Three Tips for Emotional Awareness

Nurturing my emotional health changed my whole life—I now know it needs just as much support as the physical concepts of wellness that usually get all the attention. Emotional intelligence is a vital part of finding true, long-lasting wellness. I always try to stress to my patients that our body’s systems work as a whole, not in divided pieces—this is the essence of Functional Medicine. The mind-body connection is a powerful one, with emotional health as a cornerstone in achieving full-body vibrance. We’ve seen that a greater grasp on emotional understanding correlates to increased happiness and satisfaction, along with better management of stress, while a lack of emotional balance has been linked to poorer outcomes with physical health issues. Our day-to-day tasks are many. And we only seem to have more added to our plate as the weeks roll by. With these demands and responsibilities, it can be easy to push aside unpleasant feelings or twinges of unidentified emotions because we are simply too exhausted to deal with them. So, we turn on the TV; we cater to other people’s needs; we work as much as possible, and we tune out what we don’t want to feel. I learned this approach was not the way to wellness. It only allowed those negative emotions to take a greater hold on my life. It wasn’t until I found a way to accept and cope with them, that I was able to move on, more resilient against the unpleasant feelings that we’re all susceptible to at times. Luckily, we can grow our emotional intelligence and learn to manage our feelings in a graceful way. Here are my top three tips for finding a new relationship to your emotions:

  1. Practice deep breathing. Focus on your breath: expand your diaphragm, inhale slowly and deeply, fill your belly up and let it expand, then exhale slowly and deeply and feel your belly contract. This seemingly simple exercise can change your life. It’s a great way to support the mind-body connection and find a sense of calm. Studies have shown it helps to oxygenate the blood and supports emotional wellbeing by reducing stress, anxiety, exhaustion, and even depression. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or down, find a quiet space and practice this deep breathing technique for some instant clarity. This is also an excellent way to calm down after a stressful situation, giving you time to reflect so that you don’t react from an emotionally unstable place.
  2. Practice self-compassion. The minute we begin to criticize ourselves our negative thoughts and feelings become amplified. When you notice that critical self-talk creeping in, think about what you would say to a friend sharing those same thoughts with you. Chances are, you’ll be much more nurturing to them than to yourself—use that insight to turn the conversation around and recognize your self-worth. Practicing compassion with yourself and others will continue to support your emotional intelligence, communication, and depth of understanding.
  3. Talk it out. Sometimes all it takes to understand our emotions is sharing them with someone else. And often, saying something out loud can reveal a whole new meaning that you didn’t initially notice by going over it in your own head. Psychodynamic therapy, or talk therapy, has been found to not only alleviate symptoms during active treatment but it also has been shown to improve emotional balance after therapy has ended, thanks to the broad understanding and new perception that was gained.

Acknowledging your own emotional state is an important tool in supporting all of your other health goals. It also makes you a better friend, partner, family member, or co-worker by deepening your ability to understand others. Emotional wellness is connected to all the areas of your life—stop running away from your feelings and start embracing them with courage. Your health will thank you! Wishing you health and happiness, Mark Hyman, MD PS: Just as negative emotions can lurk under the surface, so can many toxins in our modern environment. If you’d like to learn more about how to avoid these dangerous and, sadly, ubiquitous chemical compounds, check out Janet Newman’s new book, Living in the Chemical Age, that I was honored to write the forward for.

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