Emotional wellbeing is essential for physical health. There is a growing body of research that shows that initiatives targeted at physical health do not succeed unless they also incorporate emotional and social wellbeing (Emotional wellbeing and its relation to health, Sarah Stewart-Brown).
Emotional wellbeing isn’t about avoiding emotions, but rather about understanding our emotions and their role, and being able to manage them.
Good emotional wellbeing allows you to realise your full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively and make meaningful contributions to your community (https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/priorities/prevention/strategy/mental-and-emotional-well-being.html).
But what if your emotional wellbeing suffers? This can result in stress, anxiety, depression, and even an impact on your physical health.
So how can you improve your emotional wellbeing to enjoy the benefits and avoid the suffering?
The Foresight project looking at how to improve mental capital and mental wellbeing through life, recommends the following five actions:
Let’s look at each of those in a little more detail, and explore some ideas to set goals in each of these areas.
Feeling close to other people and valued by them is a fundamental human need.
Strong social relationships are supportive, encouraging and meaningful. A wider social network is important to feel connected and increase our self-worth.
To improve emotional wellbeing, you need to strengthen as well as broaden social networks.
Goals to improve connectedness:
- Improve your communication skills. Take a class, find a book, or look for resources online to help you develop your communication skills. This will help you to keep your relationships healthy and address any issues that may arise.
- If any of your relationships are toxic, address this (or leave). Find out more in this article.
- Schedule regular family time or date nights. We have pizza and movie night on Fridays, and each month I plan a family day out.
- Plan a night out (or in) with friends. Make it an occasion – get dressed up, go somewhere new or introduce a theme for a night in.
- Phone a friend. Too often these days we can rely upon messaging instead of talking. Pick up the phone and have a proper catch up.
- Make new friends by joining a community group that interests you. Sing in a choir, knit with friends, or join a book club. Can’t find a local group that appeals to you? Start one!
- Be a part of your local community by volunteering for a local cause. Join the school PTA, coach a casual sports team, help out with a church group or at a local rest home.
Exercise is beneficial to your emotional as well as your physical health. Research shows that moderate exertion three to five times per week can significantly reduce symptoms of depression. But don’t worry if that sounds too hard – even single bouts of exercise for less than ten minutes can bring improvement (and can be the first step of a bigger journey).
Find an exercise that you enjoy doing, and you’ll be far more likely to make time for it.
Goals to stay active:
- Go for a walk and enjoy nature. Head to your nearest green space or coastline and take a stroll.
- Join an exercise class or sports team. Enjoy the social aspect of exercising with others. This also increases your accountability, as others are relying on you to show up.
- Sign up for a race and start a running programme (try this beginner’s running programme from Runner’s World). Signing up for a race adds an element of accountability that increases your chances of success by over 90%. Search online for races near you. Give yourself an extra couple of weeks on top of the training plan, in case you get sick or aren’t quite ready to progress to the next stage.
- Look for opportunities to increase exercise in your everyday life. Take the stairs instead of the lift, walk instead of drive, play with the kids. Get a fitness tracker and set yourself targets, or even start a competition with friends.
Focussing on what is happening here and now can stop your mind dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It improves self-awareness, and helps us to align our lives with our values.
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.
Goals to help you take notice:
- Learn about mindfulness. Take a class or find a book, or look for resources online. There are lots of apps that can help with suggested activities or guided meditations.
- Take a walk and listen for all the different sounds. Try recording them, then listen back later to see how many you missed.
- Try yoga or tai chi or meditation. Check online for classes near you.
- Practise mindful eating – concentrate on the flavour and texture of food while you eat. Find out more in this article.
One of the key benefits of continuous learning is the emphasis on goal-setting, which is strongly associated with higher levels of wellbeing.
Learning not only refers to formal education, but to any activity that promotes curious enquiry.
Goals to help you keep learning:
- Practise weekly or monthly goal-setting. Sign up to our mailing list for weekly articles related to goals. Or grab a GoalGetting workbook, to walk you through the process step by step from goal-setting to success!
- Take a class to learn something new. Check out your local community mailers to see what’s on offer.
- Visit a gallery or a museum to learn about something that interests you.
- Buy a book or look online to teach yourself a new skill. It could be purely for pleasure, or it could be to meet a practical need (e.g. fixing a leaking tap, or decorating a birthday cake).
- Learn to cook a favourite dish. Especially if it’s something that isn’t readily available near you.
- Take on a responsibility at work that involves learning a new skill.
- Rediscover an old hobby. Is there something that you used to love to do that’s fallen by the wayside? Make time to spend on things that bring you joy.
- Blog. If you don’t want to commit to a whole blog (it’s more work than it looks!), write a guest piece for someone else. If you have anything to write on the subject of goals, I’d be happy to consider it for this site. Email me with details.
Giving is not just about material ‘things’. It includes sharing time, knowledge, and doing nice things for people.
These activities help to create a sense of purpose and improve our self-worth.
Goals to help you give:
- Join a community group and give your time and knowledge to help a local cause.
- Phone a relative or friend who needs support.
- Lend a hand if you see someone struggling (e.g. help carry their bags, or help to cross the road).
- Find a local mentoring scheme and sign up as a mentor.
Keep trying new things
Variety is important. Look for ideas of new activities to try. There are lots of ideas available online. Here are some of my favourites:
And, of course, you can share ideas in the GoalGetters community.