December 11, 2020
Emotional Health vs. Mental Health: The Real Difference
Written by Sara Lane
Envision mental health as the ocean, with emotional health being the waves.
With that comparison in mind, consider the differences.
Mental health involves processing all the information we encounter, but emotional health is more about the feelings provoked by the data processed. Emotional and mental health are related but markedly different.
In psychotherapy, words have precise meanings, and these meanings are essential for effective treatment.
For example, the terms “mental health” and “emotional health” aren’t interchangeable. While they are connected, they have very different meanings.
Understanding those differences is not an exercise in semantics. It’s essential information for your well-being.
To cope with life and relationships well, you must balance your thoughts and emotions. If one is out of sorts, the other will be impacted.
Understanding how to restore balance is the key to resilience and a higher quality of life.
What is Emotional Health?
Consider the elements constructing emotional health:
- Being aware of your emotions
- Accepting your feelings
- Processing and managing those feelings
- Expressing your feelings
- Appropriately doing all of the above.
Emotional health blends emotional intelligence with emotional regulation. How you process that incoming data is related to your mental health.
What is Mental Health?
This is the hardware, as emotional health is the software. Mental health is about the functioning of your brain.
In that sense, it includes emotional health — along with your intellectual, spiritual, and social health.
Among other things, mental health determines how you handle:
- Decision making
- Interactions with others
- Managing stress
If you encounter mental health issues, these basic functions are impacted. Such problems may be caused by:
- Your family history
- Experiences you have lived through (e.g., abuse, trauma, etc.)
- Biological factors, such as brain chemistry or genes
Emotional Health vs. Mental Health
Compare and contrast mental and emotional health as thinking versus expressing.
The thoughts of mentally healthy people and the expressions produced by emotionally healthy people have often been called internal tag teams.
Thus, if depressive or anxious thoughts limit your cognitive ability, you would likely have trouble accurately assessing interactions and circumstances.
This then leads to inappropriate emotional responses.
For emotions to be expressed appropriately, they must first be fueled by accurate information and processed correctly. Mastering this ability is a marker of your well-being.
The Value of Healthy Mental Function
The term “mental health” can denote the absence of mental illness. It is typically meant to define a healthy mental function.
Among other things, such health enables you to:
- Be more productive at work, school, or life in general
- Set goals and reach your potential
- Maintain healthy relationships
- Be a contributing member of your community and society
- Handle the inevitable challenges life throws at you
- Adapt to change
- Succeed at tasks
Caring for your mental health is essential. Mental disorders are increasingly common.
Roughly 18% of American adults have a mental illness. By proxy, this impacts their emotional health as well.
Mental health anchors the internal tag team and is the precursor and predictor of emotional health.
When not in a positive mental health state, you will almost certainly display this imbalance’s signs and symptoms. These may include disturbances related to your eating or sleeping habits, low energy, or a sense of being detached.
Symptoms of Negative Mental Health
Left unaddressed, symptoms of a negative mental health state can escalate and result in the following:
- Unexplained physical aches, pains, and tension
- Mood swings
- Substance abuse
- Conflict with the people in your life
- Chronic worrying
- Negative emotions and feelings like helplessness, fear, and anger
- Difficulty carrying out basic daily functions
- Thoughts of death, dying, self-harm, or suicide
There are many self-care steps you can take. However, if your symptoms become unmanageable, seek stability with the help of a health professional.
The Value of Healthy Emotional Function
According to the Mental Health Foundation, emotional health is “a positive state of wellbeing, which enables an individual to be able to function in society and meet the demands of everyday life.”
As an extension of your mental health, optimal emotional health enables you to:
- Have a functioning “inner” world.
- Manage your emotions.
- Express your emotions.
- Enjoy a general sense of wellness.
- Appreciate abstract concepts like art, beauty, joy, and love
None of the above is automatic. Just because you’re experiencing mental health doesn’t mean you can take your emotional health for granted.
Like any form of self-care, it requires work. Mental health — your hardware — has done much of the heavy lifting.
Tending to your emotional health — your software — involves the refining of your:
Mental health processing allows you to understand that life has many ups and downs. The power of your emotional health lies in helping you react to these waves in a productive manner, e.g.
- Regulating emotions
- Avoiding self-judgment
- Healthy social connections
- Staying curious, creative, and positive
Emotional Health Awareness is Vital
Someone without self-awareness can get trapped in a cycle of reactions. With the benefit of positive emotional health, your responses to any situation are more measured and, well, aware.
It is also important to not conflate the suppression of your emotions with positive emotional health.
The goal isn’t to not feel anything. That can be incredibly dysfunctional.
Good emotional health doesn’t protect you from tough situations. Instead, it helps you handle them with a clear vision.
Signs You Are an Emotionally Healthy Person
- Practicing daily self-care
- You talk about your feelings
- You’re resilient in the face of adversity.
- Regularly seeking to connect with and help others.
- Your life has a sense of purpose.
- Gratitude is possible.
- Mindfulness is a valued practice.
As with your mental health, you can take many self-care steps to improve your emotional health. However, if your symptoms ever become unmanageable, you must reach out to a mental health professional to better regulate your feelings.
Emotional health comes as an afterthought to many people. Magazines line the racks near the grocery store checkout line with titles about improving physical health and related attributes but rarely speak of emotional and mental health.
It’s not hard to see why this is, though. If your body is fit, the world can see it.
However, if your mind is “fit,” then only you and those close to you will know, or so the thought goes. But poor emotional health can affect you physically, too.
- Pain in your chest
- Eating too much or not enough, leading to weight gain or weight loss
- Feeling that you are always tired
- Issues performing sexually
- Sweating profusely
- High blood pressure
The symptoms listed above are just some of the physical signs. There is a connection between the mental and the physical.
If you only focus on one or the other, then you might as well not focus on either.
Evaluate emotional health vs. mental health with our self-tests.
Caring For Your Emotional Health: 11 Ways
When people experience emotional health issues, it can be more obvious than for those struggling with their mental health. You can nurture your emotional health by taking steps like:
1. View life with a sense of balance.
Enjoy the good, but do not dwell on the bad. Also, accepting stress as inevitable and cultivating the necessary coping skills.
Life is unpredictable and confusing at the best of times, and that’s okay.
Understanding that you are likely to encounter stress and finding outlets that suit you is an incredible tool for nurturing emotional wellbeing.
It’s hard for your loved ones to figure out what’s going on inside of you unless you tell them. When they offer support, accept it.
Trying to keep these feelings bottled up within you will only bring your emotional health down until you can’t hold it in anymore.
3. Maintain good physical health.
Just because we recognize that emotional health is often overlooked (with the majority of focus on physical health) doesn’t mean that physical health isn’t necessary, too. Remember, the two sides affect each other.
To feel like you are fully living your life, work on a hobby, read a book –just don’t let yourself remain complacent. Like sitting around doing nothing will harm your physical health, leaving your brain to sit around bored will do the same to your mental and emotional health.
5. Learning from challenging situations, developing resilience.
Bad experiences are difficult to overcome, but there may be something you can learn from them. This can apply when trying to see the good in yourself, even when others may make you feel bad.
You can accept constructive criticism while keeping an emotional distance from someone’s opinion.
7. Having a mission or a sense of purpose in your everyday life.
Whether you commit your time to your children, hobbies, work, or just yourself, having a driving force that inspires and keeps you going is paramount to emotional health. For example, if “doing good” is your purpose, it will help you monitor and regulate emotional expression to avoid hurting that purpose.
8. Get good sleep.
This suggestion shows up in a lot of places, and for a good reason. It doesn’t get much more important than getting adequate sleep. Physically, mentally, emotionally, sleep affects everything.
9. Helping others whenever possible.
Research shows that there is “neural evidence from fMRI studies suggesting a link between generosity and happiness in the brain.”
Psychology Today says, “in fact, the mere intent and commitment to generosity can stimulate neural change and make people happier.”
For you, this could look like volunteering services or time to loved ones or those less fortunate in your community.
10. Learn to manage your time.
If you’re always finding yourself behind on things and not on top of your schedule, you’ll just introduce more stress into your life. Give yourself plenty of time to get done what you need to get done while leaving time for yourself.
Try to schedule just enough so that you feel like you’ve accomplished what’s needed, but not so much that you’re left with a long list of things that you didn’t get done.
11. Connect with others.
When you stay in isolation, you are more likely to experience shame and negative thinking. The more you connect with others, the more you share the psychological benefits of bonding, and the more you realize that you are okay!
You are not alone. Having connections is a crucial need, similar to air and water.
12. See a therapist.
If your loved ones aren’t able to help you deal with your feelings sufficiently, then set up an appointment with a therapist. When you don’t feel right physically, you would go to a doctor with no hesitation.
Going to see a therapist is no different. You are merely practicing proper self-care to protect your health.
Steps like these will benefit you in many ways. You’ll see improvements in your physical health, feel more satisfied and productive at work, and find your relationships more enjoyable and stable.
Caring For Your Mental Health
When suffering from mental health conditions or issues, many people are just quiet and anxious. But some may succumb to dark thoughts and moods.
Many people isolate themselves. Unfortunately, this can delay getting the necessary help.
With this in mind, it is crucial to practice diligent attention to your mental health. That may include the following practices:
Meditation doesn’t have to be a solemn spiritual venture; it can be a balm for any mental health problems. Look at it as 5 or 10 minutes a day in which you slow down, notice your surroundings, come into your body, and breathe deeply.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Even in our post-pandemic world, there is plenty to be grateful for. Don’t let these moments, big or small, pass without appreciation and reflection. A journal is an excellent way to maintain perspective.
Share Your Gratitude with Others
Martin Seligman, a pioneering positive psychologist and researcher, notes in his work that there is a wealth of evidence to support that gratitude is key to a happy life.
A general attitude of gratitude has been shown to reduce depressive thinking and symptoms by 35%. Gratitude research by Philip Watkins of Eastern Washington University indicates that gratitude actually acts as positive cognitive training for the brain too.
Grateful people tend to experience higher levels of positivity, vitality, and optimism. Not to mention the ability to seek out and revel in life for the pleasure of it. All characteristics that can make the holidays the joyful season it’s meant to be.
Thank the people in your life sincerely with your words, time and resources. What follows will be the gift of closer relationships and happier connections to enjoy for years to come.
Your eating habits, your sleep patterns, your activity level — all this and more contribute mightily to a healthy mental state. Appreciate and incorporate your emotional and mental self-care into daily life as you would medical healthcare practices.
Create a Healthy Support System
Humans are social creatures. We thrive in a collaborative setting, so be careful not to isolate ourselves in times of struggle.
Talk about your emotions with trusted loved ones. Allow yourself to hear and learn from others’ experiences as well.
Get Help for Balancing Emotional and Mental Health
Ultimately, there will be times when contacting a therapist is the most self-loving choice you can make. In a blog post, one can lay out the differences between emotional and mental health. However, in everyday life, the distinctions are not always as clear.
Sometimes, the tag team members of your mind feel as if they are wrestling with each other. It isn’t easy to discern cause and effect. In therapy, you and your counselor will create a different kind of team.
Together you can explore the underlying reasons behind your mental and emotional distress. Consider the support of a professional guide. Let us help you discover and work through the root causes of your struggles. Together we can find new approaches to ease the strain on your mind and heart.
Therapy for Improved Emotional Health
Therapy may be needed when you are experiencing a high amount of stress, anxiety, or depression symptoms or going through a major crisis or traumatic life events. However, therapy can also be beneficial for your overall health, even when you aren’t going through anything serious.
We all experience difficult emotions such as shame, have basic fears such as fear of rejection, and want something meaningful in our lives, regardless of how we define that for ourselves.
Therapy can help you get clear on your triggers and help you build new skills. It can help you pursue your goals and improve your overall well-being.
Therapy is about having the courage to claim your life, grow, and challenge yourself to be the person you are meant to be.
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