Wellness Series: Understanding Your Emotions to Live a Healthy Life

Carolyn Hoy

Stress is one of the hottest topics in American culture, one of the most trending health issues, and one of the most blamed causes of personal problems. People are bombarded with, “get rid of stress NOW” and, “follow these three easy steps to de-stress your life” advertisements and articles to the point where those ads themselves just become another source of stress.

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Stress is everywhere, and it is even a necessary part of life; it’s what makes people actually get out there and do something—when it is in healthy doses. However, too much stress is a sign of a problem with one’s emotional wellness. The University of California Riverside, or UCR, website says that “engaging in the process of emotional wellness” involves balancing work, relationships, and other commitments, and it also involves reducing stress in life and making decisions with a minimal amount of stress.

What is Emotional Wellness?

What exactly is the emotional dimension of wellness, though? What is this elusive concept that is the supposedly the solution to stress, contentment, and better personal relationships? UCR defines emotional wellness as “the ability to understand ourselves and cope with the challenges life can bring” and “the ability to acknowledge and share feelings of anger, fear, sadness or stress; hope, love, joy and happiness in a productive manner.” Emotional wellness involves self-esteem and recovery from hurt feelings or loss; it involves resilience and patience and forgiveness and a good attitude.

In fact, emotional wellness is so important to a well-rounded life that the Huffington Post has a whole section dedicated to it under “Healthy Living.” One article under this section states that psychological health, affected by emotional health, matters just as much to a healthy life as physical health does. The article gives suggestions for emotional wellness: guarding one’s self-esteem, regaining control of feelings after a failure, and making goals to combat it the next time—not brooding, looking for good despite loss, and recovering self-worth after being rejected. All of these behaviors have one common thread: they focus not on what has happened to the person, but on how the person reacts to circumstances. This resilience, perseverance, and determination is crucial for emotional wellness and for a healthy life.

What about the never-ending stress that affects emotional wellness? The University of New Hampshire suggests that, while stress is a normal part of life, people learn to recognize the difference between good and bad stress. People should also communicate clearly so that others can understand their thoughts, feelings, ideas, needs, and wants; having these fulfilled, or at least understood, contributes to emotional wellness.

Beyond Stress: The Other Aspects of Emotional Wellness

Once someone has combated stress, how can they nurture the other aspects of emotional wellness? The six types of emotions acknowledged by most psychologists are happiness, sadness, surprise, fear, disgust, and anger, and most other emotions fit under those categories, according to psychologist Paul Ekman. Therefore, if people understand these six emotions, they will have a good grasp of the possible emotions they may feel. This results in a greater ability to control the emotions and communicate them well, which leads to better relationships and a better self-image, key components to emotional wellness.

Happiness is a basic emotion, and it is a positive one. If someone recognizes happiness, they should relish it. While happiness cannot be the only emotion humans feel, it can be cherished when it is present, even if the person does not know exactly why they feel happy.

Surprise can be a positive or negative emotion, but it also accompanies some of the greatest joys in life: a proposal, a birthday gift, or a surprise party at work to celebrate a promotion. Although surprise cannot by its very definition be controlled by the person who feels it, they can work to bring happy surprises to others, even in small gestures like flowers or gifts. This will build personal relationships, which does help the giver’s emotional wellness.

The other four emotions tend to be viewed negatively. However, handling the negative emotions is a key to emotional wellness. Accepting the feelings and talking about sadness and fears with a trusted confidant can build relationships despite the negative emotions; this is one strategy for making good come of loss or grief. Disgust can be triggered by anything from spoiled milk to a bloody injury, but relationships can be built even out of this. Swallowing pride—another emotion that can be good or bad in different contexts—and helping someone in need, despite disgust, can build relationships and bring good from a bad situation, which in turn will contribute to the helper and the helped’s emotional wellness.

Anger is the last of the basic emotions, and it is often the most difficult to control. Open communication, however, can help prevent it, and patience despite anger—holding one’s tongue in certain situations—can help make sure anger does not overcome someone. Even if the anger is “righteous anger,” a person should work to express it in a constructive way that will help build, rather than tear down, relationships.

All of the basic human emotions, whether positive or negative, can be handled in ways that contribute to one’s emotional wellness rather than detract from it. Once a person learns how to nurture their emotional wellness, and in doing so influences others’, many people will be better-rounded in the emotional sphere of wellness.

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