Many people don’t realize just how important emotional well-being is for overall health. If you have diabetes, your priorities may be focused on managing your blood sugars, taking medications, counting carbs, and keeping track of all of your medical appointments. Emotional health tends to take a back seat. But not paying attention to your emotional well-being can lead to some serious health problems. October is National Emotional Wellness Month, so what better time to take charge of your emotional wellness?
What is emotional wellness?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines emotional wellness as “the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.” Lately, it seems like all of us have been facing some challenging times. While we can’t predict what the future will hold, weathering tough times depends on having positive thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes. Staying calm and balanced is key.
And in case you’re wondering, emotional wellness, or health, isn’t exactly the same as mental health, but it IS an aspect of mental health. Emotional health deals with, well, your emotions and your feelings. Mental health includes emotional health but also encompasses psychological and social well-being.
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Why is emotional health so important?
Not many people can argue that physical health is important. That’s why we take time to visit the doctor, take medication, eat healthfully, and stay active. We pay attention to our physical health, too – if we don’t feel well, we call the doctor or take a sick day from work or school. But if we feel upset, sad, stressed, we forge on and try to bury feelings in ways that may not always be healthy.
Emotion health is linked with our physical health. If you feel sad or angry, or if you’re stressed on a regular basis, you may develop other health problems. Your feelings don’t directly cause physical issues, but they affect your self-care behaviors. Examples can include drinking too much alcohol, taking drugs, or smoking as ways to cope with negative emotions. These unhealthy behaviors may eventually lead to heart disease, cancer, or other types of illness. If you have diabetes and are struggling with negative emotions, you may not check your blood sugars as often (or at all); you might stop taking your diabetes medication, not follow your usual eating plan, or stop doing exercise. Consequences of these behaviors, in the short term, can to high or low blood sugars; longer term, you may develop diabetes-related complications, such as heart or kidney disease, eye problems, or nerve damage.
How can you improve your emotional health?
Can you really handle life’s stresses and challenges in a more positive way? You sure can! Here are tips from the Emotional Wellness Toolkit from the National Institutes of Health:
Easier said than done, but if you work on it, you will find that you have a more positive outlook with have fewer negative thoughts and feelings. You’ll also bounce back and adapt more easily to challenges. Suggestions for becoming and staying positive include:
Being nice to yourself
Forgive yourself if you goof up or make a mistake. We’re only human! Remember that tomorrow is another day to wipe the slate clean and start over. Also, give yourself permission to be good to yourself. Get a massage or a manicure, take a nap, or watch a favorite movie — without feeling guilty. You deserve to treat yourself well.
What have you got to be thankful for? A lot! Make a list of everything that’s positive or that’s going well in your life or start keeping a gratitude journal — at the end of your day, write down anything that you’re thankful (even the little things count!).
We can’t always prevent stress, but we can change how we respond to it. Making sure to find outlets for stress, such as staying active, having someone in your life who supports you, and even getting enough sleep will empower you to cope with stressful times or events.
Both physical and emotional health are impacted (not in a good way) if we don’t get enough sleep or enough good quality sleep. If you struggle with sleeping well, set up a routine to go to bed at the same time, turn off electronics at least an hour before bed, and skip the caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bedtime, too. Still not sleeping well? Consult with your health care provider for help.
Mindfulness means that you’re aware of what’s going on inside and around you. Mindful eating is mindfulness — paying attention to each bite rather than watching TV is one example. Going for a walk and paying attention to what you see is another. Even taking some deep breaths helps you feel more present.
Having social connections
Having people in your life who are positive and who support you can help your emotional help. Spend time with friends and family; if you don’t have people in your life right now, consider volunteering in your community, joining a group that reflects your interests or hobbies, or taking a class. All of these are ways to form social connections.
For more resources on emotional wellness, visit the NIH website.