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  • Ellen Brown L.Ac. DACM

2022 Intentions – prioritize your emotional health

Every cell in our body knows what we’re thinking and responds to the way we feel and act. Emotional health and resilience start with being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. While western medicine too-often focuses on the dichotomy between our physical and emotional selves, Chinese medicine makes no distinction between the mind-body-spirit. We are an integrated whole: emotionally, physically and spiritually.

Our emotional health includes our mental, psychological, physical and social well-being. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, make choices, and ultimately, respond to (and embrace) life. To strengthen our emotional health – so that we can live in harmony with the world around us and maintain wholeness – we need to restore balance across all parts of our being and the surrounding environment. Ultimately, emotional health is the foundation upon which every other aspect of our lives depend on.

Given the beating that our emotional health has taken over the last two years of the global pandemic, consider adopting some of the suggestions below to strengthen your own mind-body-spirit:

Choose to forgive. By embracing forgiveness, we also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. While forgiveness means different things to different people, it generally involves a decision to let go of resentment. While it doesn’t negate the act that hurt or offended us, forgiveness can lessen its grip and help free us from the control of the person who harmed us. Importantly, forgiveness doesn't mean forgetting or excusing the harm done or even making up with the person who caused the harm. Rather, it is meant to bring peace that helps us go on with life.

Prioritize relationships. The pain of traumatic events can sometimes lead us to isolate ourselves, but it’s important to allow yourself to accept help and support. Whether it’s a weekly date night with your spouse or lunch out with a friend, try to prioritize connecting with people who care about you. Nurturing close relationships with empathetic and understanding people can remind you that you’re not alone in the midst of difficulties.

Build connections. Along with one-on-one relationships, many of us find that being active in civic groups, faith-based communities, and other local organizations provides social support and a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves and our current problems.

Help others. Whether volunteering at a local homeless shelter or simply supporting a friend in their own time of need, helping others helps us build our own sense of purpose and foster self-worth which can empower us to grow in resilience.

Move toward your goals. Develop realistic goals and do something regularly—even if it seems like a small accomplishment—that helps you move toward the things you want to accomplish. Instead of focusing on seemingly unachievable tasks, ask yourself, “What is one thing I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”

Seek out opportunities for self-discovery. Stress isn’t all negative. Many people find they experience positive growth as a result of a struggle. Often, after a tragedy or hardship, people report better relationships with loved ones, and a greater sense of strength, even while feeling vulnerable.

Prioritize self-care. Strong emotional health depends on taking care of your body with regular routines. This includes healthy meals, consistent sleep patterns, and daily exercise to relieve pent-up tension. Taking time out for a deep tissue massage, infrared sauna or even a pedicure can help us deal with stress and reduce the emotional toll of anxiety, grief or depression.

Practice mindfulness. Paying attention to what’s going on right now can be hard. We often spend more time thinking about what’s coming up in the future. Or dwelling on things in the past we can’t change. Either way, we miss out on experiencing the present. Relaxation methods such as meditation, listening to music, walking in nature, guided imagery tracks, breathing techniques, yoga, and Tai Chi are all useful ways to calm ourselves and bring our emotions into balance.

Avoid negative outlets. While it may be tempting to mask our pain with alcohol, drugs and other substances, that’s like putting a band-aid on a deep wound. Focus instead on sitting with your feelings, no matter how painful, and giving your mind and spirit the time it needs to work through them, rather than seeking to temporarily bury them.

Keep things in perspective. What you think plays a significant part in how you feel. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophize difficulties or assume the world is out to get you, and adopt a more balanced and realistic thinking pattern. If you feel overwhelmed by a challenge, remind yourself that what happened isn’t an indicator of the future, and that you’re not helpless. You may not be able to change a highly stressful event, but you can change how you interpret and respond to it.

Accept change. Change is a part of life. And while some goals may no longer be attainable, accepting that certain circumstances cannot be changed can help you focus on those you can still impact and alter.

Stay hopeful. It’s hard to be positive when life isn’t going your way. But an optimistic outlook empowers us to expect good things will happen. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

Learn from the past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, we can discover how to respond effectively to new, difficult situations. Remind yourself of where you’ve been able to find strength and ask yourself what you’ve learned from those experiences and how you can apply them to the present-day.

Express your feelings in appropriate ways. If feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety are causing physical problems, keeping those feelings inside can make you feel worse. It’s healthy to feel what you’re feeling, rather than repress or deny it. It’s equally important to find healthy ways to express feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment when they arise, and then let them go.

Strive for balance. Balance means focusing on the things that you’re grateful for in life rather than obsessing about the problems at work, school, or home. This doesn’t mean we should pretend to be happy when we’re upset. It’s important to deal with negative feelings but try to focus on the positive things in your life, too.

Develop resilience. People who show resilience have been shown to cope better with stress. This includes keeping a positive view of yourself, accepting change, and keeping things in perspective. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a particularly effective way to help achieve this goal.

Plan a getaway. Consider going camping with friends or taking a trip to a new city. Be daring and go on your own. Indeed, even the act of planning a vacation and having something to look forward to has been shown to boost happiness for up to 8 weeks!

Work to your strengths. Do something you're good at to build your self-confidence, then tackle a tougher task.

Keep it cool. The optimal temperature for a good night’s sleep is between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Make your bedroom a haven for rest and relaxation and it will pay dividends the whole next day.

Treat yourself. Just a couple of pieces of dark chocolate have enough flavonoids, caffeine, and theobromine to boost brain power and improve our alertness and mental skills.

Share your story. If you have personal experience with emotional trauma or mental illness, consider sharing it on social media, with old friends or in a support group. As Maya Angelou has said: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.

Decide to be happy. Despite what fairy tales tell us, happiness doesn't appear by magic. It's not even something that happens to you. You need to cultivate it. Research shows that only a small percentage of our perceived happiness is explained by our circumstances. Instead, the bulk of what determines happiness is due to personality and — more importantly — thoughts and behaviors that we have the power to change.

Commit to practice gratitude. It's easy to go through life without recognizing your good fortune. Often, it takes a serious illness or other tragic event to jolt people into appreciating the good things in their lives. Don't wait for something like that to happen to you. Each day, identify at least one thing that enriches your life. When you find yourself thinking an ungrateful thought, try substituting a grateful one. Importantly, gratitude is more than saying thank you. It's a sense of wonder, appreciation and thankfulness for life.

Set new goals for yourself. People who strive to meet a goal or fulfill a mission — whether it's growing a garden, caring for children, or honoring one's spirituality — have been found to be happier than those who don't have such aspirations. Having a goal provides a sense of purpose, bolsters self-esteem, and brings people together. What your goal is doesn't matter as much as whether the process of working toward it is meaningful to you.

Stay positive. It's important to have a positive outlook and find balance between our positive and negative emotions. Staying positive doesn't mean that you never feel negative emotions, such as sadness or anger. Indeed, we all need to feel difficult emotions in order to move them. Just don’t let those emotions take over your life.

Get physical. Since our physical and mental health are intimately connected, it’s crucial to make a conscious effort to be physically active every day – exercise has been shown to reduce feelings of stress and depression, as well as improve mood.

Eat healthy. Good nutrition helps us feel better physically but also improves our mood by decreasing stress and anxiety. Research has shown that not having enough of certain nutrients can contribute to some mental illness – research shows there is a link between low levels of vitamin B12 and depression.

Connect with others. Humans are social creatures, and it's important to have strong, healthy relationships with others. Having good social support may help protect you against the harms of stress. It is also good to have different types of connections. Besides connecting with family and friends, you could find ways to get involved with your community or neighborhood. Consider volunteering for a local organization or join a group that is focused on a hobby you enjoy.

Be careful and gracious with critique. Let people know that you appreciate what they do for you and that you're glad they're part of your life.

Be a tourist in your own town. No matter how long we’ve lived somewhere, there’s always something new to see and learn. Often times, we only explore attractions on trips, but you may be surprised to learn all the cool things that exist in your own backyard.

Get enough sleep. Sleep affects our mood. When we don't get a good night’s sleep, it’s easy to become annoyed and angry. Over the long term, a lack of quality sleep can lead to depression. So it's important to make sure that you have a regular sleep schedule and get enough quality sleep every night.

Prep your lunch and pick out your clothes for work week. You’ll save time and trouble in the morning and enjoy a greater sense of control about the week ahead.

Make omega-3 fatty acids a part of your daily diet. They’re linked to decreased rates of depression and schizophrenia, among other benefits. While fish oil supplements are good, eating your omega-3’s in foods such as wild salmon, flaxseed and walnuts are even better.

Smile. It may not be the easiest thing to do, especially when we’re stressed, but smiling has been shown to lower our heart rate and calm us down when we’re feeling out-of-sorts.

Send a thank you note. It’s always lovely when someone does something nice for us. Let them know how much you appreciate it with a hand written note. Written expressions of gratitude are linked with improved happiness.

Spend time in nature every day. Research shows that spending as little as 30 minutes out walking in the woods can improve energy levels, decrease depression, and boost our overall well-being.

Enjoy the sunshine (with sunscreen). Sunlight synthesizes Vitamin D, which experts believe is a natural mood enhancer.

Make room for adventure. Make an effort to get out of your comfort zone and try something new – be it a new activity or meeting new people. It isn’t easy, but it could change your life.

Seek help when you need it. It’s important to get professional help when you feel like you’re unable to function as well as you would like or perform basic activities of daily living as a result of a traumatic or other stressful life experience. The important thing is to remember you’re not alone on the journey. While you may not be able to control all of your circumstances, you can grow by focusing on the aspects of life’s challenges you can manage with the support of loved ones and trusted professionals.

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