A great way to welcome the New Year is to focus on your emotional well-being. After all, your emotional wellness is closely connected to your mental and physical health.
According to therapist Keely Clark, LCSW, “basic functions like digestion, sleep, energy levels, and concentration/focus are all affected by the state of our emotional health.”
Vancouver psychotherapist Chris Boyd, MA, noted that “emotional well-being increases levels of contentment and self-worth and impacts our ability to connect with others, deal with adversity, be flexible, and enhance our skills.”
In short, in order to be and feel our best, it’s important to bolster our emotional well-being.
What is emotional well-being exactly?
Psychotherapist Genesis Games, LMHC, shared this definition from the Therapist’s Guide to Positive Psychological Interventions: “a combination of positive affect in the absence of negative affect and an overall sense of fulfillment with life.”
Boyd defined emotional well-being as: “a healthy and balanced range of emotions,” including coping effectively with anxiety, sadness, and anger, “but not to the extent that they impact our ability to engage in life.”
Enhancing your emotional well-being doesn’t have to feature grand gestures and sweeping changes. It can include small shifts in your day to day. Here are nine shifts to try.
Change your automatic thinking. “The first thought that pops into our mind is conditioned by our biology, genetics, temperament, and experiences and can often be repetitive, useless, and negative,” Boyd said.
These automatic thoughts can be anything from “This presentation will be a disaster” to “I’m such a failure” to “What’s wrong with me!”
To change this detrimental thinking, Boyd suggested noticing your first thought with curiosity and following up with a more logical and helpful thought. Asking yourself these questions can help, he said:
- What would I tell a friend who had this thought?
- Is there objective evidence that substantiates this thought?
- Would it stand up in a court of law or be dismissed as circumstantial?
- What would someone I respect think of this thought?
For example, if you automatically think “I totally blew this!” you change it to: “That was a difficult situation. But it also had some positives. Because I’ve had this experience, I’ll be better prepared next time something similar occurs.”
Identify your values. “Values provide a road map for the direction we want to move in our life,” said Erin Haugen, PhD, LP, CMPC, a clinical and sport psychologist who helps others achieve their peak performance goals. “If you’re not living your values, chances are you will not feel fulfilled or satisfied.”
To discover your values, she suggested exploring these questions: What do I truly stand for? What qualities are meaningful to me? How do I want to be in my relationship with others?
Rest every day. Rest can mean different things to different people. To Clark, rest means unplugging from all technology or media and spending at least 20 minutes with her own thoughts every day.
“So much of our daily life is influenced by what we see others doing and we are prone to compare ourselves,” said Clark, who offers supportive counseling and coaching to moms as they navigate the transitions of motherhood at her private practice MotherBloom Wellness PLLC in Asheville, N.C. This “increases intrinsic pressures to ‘keep up’ or ‘keep going’ even when our intuition may be saying ’slow down.’”
Carving out quiet time helps you stay connected to yourself and what you value most, she added.
Embrace all emotions. Give yourself permission to feel the full range of your emotions—from joy to sorrow to deep disappointment, said Games, who specializes in working with individuals, couples, and families struggling with relationship issues, breakups, addiction, and life transitions in Miami, Fla.
Identify “how your emotions manifest in your body,” focusing on the different physical sensations that arise. Pay attention to what triggers your emotions and whether there’s a pattern, she said.
Games also stressed the importance of “widening your emotional vocabulary” and being very specific. For example, instead of saying “I am sad,” say “I am heartbroken.”
Explore what your emotions are trying to tell you. As Haugen noted, emotions are “data you use to evaluate experiences.” What message are your emotions trying to send?
Engage in compassionate acts. According to Boyd, “The Dalai Lama once said, ‘If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.’” These can be small (but significant) acts. For example, he said, you might buy coffee for a stranger, offer to help a colleague, give up your seat on the train, or donate to a food bank.
Engage in activities that spark positive emotions. Haugen suggested engaging in at least one joy-promoting activity per day. These activities “don’t have to be anything major.” For example, Haugen likes to spend time with her dogs. Other examples, she said, include putting a puzzle together, taking a walk, or listening to your favorite music.
“If you are feeling stuck, just Google the ‘Pleasant Events Schedule,’ which is a list of [several] hundred activities that can bring positive emotions to you.”
Be thankful for the seemingly ordinary. Over the years, research has confirmed the power of gratitude in our lives. Games suggested being grateful for the things we typically take for granted that would have a tremendous impact if we lost them.
For example, as a Miami resident, Games is grateful to have air conditioning in her car, home, and office. “When a hurricane strikes and the power goes out for days or weeks, I am reminded of the value of AC. I suddenly become so much more appreciative of it.”
What do you often dismiss, which actually contributes to your health and happiness?
Do something playful. This is one of Clark’s go-to practices—and research confirms that play is powerful for adults. For example, you might start the day with a 5-minute dance party, use a coloring book on your lunch break, or doodle a silly picture after getting home from work. If you’re not sure what activities to try, think back to what you loved as a child.
Get creative. Tapping into our creativity and imagination helps us to express our emotions and promotes a sense of novelty and challenge that stimulates our senses and nudges us to be more present, Games said. For example, you might paint, pen poetry, play an instrument, bake a new cookie recipe, or take on a DIY project, she said.
There are many ways to focus on your emotional health every day. Pick the suggestions that resonate with you. As Haugen said, “Attending to your emotional well-being is a way of life.” And it’s absolutely worth it.