10 Steps To Better Emotional Health

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The hectic pace of life can present a real challenge to the maintenance of good emotional health on a day-to-day basis. It’s no wonder that many of the most-prescribed medications treat symptoms related to stress that arises from “lifestyle” problems such as insomnia, high blood pressure and cholesterol, depression, sexual dysfunction….. the list goes on and on. But a few simple steps can help preserve emotional balance in the face of all the challenges and demands of modern life. Here are ten suggestions to help you insure the maintenance of good emotional health in your daily life:

1) Get enough zzzzz‘s. The average American sleeps about an hour less per night than in 1960. That’s the loss of an entire night of sleep each week compared with just a generation ago. Sleep deprivation contributes to reduced mental alertness, greater irritability, lowered frustration tolerance, and reduced motivation. Set a regular bedtime -- and keep it!

2) Watch your input. The saying “garbage in, garbage out” means that it’s difficult to get a good result with bad input, so pay careful attention to the stimulus that can saturate your life. Mindless television shows, strident talk radio hosts and violent movies all have their place, but so do French fries -- it’s not a good idea to make a steady diet of them. Make sure you are doing enough to surround yourself with stimulating reading material, soothing or inspiring music and sources of beauty in your life.  

3) Easy does it. Give resentments a rest. Approach your life with a light touch rather than a heavy hand. Remember the sage advice to “wear the world as loose garment.” If you catch all the red lights on the way to work or somebody cuts you off in line, use that opportunity to practice an attitude of tolerance, acceptance and good humor. It gets easier with practice and the development of a more easy-going attitude often helps others around you to act in the same way in return.  Look up my article about the "20-60-20" rule to help with this.

4) Know yourself. This advice has been around since the ancient Greeks. We all have certain parts of our personality that cause trouble for us or others. By acknowledging your particular triggers, hot buttons or quirks you allow yourself the opportunity to work on them in order to become a more emotionally well-rounded individual. Denial is the enemy of emotional health and well-being, so consistently seek to cultivate awareness of your foibles and the opportunities for growth they provide.

5) Don’t go it alone. It’s vitally important to share your feelings openly and regularly with trusted people in your life. There’s an old saying that “even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.” If you don’t let other people know your thoughts and feelings it’s easy to lose perspective and become too emotionally isolated.

6) Sweat it out. Stress on the body relieves stress on the mind, so get some exercise on a regular basis. Even if you have some physical limitations on the kinds there are bound to be some steps you can take with your doctor’s advice to get your blood flowing and build up your physical strength and endurance. This can make a lot of difference in your emotional well-being.

7) Make sobriety a priority.  Many studies show the healthy benefits of an occasional glass of wine, but it’s very important not to overdo it. Use of mood-altering drugs and over-reliance on alcohol can lead to unhealthy dependency and an overall reduction in mental, emotional and physical functioning. Consider the “two and two” rule, which is to have no more than two servings of alcohol a day, no more often than twice a week.

8) Keep it simple. The desire to do more and have more often leads to working more and worrying more. Past a certain point having more stuff rarely results in greater happiness. Sometimes it really is true that “less is more“. De-cluttering and down-sizing is often a way to begin de-stressing. And be sure to unplug from time to time and follow the advice to “don’t just do something, sit there!”

9) Be here now. Much emotional distress is not rooted in the present moment. Remorse and resentment about the past and anxiety about the future obscures the ability to be calm and balanced in the present. As the saying goes, “the past is history and the future is a mystery. This moment is a gift -- that’s why it’s called the present.” When you find yourself wandering too often into what’s happened in the past or may happen in the future, take a deep breath and center yourself in the responsible recognition that this very moment -- right now -- is all you can do anything about.  See my article "Time Trip Tips" for more about this.  

10) Seek help. Just as you’d seek a plumber if your pipes were leaking or a financial planner for investment advice, it’s important to reach out for help if you’re having problems dealing with your emotions or relationships in the way you‘d like.

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Bill Herring is an Atlanta counselor, psychotherapist and life coach.  In addition to his general practice he is well known as an expert in the treatment of sexually addictive behaviors.