Six Strategies for Emotional Wellness
#79 How Emotionally Healthy Are You?
Typically, the focus of aging well is on physical health. There are dozens of articles and websites that discuss eating nutritiously, exercising, and treating illness. BUT . . mental, spiritual, and emotional health also play a role. Today, let’s look at emotional health or wellness - the ability to accept and manage emotions and cope with life’s challenges successfully.
More than ever, emotional wellness is significant for older adults given COVID variations, losses, health issues, inflation, and floods, droughts, or wildfires - depending on where you live.
Emotional health is an aspect of mental health. The difference is that mental health is the ability to think clearly and make good decisions, and emotional health is the ability to manage emotions and have positive relationships.
The two terms are used interchangeably, but they are distinctly different. You can’t have one without the other and an imbalance in one pulls the other off balance.
Emotional wellness affects physical health. People who experience significant stress and negative emotions sometimes develop health problems. These problems aren’t caused directly by negative feelings. They influence behaviors due to a lack of emotional regulation. People smoke or drink alcohol to relieve stress, but those habits put them at greater risk for cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.
When it comes to physical health, people typically know when things are not running at full speed. They feel nagging aches and pains, sneeze when they have a cold, and notice when they are more out of breath after running up stairs. Thanks to these signs, they take action to treat the ailment and improve their physical health. However, most people are not aware of their emotional health.
When was the last time you thought about your emotional wellness?
For seniors, emotional health is the ability to handle life’s stresses successfully, adapt to change, and survive difficult times. It is a state of mind that is calm, relaxed, open, present, reflective, creative, and wise. Psychologists describe emotional wellness as “feeling good and functioning effectively.”
Emotional Health Problems
Emotional health problems are common among seniors and may include isolation, affective and anxiety disorders, dementia, and mental illness. Many older adults suffer from sleep, behavioral disorders, and cognitive deterioration due to physical conditions or surgical interventions.
As you can see, there are many potential concerns, let’s look at four briefly.
Anxiety disorders often go along with depression. They include various issues, from hoarding syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder to phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the CDC, nearly 8% of adults older than 65 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point.
The following video portrays depression. Take a look.
Dementia is a term used to describe a group of symptoms affecting memory, thinking, and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily life. It isn't a specific disease, but several conditions that cause cognitive and psychological changes.
Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss.
An article by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine notes that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated.
We experienced all four problems. My husband’s dementia caused anxiety and depression for both of us. The pandemic and his condition caused isolation. It was clear that I needed more tools to survive.
Emotional Health Assessment
A place to start determining your emotional health is by asking yourself questions such as
Do you see stress as something you can learn from or something to avoid?
Are you aware of your bodily sensations, emotions, and behaviors when stressed?
Do you allow yourself to experience emotions just as they are?
How do you care for yourself daily?
Are you able to ask for help when you need it?
Signs of Emotional Wellness
Your emotions are healthy, if you
Can talk with someone about emotional concerns and share your feelings with others.
Say "no" when you need to without feeling guilty.
Feel content most of the time and feel good about who you are.
Have positive relationships and people who care about you.
Are adaptable and resilient.
Have a sense of purpose.
Take care of your physical health.
Strategies for Improving Emotional Health
There are numerous ways to improve one’s emotional health but let’s look at the Emotional Wellness Toolkit on the The National Institute of Health website as a start.
1. Brighten your outlook. Emotionally healthy people have fewer negative emotions and bounce back from challenges faster. Another sign of emotional wellness for seniors is being able to hold on to positive emotions longer and appreciate the good times.
To develop a more positive mindset, people can give themselves credit for the good they do and forgive themselves for the mistakes. They don’t dwell on the gaffes but learn from what went wrong. They surround themselves with positive people and think about how to guide their life by essential principles.
2. Stay active. Exercise can help manage stress, anxiety and depression. Exercise regularly, and you’ll gain self-confidence, improve brain function, and help prevent memory loss.
3. Strengthen connections. Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation — risks that can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes daily. To strengthen social connections, nourish them. Build strong relationships with family members and friends. Join a group focused on a favorite hobby. Take a class to learn something new. Find volunteer opportunities in your community.
4. Sleep well. Make getting enough sleep a priority. Most adults need eight hours of sleep daily to function at their best. A good night’s sleep helps a person think more clearly and focus better. If stress keeps you up at night, sort out troubling concerns with someone during the day.
I often write my worries in a journal before I go to bed. The writing keeps them from running around in my mind causing havoc.
5. Keep a diary. Diaries help people keep track of their emotions and how they relate to others. They keep a gratitude journal by writing down everything they’re thankful for each day. Taking a few minutes to write down all the good things that can happen in the future is another way to foster a positive outlook — especially when you have a plan in place to work toward your goals.
6. Be mindful. Mindfulness is about being completely aware of what’s happening in the present. It means not living one’s life on autopilot. To practice mindfulness, take some deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose, hold it for a second, then exhale slowly through the mouth. When out for a walk, notice your breath and the sights and sounds around you. As thoughts and worries enter your mind, note them but don’t attach yourself to them.
A person requires four types of health - mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. We have discussed two previously and will discuss spiritual health in future articles. It takes all four to age well. How healthy are you?
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