Learning to manage our emotions is a process that begins early in life.
When a toddler throws themselves on the floor in anger or frustration, it is an expression of undeveloped emotional regulation. They’re still exploring both their emotions and the self-awareness and discipline required to manage them.
As adults, this process continues, though hopefully on a more subtle level. Adults generally do not resort to tantrums. While this is good news and an important part of being a functional and enjoyable member of society, it doesn’t necessarily mean our emotional life is healthy.
Emotional wellness encompasses more than our physical response.
Our Minds and Emotions
How well we manage our feelings has a far-reaching impact on our mental and emotional well-being.
Mental illness is on the rise in the US, affecting one in five adults. (1) That number is even higher among adolescents, with about 50% of youth experiencing some form of mental illness. (1) Whether it’s anxiety or depression, maintaining mental health is a struggle for many.
In addition, more and more research is demonstrating the negative impact of emotional distress on our health. Decreased immune system function and increased risk of heart disease are just two of the conditions linked to poor emotional health. (2)
Our mental health in part determines how well we manage our emotions, and our emotions influence our mental health.
Of adults are dealing with mental illness
Will We React or Respond?
Feelings arise every day from situations both mundane and out of the ordinary. While we cannot control what feelings may come up, how we deal with those feelings is completely in our hands.
When a feeling arises we can either react or respond. Reacting happens when a feeling triggers an impulse response. We feel angry, so we lash out in anger. It’s like sailing in a storm and going wherever the winds blow us.
In contrast, responding to emotion means identifying the feeling and hitting pause before choosing how to act. Instead of relying on the instinct of the feeling, we act from a place of wisdom and reflection. We lower our sails and ride out the feelings so we don’t get blown off course.
We feel angry, so we lash out in anger.
Mindfulness is essential to cultivating a response-based relationship with our emotions.
In order to choose a good response, we need to practice identifying what we are feeling. Mindfulness allows us to hit the pause button. It gives us the time needed to acknowledge what has come up and how it is impacting us.
Strengthening our skills of self-reflection and self-awareness are the essential tasks of emotional wellness. There are many constructive and accessible ways to build these skills and cultivate deep mindfulness.
In true wellness, we won’t be blown around by the feelings of the moment. Mindfulness centers us, allows us to check in with our feelings, and act from a place of emotional health.