As we all round the corner into another holiday season and the final months of 2020 are in sight, now is the perfect time to check in with our mental health. This is one of the most stressful years we have experienced as a culture, so resilience, endurance, and essential self-care are running low for many of us.
The anxiety of this pandemic and the financial loss and social isolation that’s come with it, can take an immense toll. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that 53 percent of U.S. adults notice an increase in poor mental health due to COVID-19 stress. It feels more significant than ever this year to prioritize well-being, and October happens to be Emotional Wellness Month.
What is Emotional Wellness and Why Does it Matter?
This might sound like just a trendy buzzword, but emotional wellness is integral to overall health. It’s a mindful awareness and acceptance of our feelings without criticism, shame, or judgment. Emotional wellness keeps us rooted and balanced in the present, enabling us to cope with life’s challenges head-on.
That does not mean we automatically feel positive and optimistic all the time. Still, it helps us move through our difficult emotions rather than avoid, minimize, or feel overwhelmed by them. Emotional wellness can improve how we interact in relationships, manage a work-life balance, channel stress or uncertainty, how we treat ourselves, how we practice gratitude, and how we contribute to society. So on that note, here are ways to boost emotional wellness—in 2020 and beyond.
Do Not Buy Into the Stigma Around Mental Illness
Recent data shows that more than 80 percent of individuals will be diagnosed with mental illness at some point in life, yet our culture still places a harmful stigma on treating or even talking about these issues. There’s no one right or normal way for our minds to function, so collectively, we need to combat this stigma, which hinders many people from accessing help. We must normalize the concept of “neurodiversity,” which means we think, feel and process differently. Therefore, none of us should feel discouraged or ashamed if we need clinical resources, medications, therapy and other interventions.
Engage in Open and Vulnerable Communication
We all benefit from relationships in which we are safe to communicate the truth of how we’re doing openly. In this time of social distance, we need to stay connected with friends or family members, to be honest. A phone call, Zoom chat, or even a text message with a trusted person can make an enormous, sustainable difference in our emotional wellness. The more we express ourselves with openness and vulnerability, the more self-awareness we gain. This also strengthens the relational intimacy and empathy we feel toward others, helping ease feelings of loneliness.
Process All Emotions in Real Time as They Surface
Many of us train ourselves to suppress negative, uncomfortable emotions, but “when the mind thwarts the flow of emotions because they are too overwhelming or too conflicting, it puts stress on the mind and body,” warns psychotherapist Hilary Jacobs Hendel. This can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, intestinal pain, autoimmune disease, or even heart conditions. So it’s crucial to experience our feelings in real time—to remain in the discomfort until it subsides rather than tamping it down or looking for a distraction. It can also help to write down these emotions as a form of release.
Cultivate Rituals to Feel Grounded in the Present
Mindfulness is the practice of tuning into our body sensations and thought or emotional patterns from one moment to the next. Not only does this calm the nervous system, but it grounds our focus in the present, rather than brooding over the past or worrying about the future. Since none of us can change what comes before or control what is still ahead, all we have is right now, and mindfulness rituals can help us embrace that reality. Some common practices include yoga, nature walks, meditation, daily mantras and gratitude journals, but even taking deep, intentional breaths can be profoundly healing.
Emotional Wellness Month is an Invitation to Self-Care
Since this year has pushed just about all of us to the brink somehow, there is no better time to invest in self-care than during Emotional Wellness Month. October is the start of a traditionally hectic season, so we need to be extra gentle, attentive and considerate of our well-being. The circumstances around us might be less than ideal, but we can reclaim our mental health and resilience to finish 2020 strongly.