Your mental health is an encompassing system of emotional, psychological, and social factors. These factors help determine your mental well-being. Indicators of poor emotional health, psychological, or social health can affect your overall mental health and physical health. Mental health exists both as a subject and as a state. Your mental health can be poor or sound, and plenty of things in between. You can struggle with depression but continue to function at home and school. You can be confident in your athletic skills but feel deeply insecure about something else that affects your relationships.
Your mental health can suffer in some ways but remain robust in others. Mental health is often opposed to mental illness, but it’s never really a clear binary. We tend to distinguish between the mentally ill and those who aren’t, but the truth is that many people can struggle with symptoms of mental illness for years before others take notice or before they decide to seek treatment. It isn’t that some people are “crazy” and most aren’t. It’s that each one of us shares emotional, psychological, and social ups and downs and moments where we need help, whether it’s from a loved one, a close friend, or a professional. And sometimes, some of us require more assistance than others.
What is Emotional Health?
Let’s consider mental health to be a conglomeration of emotional, psychological, and social factors. Emotional health consists of the portion of our well-being defined by feelings, as opposed to the portion of our well-being defined by thoughts(psychological) or our relationships with others and ourselves (social).
One might think that all mental health is ultimately emotional. Or that all mental health is ultimately psychological. But there are differences between emotions and thoughts. How we feel might directly result from what we think or do. Feelings are often reactive. You can feel a certain way before you do something, but that feeling may be tied to previous thought, experience, or action. In that way, emotional health is deeply tied to psychological or cognitive health because our thoughts can help inform our feelings, and by changing the way we think, we can begin to change the way we feel.
Does the Difference Matter?
These granular differences aren’t that important. But the distinction might help you better grasp how mental health problems can be categorized and even treated. Mental health encompasses non-physical health, as complex as it is, from our relationships with others to the active thoughts we have and how we feel.
Improving Your Emotional Health
By addressing the way we think, we can address the way we feel, and by improving how we behave and interact with others, we can change our relationships for the better, positively reinforce our healthier ways of thinking, and create healthier emotional cycles. Think of the way low mood traps people in cycles of sadness. Self-guilt and feelings of worthlessness become self-fulfilling prophecies as we become sapped of all motivation. People around us lose patience, and it becomes harder to find support. Our outward experiences and vice versa validate our emotions and thoughts.
Therapy can help patients with depression address these cyclical thoughts through cognitive behavioral therapy, creating a plan of action to identify and contradict negative thinking. Breaking the cycle allows us to snowball in the other direction with positive affirmations, healthy relationships, better thoughts, and happier emotions.
Coping Skills, Social Skills, and Self-Worth
Of course, there are many cases where people can’t think their way out of a mental health problem. But even so, mental health therapies can help people cope with their conditions in better ways, reduce their impact on their day-to-day lives, and improve their quality of life. Other modalities are also necessary, reducing unwanted thoughts, negative feelings, or anxious impulses through medication or experiential therapies. Combining therapy with other forms of mental health treatment can create a compounding effect where a condition’s impact on the mind can be lessened through persistence, support, and reassurance.
A person struggling with depression might struggle with low mood and self-deprecating thoughts for months, years, or decades. But they can learn to combat and deny these thoughts, suffocate them, and replace them through affirmations of the opposite, whether alone with the help of their coping skills or with the help of friends and family. Even addressing physical health can improve mental well-being – eating better, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise can reduce the impact of a mental health problem. But the problem goes both ways.
Respecting the Cycle
Your emotional well-being feeds into your physical health. Physical health plays an essential role in your mental health. One cannot do well without the other.
Stress, both chronic or overwhelming and acute, affects the body.
- Our heart works harder and gives out faster.
- The Body’s metabolic processes change.
- Our fight-or-flight impulses remain active.
- Adrenal glands go into overdrive.
We get less sleep or oversleep with poor sleep quality.
We overeat or undereat. Because of our mood, we experience pain differently: low mood means pain feels worse, and sensations that weren’t perceptible before turn into unexplained aches. We might turn to certain maladaptive coping mechanisms to feel better – things that help in the short-term but make things worse overall, whether it’s binge eating or avoidance behaviors or something more self-destructive, like alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse.
Internal and external mental factors can significantly undermine our longevity and health. It isn’t just stress. Internalized anxieties that come and go without a trigger or warning or feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness tied with low mood can affect us mentally and physically, even when we aren’t under any significant pressure.
Take Charge of Your Emotional Health Today
Metabolic health conditions are associated with poorer mental health. But it also goes the other way. Physical illness can exacerbate low mood and depression. Chronic pain often goes hand-in-hand with depression. Injuries and traumatic physical experiences can result in anxieties and PTSD. Trying to address only half the problem does not stop the cycle. Long-term treatment begins by asking for help from those around us – friends, families, and professionals alike – and by addressing our physical, emotional, and mental needs altogether in a holistic fashion.