October – Emotional Wellness Month

October is Emotional Wellness Month

Well – have we ever needed an opportunity to care for ourselves more than this year?

With October giving us a little headspace specifically to think about our emotional wellness, this is a good time to pause and process some of what you’ve been dealing with through 2020, and give yourself praise for how much you’ve coped with, and some tools for continuing to do that.

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Dr Aisha Ahmad

I read some very interesting tweets last week from Dr Aisha Ahmad, an International Security Professor at the University of Toronto, which spoke about reaching the six month wall in a disaster zone – how the trauma becomes your ordinary, the fear and stress reshape the way you process new experiences and even your day to day routines. With this pandemic, at six months we have all learned how to work from home, communicate over Zoom, home school our families, move from face to face meetings to video calls, and we have created networks and routines for ourselves which allow us to keep moving. You can read Dr Ahmad’s words on Twitter here – she has some excellent insight into long-term stress and the strain that can put on people.

But at six months, we hit that wall. I know I have seen a lot of evidence of that with my clients, and am not uncomfortable admitting that I too am finding things more draining and challenging than usual.

That six month point is a significant time, which hasn’t just been observed by Dr Ahmad – in fact, many in the mental health industry recognise that chronic stress can have significant impact on lifelong health, physically as well as mentally and emotionally. Another interesting article detailing the increase in anxiety and depression in medical treatments is here.

This year – with conflicting news reports, nationwide fear, the impact of a pandemic on the economy, worry about our loved ones, being kept in our homes with little contact from those outside, limits on where we can travel to and who we can visit – and now seeing the numbers of those infected beginning to go up again, it’s no wonder we are all struggling.

I know that I have experienced it too; sleep patterns are impacted (particularly for those who have been furloughed or have lost their employment) and a lack of routine sees us drifting aimlessly through our days without the usual expectations to rush from place to place. Children are frustrated about not being able to play with friends, some areas are being restricted with local lockdowns, schools are open but limiting children’s movement and keeping them in ‘bubbles’, and we are still not able to gather with our families for celebrations, weddings or funerals in large groups.

All of this has an impact on our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing – so October is the perfect time to put more thought into how you can protect and preserve your energy, establish some new coping strategies, and be kinder to yourself. Let go of some of that pressure and the weight of what you think you ‘should’ be doing, and focus on simply surviving a global pandemic – an experience you’ve never had to cope with before – and meeting your basic needs. Then allow yourself to leave guilt at the door, and spend some time on the things which give you some pleasure, some breathing space and some enjoyment.

What do we mean by emotional wellness?

 “According to the National Centre for Emotional Wellness, the term refers to an awareness, understanding, and acceptance of your emotions, and your ability to manage effectively through challenges and change.”

  • Psychology Today

This image shows the different, connected areas that impact our overall wellness – and you can see that emotional is one of these, and is a significant part of the picture. We have to be able to maintain wellness and awareness of all the components to achieve overall wellness – and it is very common for our emotional wellness to take up less of our energy because we focus so much energy on areas like our financial and occupational wellness, our social and physical wellness often coming next in line, and our emotional needs are repressed because we feel that they aren’t as important.

In truth, without some care for our emotional wellness, none of the others can really be successful; being rich or at the top of your career is of little use if you are deeply unhappy being there!

So how can we measure emotional wellness?

 How we treat others

When we are struggling with our own emotional wellbeing, we tend to be less patient and kind with others. If you find yourself snapping, being irritated and withdrawing from the people you usually spend your time with, it’s often a sign that you are struggling emotionally, and feeling overwhelmed.

Counting our blessings

If you are feeling overwhelmed or struggling emotionally, it is difficult to see the good – instead, we are focussed on (and drawn to) the negatives; the things we are worried about and the things that push our buttons are easier to focus on and it becomes a vicious cycle of only seeing the negatives, so we only feel and recognise negative experiences. When we are in a healthy emotional place, it’s much easier to be balanced and to have perspective on the positive and negative things in our lives.

Contentment

With our life, our friends, our home, our location, our body and appearance; feeling content is a good place to be – accepting and appreciating the life we have is a sign of healthy emotional wellness. If, however, you feel discontent, your emotional wellness is imbalanced.

What are the ways we can boost our emotional wellness?

Having a purpose

This could be family oriented, it could be an educational programme, a professional environment or a goal you are working towards in some way; having a purpose, a reason to get out of bed and do things each day is hugely rewarding, and it will improve not only your emotional wellness but your overall physical health in the long term too.

Hobbies and stress relieving activities

Having something that you enjoy and which you commit time to and derive pleasure from is incredibly important. Hobbies may be seen as frivolous by some, but they are actually vital in giving our lives some shape, colour and variety, and a series of small achievements which bring you joy. This could be something artistic, an exercise, a class or club, creative pursuits, meditation, even simply meeting friends regularly for a chat and a gossip!

Factoring activities which bring you pleasure, which give you chance to try new things or to meet new people, or which take you outside of your ‘ordinary’ routine are guaranteed to improve your emotional wellness.

Physical activity

This doesn’t mean you should join a gym and start training for a power lifting championship – it depends very much on the lifestyle you already live and your physical health. For some, it does mean running a marathon – for others it means climbing the stairs rather than taking the lift, walking to the corner shop, a bike ride with the children, playing in the park with a dog – but any kind of activity, anything which gets your body moving, raises your heartrate a little, perhaps has you breathing heavier, will not only mean you maintain a higher standard of physical health, it will also release endorphins in your body which give you a mental and emotional boost. It literally makes you happier, because you receive a boost of happy hormones – and exercise outdoors is even better, as it gives you a connection to the outside world, a chance to see some nature and wildlife, all of which increase those endorphins.

Spend time with others

When we are struggling emotionally it is common that we withdraw; we make excuses to avoid friends and gatherings, we stop texting or calling people, and we even stop posting on social media. Sometimes this is simply that we feel too tired or overwhelmed, and sometimes it is because we are comparing how we feel to what we are seeing of other people’s lives on platforms like Instagram or Facebook.

Remember that what you see on social media is a very heavily edited version of someone’s life, and you aren’t getting the full picture – so you can’t compare fairly.

As the pandemic has impacted how much time we can spend with people physically it’s even more important than ever before to reach out by other methods; the connection we have with our friends and family, the communication with loved ones, is proven to be a significant factor in our wellbeing – and when we are struggling it’s easy to feel like we are a burden or weight on them – but remember that your thoughts may not be reflective of the truth, and that people care for you and want to help. Text someone if you don’t feel ready to call, and let someone who loves you know that you are struggling. Remember that if the roles were reversed and you knew that someone you cared for was feeling overwhelmed, you would want to help, and that people won’t want you to struggle alone.

Sleep, rest and heal

Sleep is one of the most powerful ways in which we can heal ourselves, body and mind. Disrupted sleep is a huge indicator of emotional and mental ill health, so try to give yourself a healthy routine for sleep. Perhaps speak to a GP if you have been struggling for some time with poor sleep, but there are ways to help yourself naturally.

Stick to a regular schedule; try to go to bed at a similar time each night and wake at a similar time each morning; your body will come to expect sleep in those times and be ready for it. Avoid caffeine or alcohol, which are stimulants, and for at least an hour before you go to bed avoid any electronic screens – the blue light disrupts sleep patterns. Have a warm drink (herbal tea or your favourite decaf option), perhaps a bath or shower, read a book somewhere dimly lit and comfortable, and if you find yourself getting anxious about anything you need to do, write a list in a notebook beside your bed so that you have an action plan for the morning; there is nothing so urgent that it can’t wait until then.

Meditation

You can see in this image the benefits of meditating – this is another incredibly powerful way to boost your emotional and mental wellness – as well as your physical wellness; stress and anxiety have a physical impact on our bodies – so meditation and mindfulness will limit and reduce the damage that these fears and stress are causing, and help to protect you against them long-term.

There are a great many resources online for guided meditations if you aren’t familiar with the process; YouTube has many videos which are free to access; one of my favourites is ‘Great Meditation’ where you can find a lot of videos for different meditation goals.

Seeking help and support

If you feel that your emotional wellness is struggling at the moment, you don’t need to struggle alone – there are many ways that you can access help and support. I offer talking therapy for people who have suffered trauma or abuse, or who are simply feeling overwhelmed by the weight of what has been a very difficult year. You can contact me to discuss the things you’re struggling with, and I can help you to find coping strategies and protect yourself from the damage that stress and anxiety have on your long term health. Contact me to find out more.

 Circling back to the words of Dr Aisha Ahmad;

“Take heart. We have navigated a harrowing global disaster for 6 months, with resourcefulness & courage. We have already found new ways to live, love, and be happy under these rough conditions. A miracle & a marvel. This is hard proof that we have what it takes to keep going.”