Health and Wellness from Humana - Staying Emotionally Healthy

September 27, 2011

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Mental health problems affect nearly half of Americans at some point in life. How are your coping skills?

About half of Americans will run into a mental health problem at some point in their lives. This figure comes from a report in USA Today. There are "unacceptably high levels of mental illness in the United States," said Ileana Arias who is the principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It isn't clear why so many Americans suffer from mental illness, Arias added. "This is an issue that needs to be addressed," she said. Especially since mental and physical health are so closely linked. Studies show that mental problems can lead to physical problems, among them long-term illness like heart disease and cancer.

What is emotional health?

Emotionally healthy people are in control of their feelings – their emotions – and how they behave. They can handle life's challenges. They can build strong relationships. They care about their physical health. Most important, they lead lives they feel are useful and have meaning.

People who are mentally and emotionally healthy:

  • Have a sense of contentment
  • Have zest for living, and can laugh and have fun
  • Can deal with stress and bounce back from negative things
  • Can learn new things and adapt to change
  • Can balance work and play
  • Can build and keep fulfilling relationships
  • Have self-confidence and high self-esteem

All these can help you cope with life's challenges and stresses. Even when bad things happen, emotionally healthy people can bounce back.

What do healthy people know?

Do these people have a secret the rest of us don't know about?

Yes, they do. They know that mental health is just like physical health. You have to work to keep your mind in top shape. Exercise. Eating healthy foods. Staying active. Most of us know what it takes to keep our bodies healthy. But many of us have no idea what it takes to be strong mentally.

The more time and energy you invest in your emotional health, the better it will be. There are many things you can do to boost your mood. You can build your resilience, which means your ability to bounce back from life's problems. You can also learn how to get more joy out of life.

How can we improve our mental health?

The biggest key is to keep flexibility and balance in your life. By "bending instead of breaking," you can deal with stressful situations and traumatic events.

The American Psychological Association offers a few ideas for doing this:

  • Let yourself feel strong emotions. Then, learn how to manage what you do when you feel them.
  • Don't avoid your problems. Learn how to meet the demands of daily living. You should also learn how to take a break and rest. Resting helps recharge your batteries.
  • Spend time with loved ones. They can be great for support and encouragement. At the same time, you must also take care of yourself.
  • Give yourself a pat on the back every now and then. This is very important. If you don't tell yourself "good job," who will?

Physical health is part of mental and emotional health.

You've heard the old saying about "sound mind and sound body." When you improve your physical health, you feel better both mentally and emotionally. For example, exercise does more than strengthen your heart and lungs. Exercise also releases chemicals called endorphins. These powerful chemicals energize you and lift your mood.

Also, to stay healthy mentally, you have to make smart choices every day. Here are some great ideas to strengthen your mental health.

Get your sleep. Most people need seven to eight hours of sleep each night in order to be at their best. Give more sleep time a try. You might be surprised!

Learn about good nutrition and make it part of your life. Learn as much as you can about what you eat. Find out how it affects your energy and mood. You'll discover that the better you eat, the better you can feel.

Exercise! Exercise can make a big difference in dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. Look for small ways to add activity to your day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go on a short walk. Every day, try to get 30 minutes or more of exercise.

Get a dose of sunlight every day. Sunlight lifts your mood, so try to get at least 10 to 15 minutes of sun each day. You can get your sunlight while you exercise, garden, or go out with friends.

Limit alcohol and avoid cigarettes and other drugs. These are known as "stimulants" because they an unnatural way to make you feel good in the short term. But constant use is bad for your mood, and your emotional health.

Take care of yourself. Don't let stress and negative emotions build up. Keep a balance between work and the things you enjoy. When you take care of yourself, you can better handle challenges when they arise.

Endorphins: our bodies' natural antidepressants.

Earlier in this article, we talked about endorphins. Endorphins are natural chemicals made by your body. When they're released, they have a powerful, positive effect on your emotional well-being. But exercise isn't the only way to release the benefits of endorphins.

Here are a few endorphin-releasing activities that don't involve exercise.

Make things better for someone else. Helping others and being thanked for what you do can help build self-esteem.

  • Practice self-discipline. Self-control naturally makes you feel – well, more in control. This is very useful when something in your life is out of your control. Managing what you can about your life, even if it's simply what time you go to bed at night, can help you keep some balance. It can also help you fight off despair, helplessness, and other negative thoughts.
  • Learn or discover new things. Take an adult education class, join a book club, or just travel somewhere new. Change really can do you good!
  • Enjoy the beauty of nature or art. Studies show that simply walking through a garden can lower blood pressure and stress. Walking through a park or an art gallery works, too. You can also hike or just sit on a beach to lower your blood pressure.

So take time to take care of your emotional and mental health. It's just as important as your physical health. And in the long run, it will improve your overall health. Because when you feel good, everything else takes care of itself.

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