Emotional Health as a Gateway to Your Best Life
Truth? Emotional Health is the toughest corner of Life Is a Puzzle for me to get a handle on. Undoubtedly, having good emotional health is the gateway to a your best life, however, it’s also a squishy topic that’s incredibly hard to get a handle on.
Hello! I am Jeannie and this is the fourth post in my series Life Is a Puzzle. Basically, what that means is that life is frequently confusing and feels like we may or may not have all the pieces. From the pieces that we have, we need to figure out how to put them all together, and like many people, starting at a corner makes sense. I identified eight “corners” of my life puzzle: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual, environmental, vocational and financial. Pretty much all of life exists between these eight corners.
Disclosure and Disclaimer
As I said, Emotional health is a squishy topic, and it is both closely related and sometimes treated as though it is interchangeable with mental, social, and spiritual health. In addition, like mental health it is deeply entwined with environmental, vocational and financial health.
I say this because, if you are in tough situation, if you lack the resources you need to do what you want to do, if you aren’t finding fulfillment is how and where you spend your time, then having good emotional health is going to be incredibly challenging. So, this is a bit of YMMV.
For the purposes of this post, when I’m talking about emotional health, I’m talking specifically about emotions and feelings, things for which there are words and sensations.
I am NOT talking about intellectual functionality. I’m also not talking about social aspects of life and relationships, nor am I talking about issues related to religion or spirituality. Those will be covered in a later post. Make sense? Clear as mud? Great!
In my research, I found that emotional health boils down to two things, and daily maintenance. It’s not quite three things, yet there’s more to it than just the two… Like I said, emotional health is a squishy topic. The two parts of emotional health are Being comfortable with who you are, and Emotional regulation. The third, not quiet thing is the daily maintenance that you have to do to maintain these two things.
Being Comfortable with Who You Are
Yes, this is the classic “Find Yourself”. I know, gross. Anyway, when I say that the first part of emotional health is being comfortable with who you are (The BACH Team, 2018), that includes things like your self- esteem, self-worth, self-acceptance and boundaries.
All of this starts with getting a sense of who you are. That starts within you are a child, and sort of explodes in the teen years, often resurfacing in midlife.
Mid-Life Crisis, Anyone?
The sad fact is that if you grew up in a less than “good enough” family, you may not have had an opportunity to effectively go through the process of figuring yourself out. Your sense of self- esteem, self-worth, value, etc. may have been corrupted, and that sucks.
It’s a pain in the ass because you will have to try to do it at a point in your life when your brain, and those around you aren’t well positioned to be supportive of the process. You may have to go find yourself in a more dramatic way that leads to writing books about dramatic self-changes discovered through personal hardship. (Breaks fourth wall). … Anyway… Therapy works for some people as well, and may be less dramatic than leaving everything you know and love behind to hike several thousand miles, sail with pirates, or otherwise abandon all of the life that you’ve built for a period of time so that you can figure out what really matters to you, and what you need to do to live from those values.
So, Who Are You? (without a midlife crisis)
If, like many of us who are reaching middle age, you didn’t have the opportunity to develop a sense of who you really are, what your value is to yourself and how to protect it, there are a plethora of resources to attempt to lead you to the right things. Therapy is a viable option. There are also blog posts, videos, Pinterest pins, memes, Facebook groups, etc. where you can find support for the process. In and of itself, the process is experimentation. Try things and see how you feel about the thing, and how you feel about yourself.
Question what you were explicitly taught as a child, and what you absorbed from those around you. Try new activities, try new foods, try new books. Take all the times that you were told “we don’t do that” and question them. Why don’t we go to the beach? How will you ever know if you are a beach person, if you never go to the beach? “We don’t drive fast cars.” How will you know if you like driving a sports car, if you never get the opportunity to try it?? “We don’t eat spicy/ ethnic food.” Why not? Millions and billions of people around the world do and enjoy it. You really might not like it. You have to try it to find out for yourself though.
Teenagers are famous for questioning their parents indoctrination. Did you push back as a teen?
Speaking of teenagers, they are also well known for their lack of emotional regulation. What is emotional regulation? It’s the ability to be aware of what emotion you are feeling (familydoctor.org Editorial Staff, 2020) (Employee Wellness, 2023), expressing it appropriately (BetterHelp Editorial Team, 2023), managing your stress levels (NIH Wellness Toolkits, 2022) (Ariane Resnick, 2021), and striving for balance (Ariane Resnick, 2021) (BetterHelp Editorial Team, 2023).
Again, all things that teenagers are expected to learn, however, if you grew up in a family with emotional neglect, a narcissist, or emotional abuse, you missed all of this. Which sucks, because you, again, have to go through the process of figuring it out as an adult, when society expects you to have already figured it out. And this, my friends is a messy process.
The same kinds of self-reflection and experimentation that help you get to know and accept your self will help here too. And if you can find a good, well-trained therapist, that you vibe with, they may be able to smooth the road for you.
You can figure Emotional Health out for yourself.
And this is probably one of the most popular things on the internet, especially the managing stress and striving for balance bits. The thing is, those are the parts that you can see. If you don’t have the other parts, the emotional awareness, and ability to express them appropriately, there’s no amount of stress management or striving for balance that will ever allow you the peace that you seek.
And the secret that they refuse to tell you, is that if you don’t have at least a passing sense of who you are, your value and your boundaries, none of this will work at all. You will be left feeling lost and wondering why this doesn’t work, when you’re doing the things that they are telling you to do.
Managing stress and striving for balance are NEVER going to be enough, until you lay the groundwork of being comfortable with who you are, recognizing your emotions, and figuring out how to express them appropriately. I could (and might) write more about this because there’s so much more depth that needs to be explored.
The last bit, when it comes to emotional health is that this is the absolute OPPOSITE, of one and done. As long as you are alive, the emotions just keep coming. The need to be aware of them continues, the need to express them to yourself, and maybe others continues. Managing your stress and striving for balance are the daily maintenance tasks.
You will want to have a stable full of techniques, skills and practices to draw from to do this. Life is too crazy, too unpredictable to be amenable to just having a couple ways to manage stress and strive for balance It’s as if life is actually designed to keep you off balance. And I think that this is where the “life is a puzzle” thing really comes from. In order to feel like you are moving forward in life, you have to be putting more pieces together, and keeping the pieces together that you already did. When your daily maintenance routine works, then the pieces stay together, and you can make progress. When your daily maintenance is not enough to manage your stress and keep you relatively balanced, then the pieces fall apart. Then you must go look for them and start over.
Daily maintenance for Emotional Health is going to look different for every person
And it’s going to look different every day. That’s’ why I’m saying that having just one routine isn’t enough. Having just a couple of things, isn’t enough. You need to have your basics, your reliable things, and you need to have your in case of emergency things. You need to have backups to your backups. And while there are some staple answers, to be very honest, the “standard” answers have not worked well for me. So I’m a fan of doing your own things that bring you joy, that bring you a sense of balance. That remind you who you are, what you value and how valuable you are to yourself.
And to be very, VERY clear, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you practice, there will be days, weeks, months and maybe years where you can’t pull it together. Where life is too tough, too overwhelming, and quite frankly, there is not enough stress management in the world for all that you are going though.
You Are OK!
That does not mean that you are wrong, that you’ve failed, or that you no longer have value. It means that you are going through an epically rough patch. It is not fair. And to be honest, NO ONE could navigate it with just some “stress management” and “striving for balance’.
Life can truly SUCK sometimes, and there just is no way to manage it away. In those situations, you have to ride it out, as you get pummeled by the tidal waves of life. Eventually you WILL wash up onshore somewhere. When you do, then you can start over again looking for the pieces of your puzzle, finding a corner, putting them together.
I cannot say this loudly enough IT SUCKS and IT HAPPENS. Sadly, not to everyone, and not to the same extent. Maybe you can handle something with grace and balance that threw someone else for a 5 or 10 year loop. Good for you, sucks for them. Either way, every day, you each have to get up, look at your life puzzle and figure out what you’re going to do today. Start over? Make progress? You are where you are, you have to work with what you have.
Life is unimaginably hard sometimes
This has wandered quite a bit. Let me attempt to bring it all together. Life is unimaginably hard sometimes; Emotions are unimaginably hard most of the time. Many of us lost or missed the opportunity to figure emotions out as teenagers and are trying to do it now, as adults, while having to also actually BE adults. We have to figure ourselves out, while we change throughout life. There’s some unattainable ideal of managing stress and staying balanced that we need to incorporate to have any hope of moving forward, yet at the same time, life moves forward, whether we try to manage our stress or not.
Do you know who you are? Do you value, respect, accept yourself? Do you protect your sense of self with boundaries? How are you at emotional awareness? Appropriate expression? What is your go-to daily maintenance? What do you break out in case of emergency? Feel free to share and comment below.
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Ariane Resnick, C. (2021, 10 26). What Is Emotional Wellness? Retrieved from VeryWell Mind: https://www.verywellmind.com/emotional-wellness-5206535
BetterHelp Editorial Team. (2023, 02 03). Why Is Emotional Wellness So Important? Retrieved from BetterHelp: https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/mindfulness/why-is-emotional-wellness-so-important/
Employee Wellness. (2023). Seven Dimensions of Wellness. Retrieved from Grand Rapids Community College: https://www.grcc.edu/faculty-staff/human-resources/professional-development/employee-wellness/seven-dimensions-wellness#:~:text=Emotional%20wellness%20encompasses%20optimism%2C%20self,the%20ability%20to%20share%20feelings.
familydoctor.org Editorial Staff. (2020, 06 23). Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health. Retrieved from FamilyDoctor.org: https://familydoctor.org/mental-health-keeping-your-emotional-health/
NIH Wellness Toolkits. (2022, 08 08). Emotional Wellness Toolkit. Retrieved from National Institutes of Health: https://www.nih.gov/health-information/emotional-wellness-toolkit
The BACH Team. (2018, 06 14). 7 Signs Of Emotional Wellness. Retrieved from Bach Original Flower Remedies: https://www.bachremedies.com/en-us/explore/blog/2018/7-signs-of-emotional-wellness/