How to take care of your emotional health.
While we all do stress about and take care of our physical health, how many of us truly think about and try to ensure our emotional well being? Stress impacts how good we feel and how well we work. It even impacts our physical health in more ways than we realize – blood pressure, headaches, ulcers, etc., are all very often physical outcomes of psychological problems. And all too often the cure we attempt fixes the symptoms rather than the cause.
The blues can hit anyone, anytime – summer or winter. You have a big event coming up, like your wedding or your child’s wedding, a big promotion that gives you more responsibility, more visibility – all good things…. but then there is the anxiety that creeps up. Of course, if things don’t go your way – did not get the much anticipated promotion or a relationship ended – there is a bigger and more complex box of emotions to deal with.
All of us go through such events in life. Sometimes we are able to maintain our emotional balance and sometimes things seem overwhelming. This isn’t about being emotionally strong or weak; it is often about how much stress we are under. So, how do we watch out for when the usual anxious pangs begin to turn into panic or even panic attacks? Or, the blues just don’t go away. Given below are some general guidelines that work for children as much as they work for adults:
– Diet and sleep. Take care of your diet and your sleep. Tired and hungry children are known to be cranky, and so are adults! Stick to a regular bedtime and bedtime routine, get enough sleep, and eat healthy.
– Exercise. Exercise is a well researched component of the treatment strategy for mild depression and anxiety. Exercise helps the body secrete endorphins, the feel good neurotransmitters. It also tires the body and helps in cases where sleep is disrupted due to stress.
– Interests and hobbies. Find some interests or hobbies that you enjoy pursuing. It could even be part of work that you do. Joy and wellbeing is experienced in what psychologist, Csikszentmihalyi, describes as “flow”. It has been described as moments of “effortless concentration and enjoyment”.”Flow” is not passively watching TV or sitting in the sun (which can also make you feel happy), it is engaging in any activity which completely holds your attention, like reading a good book or connecting with a close friend. It involves actively pursuing some goals you set up for yourself – it could be at a game of chess or a business deal you are negotiating.
– Calm at bedtime. Bedtime or in general night time is usually not the best time to try and resolve conflicts or reflect on your worries. You will often only lose sleep and magnify you difficulties. In the light of day rationality prevails better and problem solving is definitely better after a good night’s rest!!
– Mind-body connection. The mind and body are definitely connected. And Indians or Asians, in general, are known for somaticizing or expressing emotional pain in the form of physical ailments. Consciously or otherwise, we tend to allow ourselves our physical aches and pains and even seek help for them, but not so for our emotional pains. Watch out for the elderly relative who just lost her spouse and seems to be coping fairly well. Most likely her blood pressure and diabetes have worsened!! Severe panic attacks look very much like heart attacks. When there are no physical reasons for a medical condition, look at the emotional. Addressing emotional stress in such cases is of prime importance.
– Meditation. Learn meditation or find ways by which you can get into a meditative state. An intense game of tennis or a long run can be meditation in action as it helps remove all thoughts and worries from the mind and compels one to focus on the immediate moment.
– Voluntary work. Volunteer when you can. Nothing works better to put our problems in perspective than closely interacting with or witnessing how difficult life is for a section of our society, be it the terminally ill, street children or people less privileged than us. This is a strategy that also works wonders with teenagers. It also helps give life a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
– Unclutter and prioritize. Unclutter your life. It is not important to be a super mom, super worker or super anything. Delete things from your to do list that you have a hard time juggling and are not essential to do.
– Love thyself. Finally, learn to love yourself!! Nobody else can be as critical of you as you can. Beating yourself up for small or big mistakes will only make you feel miserable. Also, perfection is an unachievable goal!! Develop some positive self talk and try to be your best advocate.
– Professional help. Most importantly, seek professional help i.e., counseling or psychotherapy. If you are losing sleep, losing weight, or gaining weight, get help. If you are self medicating by using sleeping pills too often or using alcohol to uplift your mood or help relieve stress, get help. Depression preceded by the death of a loved one, separation, or divorce most often leads to suicides. If you are going through any of these experiences, consider help. Also consider help if you are feeling depressed after loss of employment or any such dearly held and significant goal. If you observe anyone engaging in uncharacteristic behavior or behavior that concerns you, get a consultation. Professional help benefits not only those who are suffering from a severe psychiatric disorder but also those facing interpersonal issues. In addition, it is not just for fixing problems: if you want to be proactive, and untangle some of the tangles before they become problems, seek a consultation. And, when you do seek professional help ask the provider about his or her level of training and experience.
(Originally written for enricheducation)