healthy people tend to have successful strategies they can rely on to manage their stress levels. 

If you find yourself struggling with stress, take some time to identify what is causing you to stress in your own life. 

Are you feeling stressed at work? Is your relationship causing you stress?

Identifying what's causing stress in your life makes it easier to start implementing stress management strategies:

mental health self care wheel

How to achieve and improve emotional health

1. Cultivate a positive mindset

While you may not always find yourself in positive circumstances, it is always possible to see the positive in every situation, and there are steps you can take to cultivate a positive mindset. 

Happiness researcher  (and BetterUp Science Board Advisor) Shawn Achor makes the point that people see real progress in their happiness when they make a mindset and behavioral shift at the same time.

In an interview with CEO Chad Grills Shawn states that through his research on happiness that while our genes and environment dictate our baseline level of happiness, the following daily habits can have a positive impact on how we view the world:

  • Scan and notice three new things in the world were grateful for every day for 21 days in a row.
  • Start and maintain an exercise regime.
  • Meditate for a few minutes every day.
  • Carry out random acts of kindness.
  • Journal about a positive experience for two minutes every day.

Shawn concludes that small positive habit changes can dramatically affect the way our brains process the world and transform someone with a genetic predisposition to pessimism into a lifelong optimist

Shawn’s research also brings into focus the fact that emotional health doesn’t mean being happy and positive all the time. 

Our genetics and environment dictate our baseline levels of happiness, so some elements are outside of our control. But by studying emotional health and implementing healthy habits, we can get to a point where we deal with our emotions in constructive, healthy ways.

2. Smile

It’s been proven that smiling does, in fact, make us happier!

In a 2019 paper by the University of Tennessee, psychologists found that facial expressions do, in fact, have a small impact on our feelings

3. Seek or accept help and support from others

Whether it's a qualified professional, a friend, or a family member, seeking help from someone you can rely on for support can make all the difference when you're going through a difficult time.

4. Practice gratitude in your daily life

Being grateful for your situation shifts your mindset from wanting more to being thankful for what you have. 

If you want to start cultivating a mindset of gratitude, start with small daily acts. Ways you can do this include: 

  • Start a gratitude journal and add to it every day.
  • Show humility and be open to new experiences and new points of view.
  • Spend quality time with those close to you, 
  • Commit to one day per week where you don’t complain about anything.

What are some examples of emotional health?

1. Curiosity

Being curious about your own mind is one way to start actively engaging with your own emotional health. 

This can be as simple as asking, 'why do I feel or react this way?' when you experience a negative emotion. 

By doing this, you may begin to uncover some of the reasons causing you to react in a certain way. 

2. Sharing feelings appropriately 

Having someone to confide in can have massive benefits to your emotional health. If you have someone you're close with, like a close friend or family member, then reach out to them if you're ever beginning to feel overwhelmed. 

Sharing your feelings can help give you clarity on what you're experiencing, while also giving you someone you can lean on for support.

3. Noticing and facing emotions when they arise

Identifying emotions when they arise can be a great way of diffusing that emotion and coming to terms with it. 

For example, next time you feel yourself getting angry, try and take a step back and actively think about how you want to react in that situation.

If you can get into the habit of noticing bothersome emotions as they come up, you can practice getting into the habit of actively choosing how you react to certain emotions. If you can notice your emotions as they arise 

Real-world examples of emotional health

While it's useful to have seen some examples and characteristics of emotional health, it's nice to be able to see what strong emotional health looks like in everyday situations. 

To help with that, here are two relatable real-life scenarios where both individuals demonstrate their emotional health rituals and strategies to deal with life's challenges. 

Example #1. Julie, the Busy ICU Nurse.

Julie is an experienced ICU nurse who has been working 60 hour weeks due to the increased demands on her unit. 

Julie also cares for her elderly mother when she’s not at work, which doesn’t leave her much time for herself.

Because of the stressful and emotional nature of her job, Julie has developed strategies and practices that she uses to manage her professional and personal stresses. 

These include:

  • Journaling each day and noting down three things she’s grateful for each day.
  • Making time every Saturday morning to meet up with friends at a local community dog walking event.
  • Making the most of the benefits her employer provides by going to the gym regularly and visiting her physiotherapist once a month.

The practice of journaling helps Julie destress and gain clarity in her thoughts. Connecting with other people in her community helps Julie stay grounded and gives her mind a break from the stresses of everyday life. Going to the gym regularly and visiting her physio helps Julie stay physically fit and healthy. Julie knows that if she doesn’t attend to her own emotional health, she won’t be able to continue to serve her patients or her mother the way they need.

Example #2. John, the Customer Service Manager

John is a busy customer service manager who manages a team of five staff. Outside of the office, John is a busy father of two and goes to church every Sunday. 

John's workdays are usually pretty frantic, between dealing with customer inquiries and managing his team, John is left exhausted by the end of each day. 

Throughout the day, Like Julie, John uses specific techniques to help him manage his emotional health, emotional well being, and psychological well being. 

These include:

  • Practicing self-talk to remind himself that he can choose how to react to situations. 
  • Attending church every Sunday to practice his faith and engage with like-minded individuals.
  • Making sure he's home by 6 pm in order to spend quality time with his family.

John's family and his faith give him a purpose in life. His positive self-talk and ability to manage his emotions help John maintain a successful balance between his family, professional and spiritual wellness. John has noticed that when he feels balanced, his team at work and his family seem to do better, too, and even cranky customers aren’t so challenging.


Final thoughts

It can be scary to open up about your mental and emotional health. However, the reality is that every single person deals with it. We all have good days and bad days, and we all benefits from making our mental fitness a priority. Just like physical health conditions, emotional health is an important part of our overall health. That means that when your health is in jeopardy, you should take action — the same as you would for a medical condition.

If you find your emotions are getting on top of you, try to ensure you're taking care of your core needs by getting enough sleep, keeping a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Reach out to your friends, family, or others for social support. Practicing mindfulness and self-care will help you develop new skills and the ability to work through negative thought patterns.

If you need further help, never hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional who will be able to give you the right tools and strategies to improve your emotional health. Along with your social connections, a therapist or coach can be an invaluable part of your support network.

Managing our emotions is part of being human. Learning to manage your thoughts, feelings, and emotions in the face of stress is a skill that pays dividends — both in your relationships with other and your relationship with yourself.

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Published September 8, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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