Photo of a tranquil scene to contribute to emotional health.

Emotional Health & You: How to Improve Emotional Wellness

In Emotional Health, Wellness by Courtney ArcherLeave a Comment

Emotional health seems pretty easy to explain until someone asks what the difference between emotional and mental health is. Both have a lot to do with the way we experience and deal with emotions. The line between the two seems a little murky at first.

In reality, the two are pretty different but absolutely work hand in hand with each other, along with social health. These three areas make up overall wellness, and even though they are separate they have quite a lot to do with each other.

Different therapy modalities focus on different aspects of this triad. Some examples are:

Those are some of the most common therapy modalities, and yet none of them focus specifically on emotional wellness. This is, in part, because emotional wellness is such an integral part of overall wellbeing that we do not often separate it out.

However, improving your emotional health is a great way to improve your overall wellbeing. Read this article to gain a firm understanding of what emotional health is, and some simple strategies you can use to take your personal emotional health up a notch.

Photo of a tranquil scene to contribute to emotional health.

Emotional Health & You: How to Improve Emotional Wellness

What Is Emotional Health?

Good emotional health centers around good emotional knowledge and awareness. A quick emotional health definition is being able to accurately sort through and name emotions. The easier it is for you to specifically name your emotions, the higher your emotional health likely is.

Engage in a little exercise for a moment. Find a piece of paper and a pen, or open a note in your phone and write down as many emotions as you can think of.

How many did you come up with? There is no wrong answer here, it is just a good way to check in on how many different emotions you are aware of.

Now, with all of those emotions you were able to name, how many of those do you often use to describe your emotions? How about emotions like peaceful, content, perturbed, mystified, defeated, amused, or encouraged?

Overall, the most common word used to describe emotions is “fine.” As in, “I’m fine.” We all know that does not really mean anything.

This is alright when answering someone’s passing question about how you are doing, but not so great when sorting through your emotions with yourself.

The thing about emotional health is that we tend to be generally unaware of it altogether. How many of us are checking in with ourselves to see how we are doing? The idea might feel a little absurd, but emotional wellness starts with emotional awareness.

Many of us go through life in a bit of an emotional haze–we are so busy with so many other things that we do not pay attention to what is happening internally. But just because you have not been does not mean you cannot start! Emotional wellness is something you can achieve no matter your experience or age.

How is Emotional Health Different from Mental & Social Health?

In order to understand how emotional health is different from mental and social health, you have to have a basic understanding of each. From the information above we know that emotional health is the ability to identify and understand emotions.

While this certainly affects mental and social health, it is not the same thing.

Mental health is often described as having to do with emotional health but is more specific than that. It is the ability to recognize thoughts as thoughts, rather than as a state of being. An example is being able to recognize that the thought “I am so awkward” is a thought, not a reality.

In reality, you may have awkward tendencies, but you are not awkward. This is like the difference between saying “I am depressed” and “I have depression.” Mental health is all about being able to differentiate between your thoughts and reality.

Similarly, social health centers around an ability to develop positive, meaningful relationships. Being able to do so requires an ability to accurately interpret the behavior of those around you.

Of course, it requires a dose of mental health and emotional health to do that. Social, mental, and emotional health are kind of like the color wheel. They each blend in to and contribute to each other.

Why is Emotional Wellness Important?

Sure, it might be impressive to use words like “perturbed” or “mystified” when people ask how you are doing, but if you are just checking in with yourself, what is the point?

If you are asking this question, you are not the first! Engage in a thought exercise for a moment. Answer the question: What are the differences between the words angry and perturbed?

According to the good old Merriam-Webster Dictionary, anger means “a strong feeling of displeasure and usually of antagonism.”

Compare that to their definition of perturbed: “troubled in mind: feeling or showing agitation.”

See the difference there? While both are definitely a sign that something is wrong, there is a nuanced difference in them. Perturbed is more subtle, less abrasive.

The more you are able to target the exact emotion you are feeling, the better your solution for it will be. Another great example for this is the difference between feeling sad and feeling lonely.

They definitely have their similarities! But the solution for feeling sad and the solution for feeling lonely can be very different!

When I am sad it helps to curl up somewhere cozy and read my favorite book (The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner, if anyone wants to know). But if I am lonely, reading a book by myself somewhere is not really going to fix my problem.

Emotional wellness is important because it gives you a better foundation for solving your problems.

Emotional Health Starts with Emotional Intelligence

So what does it look like to be emotionally healthy? Consider the following scenario:

It is your birthday, and your mom is the only person who texts you to say happy birthday. No one else calls, no one else says anything.

What do you feel? Angry? Sad? Disappointed? Totally fine because you hate it when people make a big deal about your birthday?

Those are the base emotional responses. Dig a little deeper–what are some more specific emotions you could use to describe how you are feeling.

And remember–emotions are generally one word, like angry, sad, disappointed. “Feeling like no one cares” is actually a thought, not an emotion–the emotion for that thought would probably be lonely, abandoned, rejected, or something along those lines. Change it from, “I feel like no one cares about me,” to “I feel abandoned,” and bam, you are demonstrating emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the first step to emotional health. Once you are able to pinpoint what you are feeling, the next step is considering if that emotion needs to change.

Emotional Acceptance is the Gateway to Emotional Wellness

News flash–uncomfortable emotions do not necessarily need to be changed. If only one person remembers your birthday, it is not wrong to feel sad or angry (or just fine) about it. It is okay to not feel okay.

Emotions are our natural responses to our experiences, and just like experience is not always pleasant, emotion is not either. We live in this culture that rejects all things unpleasant, but as the one and only Brené Brown says, “We cannot selectively numb emotions.”

That is not to say if you feel abandoned you should just wallow in it forever, it just means that feelings of abandonment come with the territory of being alive sometimes, and that is okay. Recognize the emotion, and figure out what to do with it. Sometimes that means using a coping skill or self-care method to change your mood, sometimes it means using the coping skill of acceptance and allowance.

This might look something like saying, “I feel abandoned because my mom is the only person who text me, and that is a valid reason to feel abandoned.” Or it might look like, “No one else text me because I have not told anyone else that it is my birthday. It is time for me to develop my social circles.”

Trying not to feel uncomfortable emotions gives them more power, not less. It also leads to poorer emotional health, because if you are not even acknowledging the emotion you are surely not naming it and dealing with it.

Accepting uncomfortable or difficult emotions gives you the room to do something with them. It opens you up to true emotional wellness.

Emotional Wellness Examples

It is incredibly easy to come up with poor emotional wellness examples. People who are completely out of touch with their emotions make great characters in books and films. Often the villains of our favorite stories are people who are completely out of touch with their emotions.

However, it might be difficult at first to think of good emotional wellness examples. It might help to break emotions down into categories of pleasant and unpleasant. Note that we are not breaking them down into good and bad. Emotions are not moral, they are our body’s natural response to help us understand and interact with our environment.

Can you think of a good example of emotional health where pleasant emotions are concerned? Was there ever a time that you really wanted something and then actually got it? Pinpoint the emotion you felt; pleased, ecstatic, surprised, validated.

Now flip it–was there ever something you really wanted that you did not get? Pinpoint the emotion for that; deflated, disappointed, gutted, frustrated, unappreciated.

Which one was it easier for you to narrow down? Typically we are better at describing pleasant emotions because we tend to suppress unpleasant emotions. But remember, they are all valid.

An Example

Judy really wants a promotion at work. She does not just want it, she has been volunteering for every project and putting in her best work on everything she has been involved with.

After the interview she recognizes how nervous she feels, and she validates herself for it. She wants the promotion, after all; it is important to her. She does not try to downplay the importance by telling herself that it is not a big deal or that she is unlikely to get it, she owns that it is something she really wants and is eligible for.

When she gets the call that she got the promotion, Judy recognizes that she feels excited and proud. She does not tell herself that it is just a job, or that anyone could have gotten it. She congratulates herself for going for what she wanted and achieving it.

In the above example, Judy does not downplay her unpleasant emotions of nervousness or her pleasant emotions of excitement and pride. She validates both. Note that if she did not get the job, validation would be all the more important.

If she did not get the job the example of good emotional health would look something like:

When she gets the call that she did not get the promotion, Judy recognizes the feeling of disappointment. She validates that she worked hard, and that the fact that she did not get the promotion does not negate all the effort she put in. She allows herself to be disappointed.

It is okay to be disappointed. We often take unpleasant emotions as a cue to begin tearing ourselves down. This is your invitation to take a look at that pattern and stop.

Allow your unpleasant emotions to be present, rather than tearing yourself down as a result of being unhappy. Unhappiness is a response to something going on in your life–it is information, not a prison sentence. When you allow unpleasant emotions to be present, you allow yourself to learn from them and grow.

What Gets in the Way of Good Emotional Health?

There are many things that get in the way of good emotional health. Trauma, exhaustion, lack of knowledge, lack of skills, an invalidating environment–the list goes on. But there is one thing that all of those barriers have in common.

In a word, autopilot. Over and over again, our knee-jerk responses to pain and difficulty get in the way of good emotional health.

Who has time for emotions? We feel them, regardless of whether we have time for them or not, but processing them–really processing them, not just reacting to them, takes some work. If you have the time, do you have the energy?

The part of our brain that manages emotions also manages our fight/flight/freeze response. When we become emotionally triggered, we are far more likely to react with one of the classic three reactions than we are to respond intentionally and process.

A quick emotional reaction serves well in clear moments of danger but does not serve nearly so well in complex moments of stress. Good news though, there are several tools you can utilize to shift from reacting on autopilot to responding with intention. Mindfulness, whether through guided meditation or imagery or through grounding exercises, is a great start.

How Can I Improve My Emotional Wellness?

As mentioned above, part of the journey to good emotional health is increasing emotional intelligence. The easier you can put a name to what you are feeling, the less time you have to spend figuring it out. There is a hack here though–check out The Feeling Wheel from the Gottman Institute.

Take a moment to start familiarizing yourself with some of the emotions on it. Notice which ones stand out, which ones you experience. You might even find one or two that perfectly describe your emotional reaction to something currently happening in your life.

Just being aware of the emotions you experience will increase your emotional wellness. However, if you want to take it a step further you absolutely can.

Find an emotion that you know you experience, but are not great at accepting or processing. While you are still new to improving emotional wellness, it helps to pick an emotion that does not completely overwhelm you. For example, anger tends to be pretty all-encompassing, but irritation or frustration can be less so.

Once you have an emotion in mind, you can begin building your emotional wellness specifically for that emotion, beginning with setting an intention.

Setting Intentions

First, in order to improve your emotional wellness, set the intention to do so. Not to want to do it, or to do it when you feel like it. Now is the time to set a realistic intention that will help you achieve your goal.

Some examples of what this might look like if the emotion you chose is irritability are:

  • I will improve/maintain my emotional wellness through daily check-ins with myself on how often I feel irritable.
  • I will make a practice of noticing every time I experience irritability throughout the day.
  • When I experience irritability I will take a time-out for two minutes to process the emotion.

You could use any of these intentions for any emotion. It is also helpful to come up with your own intentions–the more you can make it apply to what you are experiencing, the more helpful it will be.

A lot of the same principles that apply to making goals also apply to setting intentions. The more specific the better, including what you want to accomplish and when you are going to do it. It helps to link your intentions with something you are already doing, like journaling or commuting.

Another bonus of linking your intention practice with something you are already doing is that it will not take you any extra time. Below are some examples of how to do this with daily check-ins, regular meditation, and journaling. You do not have to limit it to these suggestions though!

Daily Check-Ins

If your intention is to increase your emotional awareness and acceptance through daily check-ins, the best thing you can do is to select a set time to check-in with yourself every day. This could be as you brush your teeth in the morning, or as you drive home from work at night. It could also be while you shower!

Consistency is far more important than the time you pick–just pick a time when you can be relatively certain that it will be consistent each day.

Brevity is also important. The less time your check-in takes, the more likely you are to keep doing it. If it is hampering your ability to do the things you need to do, you are unlikely to keep it going.

Therefore, it helps to have 2-4 specific, easy to answer questions that you will answer for every check-in. For increasing emotional awareness for irritability, the questions might be something like this:

  1. What was my intention? (Super easy answer, but still important because it gets your thoughts going on the topic.)
  2. What are some things that made me irritable today?
  3. What are the common themes of the things making me irritable?
  4. Are the things that are making me irritable things that I can accept, or things that I need to change?

This example is more comprehensive, but if you are short on time you could stick with just the first two questions. The point is to increase awareness. No one solves all their problems in the time it takes to brush their teeth, but you can certainly increase your awareness (and thereby your overall ability to problem-solve) in that time!

You can make it even easier on yourself by writing your questions on a sticky note or a 3×5 card and putting it somewhere you will see it every day. It serves as a reminder, and also saves you from wasting precious seconds trying to remember what to ask during your check-in.


If you already journal, perfect. Just take a couple of extra minutes each day to chronicle your intention and how it went. You can use the same type of questions listed in the Daily Check-Ins section above and write them down.

While journaling takes more time than a more simple check-in, it can also be more effective. Writing things down helps make them more rememberable, which increases the likelihood that you will follow through with your intention.

Even if you do not journal, you may find it worthwhile to dedicate a notebook to recording your intentions. You do not have to make a record of your day–you don’t even have to write down your intention and questions each time. Just write down your observations.

Another option is to write your intention questions at the top of a blank piece of paper. That way you can fold it as small as you need to so that you can carry it with you in your wallet or purse, and write your observations as they happen.

Keep it simple and it will not take you too much time.

Regular Meditation

As with daily check-ins, the most important thing about regular meditation is keeping it consistent. Choose whatever format you like, whether it is listening to an audio recording, reading a meditation transcript, or guiding yourself through meditation.

You can find guided meditations online for dealing with most emotions. InsightTimer is a great resource for this, whether you are checking them out online or using their app. However, you can also find a lot of meditations on YouTube as well.

The only caveat to pre-recorded meditations is that they are often upwards of 15 minutes. You can cut down on the time required by making your own guided meditation.

Pick an emotion that you want to increase your awareness of or acceptance for, and then get curious. What are some details you would like to know?

Some places to start are: the way you physically respond to it (rushing heartbeat, flushed face, goosebumps, churning stomach, etc.), reasons why the emotion is valid (because you are dealing with a difficult situation, because you want your life to be better, etc.), what it makes you want to do (cry, isolate, punch something, etc.), and what a helpful response might be (give myself a time-out to allow myself to feel the emotion, call a friend to vent/problem-solve, go read my favorite book, etc.). Broken down, it looks like this:

  • my physical responses
  • validation for the emotion
  • my behavioral impulses
  • helpful responses

Walking yourself through each of these gives you a solid guided meditation that you can spend as much or as little time as you want on.

Pull it All Together

In summation, emotional wellness is important because it enables a greater understanding of yourself. This leads to a higher ability to problem solve. Working on your emotional health is a wonderful way to increase your ability to live in line with your goals and values.

Improving your emotional health also helps you improve your social and mental health. All three are interconnected and dependent on each other.

Start with increasing your emotional awareness, and then use this awareness to set intentions regarding your emotional wellness. Keep yourself on track with your intentions by linking them with things you are already doing and keeping them consistent.

If you have any tips or tricks you use to maintain/increase your emotional wellness, please share them with all of us in the comments below!

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