Emotional Health

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Emotional health and well-being is an important aspect of everyone’s life. People who are in control of their feelings, have a positive self-image and can handle life’s challenges are more likely to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Having good emotional health is also often a contributing factor to success in work, relationships and health.

This section includes information about what characteristics makes an emotionally healthy person, as well as risk factors that can compromise emotional health.

Nurturing and developing the emotional health of children is extremely important, and is heavily influenced by the connection they have with influential adults in their lives. Our resources can provide parents and adults in child-related employment with guidelines to encourage the social and emotional health of the children around them.

Regular exercise, strong support networks and stress management techniques are all proven ways to improve emotional health. See our Tips section for an overview of healthy habits and strategies that can help you foster a sense of emotional well-being.

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People who are emotionally healthy are in control of their thoughts, feelings and behaviors. They are able to handle life’s challenges, build strong relationships and recover from setbacks. They also possess the following positive characteristics:

  • Self-confidence and high self-esteem
  • A sense of gratitude and contentment
  • A zest for living and the ability to laugh and enjoy themselves
  • The ability to cope with stress and the resilience to bounce back from adversity
  • A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships
  • The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change
  • A balance between work and play, rest and activity
  • The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships

Just as it requires effort to build and maintain physical health, the same is required to achieve good emotional health. Improving your emotional health can be a rewarding experience, benefiting all aspects of your life including boosting your mood, building resilience, and adding to your overall enjoyment of life. See our Tips to Improve Emotional Health section to learn how.

Risk factors that compromise emotional health

Genetic and biological factors play a role in emotional wellbeing, however your mental and emotional health has been and will continue to be shaped by your attitude and experiences. The risk factors below can foster poor emotional health and lead to conditions such as stress, depression or anxiety.

  • Poor connection to your primary caretaker early in life: Feeling lonely, isolated, unsafe, confused or abused as an infant or young child.
  • Traumas or serious losses, especially early in life: This can include traumas like the death of a parent or other distressing experiences such as war or hospitalisation.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse: Alcohol and drug abuse can both cause mental health problems and make pre-existing mental or emotional problems worse.
  • Learned helplessness: Negative experiences that lead to a belief that you’re helpless and that you have little control over the situations in your life.
  • Illness: This is especially true of illnesses that are chronic, disabling or isolates you from others.
  • Side effects of medications: Medication side effects occur more frequently in older people who may be taking a variety of medications.

Although these factors can influence your emotional health, the good news is that it’s never too late to make changes that will improve your psychological wellbeing. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology and Director of the Positive Psychology Center , theorises that while 60% of happiness is determined by our genetics and environment, the remaining 40% is up to us. This means that certain attitudes and habits, such as practicing gratitude, being resilient and building strong relationships, can improve your emotional health.

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Being emotionally healthy doesn’t mean never going through tough times or experiencing emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss and change. The difference is that people with good emotional health have resilience – the ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma and stress.

According to Psych Central , resilience, not happiness, is the opposite of depression. People who are happy and emotionally healthy have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook.

Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary, and is a quality that people commonly demonstrate. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

The American Psychological Association reveals that the primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships either within or outside the family. Trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support helps boost your resilience in tough times.

Other factors that are associated with resilience include having confidence in your strengths and abilities, and the ability to manage and express your emotions appropriately. Resilience also involves the capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.

All of these are factors that people can develop in themselves. While building and developing resilience is a personal journey, some strategies in our Tips to Improve Emotional Health section can help.

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Difficulties managing negative emotions, such as anxiety, are among the most common emotional and mental health issues that affect children and young people. In the short term, this can cause children to underperform at school, have fewer friends and miss out on activities that other children enjoy. In the long term, children who have difficulty with their emotions can find it hard to transition to employment and independent living, and are also more likely to develop mental health problems throughout their lives.

It is important to remember that kids learn by imitating. Most often, they will follow your lead in how they deal with anger, solve problems, and work through difficult feelings. Effective communication is the key to a healthy connection between you and your children. However, parenting is hard work and maintaining a good connection can be challenging, especially since parents are often dealing with many other pressures. Being available for your children, letting them know you’re listening and responding to them in a way they will hear are very important aspects of strengthening communication with your children.

If you are a parent or are engaged in child-related employment, these resources from the American Academy of Pediatrics can help you promote emotional health among the children in your life.

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Everyone is different so not all of the below tips will be equally beneficial to all people. Some people feel better taking time out and relaxing, while others prefer more excitement or stimulation to lift their moods. The important thing is to find activities that you enjoy and that give you a boost. These strategies can help improve your emotional health:

  • Exercise to relieve stress and lift your mood: Exercise has been shown to ease symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, thanks to the various brain chemicals that are released that amplify feelings of happiness and relaxation.
  • Get enough sleep: When you’re low on sleep, you're prone to experience lack of clarity, bad moods and poor judgment. Most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to function optimally.
  • Look on the bright side: Simply trying to be happy can boost your emotional well-being. Studies show that those who cultivate a positive attitude and try to feel happier have the highest level of positive moods.
  • Lean on your friends: Humans are social creatures with an emotional need for relationships and positive connections to others. Surrounding yourself with happy and upbeat people whose company you enjoy goes a long way for your emotional health.
  • Spend time outdoors: According to several studies, just a 20 minute dose of fresh air promotes a sense of vitality. Connecting with nature by simply walking through a garden can make you feel energized, lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
  • Laugh a lot: Laughter releases happy brain chemicals that provides a wonderful sensation and also makes you better equipped to tolerate both pain and stress.
  • Engage in meaningful, creative work: When you’re immersed in an activity that is simultaneously challenging, invigorating and meaningful, you experience a joyful state called ‘flow’. This is the sensation of getting caught up or carried away, which diminishes self-consciousness and promotes the feelings associated with success. Activities like gardening, drawing, writing and playing an instrument can typically get you into a state of flow.
  • Volunteer: Doing charitable acts that help others is proven to have a beneficial effect on your physical and emotional health.
  • Practice self-discipline: Self-control naturally leads to a sense of hopefulness and can help you overcome despair, helplessness, and other negative thoughts.
  • Manage your stress levels: Stress takes a heavy toll on mental and emotional health, so it’s important to keep it under control. While not all stressors can be avoided, stress management strategies, such as meditation, tai chi and yoga, can help you bring things back into balance.
  • Eat a healthy diet: A healthy and nutritious diet is known to give your energy levels and mood a boost.
  • Have gratitude for the small things: Taking time to notice the small things that go right throughout your day can make you feel a greater sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.
  • Express yourself: When you clear your head, good things happen to the rest of you. Studies have found that those who take part in more substantive conversations, especially talking to others about their problems, experience less stress and more feelings of satisfaction. Writing about your worries for 30 minutes a day is also another effective way to clear your mind.
  • Make leisure time a priority: Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them. Go to a funny movie, get a massage, take a walk on the beach or read a good book. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity.
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