October is Emotional Wellness Month in the United States. This means we should take the time to bring awareness to the importance of emotional wellness in overall physical and mental health.
Emotional wellness can be defined as the sum of our moods – in terms of how appropriate our emotional responses are and in terms of how much our moods may vary. An emotionally healthy person will react in certain ways, such as feeling joy in happy moments, grief in loss, and anger in frustration.
Emotional wellness is not a form of Zen or an encouragement to be happy at all times. It is about being mindful of how we feel and recognizing that, sometimes, our emotions may be misaligned with the world around us.
We might feel deep longing and sadness when we should be content. We might feel nothing even though everything is in disarray. This is not an attempt to try and argue that there is a right way to feel in any given circumstance, but it is an acknowledgment of the fact that, depending on the circumstances around us, some feelings are inappropriate and should be heeded as a warning that something might not be right.
Learning to recognize when our emotional health has taken a major hit is important for addressing mental health issues before they grow.
What Does Emotional Wellness Month Represent?
Emotional wellness is something most of us are aware of, yet few of us truly embrace or cherish. As a whole, mental health awareness has massively improved over time. People understand the difference between depression and anxiety, they know about ADHD, and they may even know what an obsessive-compulsive disorder might look like.
Yet despite growing awareness, there are still many gaps in public knowledge, and a dire lack of access to crucial resources for mental health and treatment. People who are depressed rarely get the help they need, even if they know they might need it. And when they do go looking for help, many might feel rebuffed by the difficulty of getting access to consistent care.
If you are feeling well, then emotional wellness month may be your opportunity to help those who aren’t. On average, we all have a friend or family member struggling with their mental health, whether through diagnosed illness or simply due to excess stress and a tough time.
Assist them in navigating local resources to access mental healthcare, whether it’s through the address of a reputable counselor or psychiatrist, helping them sort through the paperwork for their mental health insurance coverage, or simply convincing them to consider an appointment with a therapist.
Taking Care of Your Emotional Wellness
How do you take care of your emotional wellness? The answer will be a little different for everyone. In general, fulfilling your own personal physical and mental needs can go a long way. This goes beyond running a hot bath or considering a humidifier and some essential oils for your living room – while these can be excellent tools for relieving stress, there are a few foundational needs that must be met first.
Addressing these needs and recognizing if others around you are doing the same is an important part of drawing attention to emotional wellness issues during emotional wellness month.
It’s about looking past short-term gains in mental health or seeing self-care routines as a band-aid for deeper personal health issues. It’s about recognizing the importance and value of seeking professional help and valuing the relationship between physical health and mental health, and how that translates into better mood regulation and emotional wellbeing.
Are You Eating Well?
It all begins with physical needs. The big three are eating well, sleeping well, and moving often.
A good diet is important yet difficult, but it does not need to be. Time constraints and financial limits are usually the two reasons people cite most often when it comes to not eating well. Fresh ingredients can be difficult to source or expensive. Depending on where you live, you might not have access to good produce or quality proteins.
If you do get access to something healthy, it might be unaffordable. Then, there are storage concerns. Many people do not have large freezers or refrigerators to facilitate meal prep or bulk buying. Finally, it takes time to prepare meals. And if your emotional health is suffering, it becomes even harder to find the motivation to start cooking.
Finding Better Ways to Cook and Eat
A good way to overcome these challenges is by looking at easier ways to cook and eat. There are budget options for both vegetables and meat products, as well as simple recipes that take no more than fifteen minutes to prepare. Buy frozen vegetables, which are often cheaper, pre-prepared, and just as nutritious as fresh produce. Pick ingredients that are filling and nutritious, then rely on cheap spices to extend your palate. Play around with interesting flavors and learn about new food combinations from different cultures to keep your diet interesting.
Taking an hour out of the weekend to batch-cook refrigerable ingredients can make it easier to cook during the week. A few pieces of toast, some soft-boiled eggs, and slices of cucumber make for a good lunch that takes minutes to whip up. Reduce your coffee consumption to one or two cups a day, and drink more water or tea. Cut your costs by removing all snacks and sugary drinks from your shopping cart, or switch to sugar-free drinks for the same cost. Blend frozen fruits with a bit of milk and ice for a quick vitamin boost.
Eating better might not seem central to emotional wellness, but it is. A good diet is an important first step.
Sleep is Key
Sleep is just as important. While we mostly understand the value of sleeping well, we struggle to do so. Technology and caffeine consumption play important roles here.
Excess coffee might help you stay awake throughout the workday, but you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. Take a few days off to do a caffeine reset or work through it with lower doses of coffee (or a low-caffeine alternative, like black tea), and set a cut-off time for your caffeine needs.
Then, set a hard rule for screentime at night. Try to turn off all screens around 9 pm for the best sleep results. Although many screens try to minimize their blue light exposure in the evenings, they can still mess up and delay your body’s internal clock. The first few weeks are crucial – but once your sleep habits start to improve, it will be easier to maintain them.
Get Your Steps In
Physical exercise is also helpful, but not everyone has the time or the motivation to get up and work out. You don’t have to. If you work at an office, try to take as many opportunities as you can to get up from your desk regularly, whether it’s to refill your tea or water cup, go to the bathroom, or just take a quick break by the window.
If you work from home, set a time to stand up at least every half hour for a few steps. That, alone, can make a serious difference in your body posture, your daily step count, and your overall mental health.
Eating better, sleeping well, and trying to get just a little more movement in your day-to-day can each lead to marked improvements in your stress management and mood regulation. From there, we move on to other needs.
Building Bridges and Mending Bonds
Social health is crucial for emotional wellness. How well do you get along with your friends? Your family? Your loved ones? Do you have the ability to make time for your partner? Are you struggling with intimacy? Are you hanging out less and less with your friends?
These issues have been on the rise since the pandemic, leaving many people feeling socially stunted and increasingly isolated.
For some, it has even led to symptoms of agoraphobia and a reluctance to engage socially. It’s important to slowly wean off these new habits and get back into a social mood, especially for your emotional well-being.
If you feel that your emotional problems are becoming more than you can handle alone, it’s important to seek help.
Take the time during emotional wellness month to address your primary needs and improve your emotional health – and encourage others around you to do the same.