Emotional wellness can be a difficult concept to peg – it seems all facets of health connect in some way to your emotions, whether you feel joyful at seeing your favorite sports team win, worried about your deployment, angry at losing a loved one, or any of the myriad emotional responses that everyday life can trigger. Service members are often under tremendous pressure to keep their emotions under wraps. Those who do hold in toxic emotions are far more likely to cause themselves and others unintended harm.
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What does “emotional wellness” mean?
- Emotional wellness is emotional self-awareness and acceptance of your emotional reactions:
Self-awareness means knowing yourself and your environment, so that your emotional reactions match the circumstances that trigger them. It’s normal to feel agitated by a colleague’s annoying gum chewing habit, but getting angry to the point of wanting to harm your colleague may be a sign that your emotional responses are out of your control.
Acceptance means letting yourself experience your emotions without ignoring them or feeling guilt or shame. Often, service members wishing to save face in front of their peers may believe repressing emotions is the right way to handle grief, anger or embarrassment. Not so!
- Emotional wellness means having the ability to bounce back when emotions take a negative turn and effectively cope with stress:
Bouncing back from negative emotions, like sadness, grief, fear and other classifications of emotional pain, doesn't mean recovery happens overnight. Emotionally resilient individuals are active participants in their own recovery, thinking positively and seeking help as time heals their emotional wounds.
Coping with stress effectively can be a challenge for service members, but it can also be a learned skill in maintaining emotional equanimity during stressful situations. Making conscious decisions to meditate, exercise, turn to friends and family for support, develop effective problem-solving skills, or keep a journal are effective stress management strategies.
- Emotional wellness means making positive choices and fostering positive relationships:
Making positive choices is one of the simplest expressions of emotional wellness. Individuals who make positive choices act in accordance with their well-being, resisting the extra drink at the bar at the end of a stressful day, talking to their spouse about troubling thoughts, or just choosing to pursue optimism instead of pessimism.
Positive relationships signify an emotionally well individual because having good friends and family means cultivating mutual care and understanding with others, creating a support network, and avoiding those who may send you down a negative path. Remember: a true buddy will build you up – not knock you down.
Know Signs of Emotional Distress
If you or someone you know exhibits any of the signs of emotional distress below, contact your Director of Psychological Health today.
- Inability to eat, sleep or concentrate
- Negative outlook or depression
- Thoughts or attempts at self-harm
- Irritability, Inability to control anger
- Impulsive behavior
- Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- Fearfulness, nervousness or anxiety
- Hypersensitivity to perceived threats, unexplained suspicion or fear
- Feeling emotionally numb or detached
- Inexplicable sadness
- Flashbacks to a traumatic event
- Confusion or disorientation
- Resistance to engaging in everyday activities
- Extreme mood swings
- Loss of work ethic or social functionality
- Poor self-care
Tips to Improve your Emotional Health
- Get to know yourself. Ask yourself questions like “Do I have close relationships with people who have a positive influence in my life?”, “How have I handled conflicts in my life?”, “Am I able to accept responsibility for my actions?”, “Is stress affecting my attitude, my relationships, or my health?” And answer honestly.
- Keep a journal. Journaling helps cultivate mindfulness by letting you be the spectator (or “narrator”) of your life. Write down any thoughts, feelings, reflections that come to mind, and read over what you wrote. Like someone on the outside looking in, you can arrive at information about yourself you never knew before.
- Practice optimism. Smile more. Laugh more. Reach out to others or try to put a positive spin on a stressful situation. Even if your heart isn’t in it at first, practicing the act of optimism will eventually become a habit and change the way you feel.
- Learn to manage stress. Time management strategies that help de-clutter your mind (or at least your desk) can offer relief when you have a stressful schedule. Relaxation techniques including deep breathing, yoga poses, progressive muscle relaxation, and positive visualization are other proven methods for reducing stress. Remember, scheduling time for yourself can be as important as scheduling anything else on your to-do list. And where possible, remember to rest.
- Seek advice from a trusted professional. Counselors, chaplains, therapists, and your Director of Psychological Health are all available to you when you need a confidante or military support. They are experienced professionals who are there to serve your immediate emotional needs as well as work collaboratively with you to develop emotional habits that work better for your needs.