What do we mean by emotional health?

In this guest post Susan Heitler, Ph.D, explains how psychologists define emotional health and what contributes to it. She reveals that the method for cultivating good mental emotional health involves learned skills that we develop as we grow and experience life–or learn from others and programs like Power of Two!

When we describe ourselves as being physically healthy, we generally mean that our bodies are humming along without pain, enabling us to work and play as we would like.
With mental health, the sign that all’s well is similar.  We feel little or no emotional pain, that is, negative feelings like anger, anxiety, or depression.  In this regard, mental health might better be called emotional health.

There’s lots we can do to prevent downturns in emotional health.  Learning to live in the present instead of dwelling in future-focused “what if’s” for instance can minimize needless anxieties.  Learning from our mistakes instead of beating ourselves up for them can similarly minimize our vulnerability to depression.

At the same time, emotional well-being can be enhanced. Religion, for instance, hopefully reinforces a life stance of gratitude and appreciation.  Devoting time and attention to building loving family, friend, and community relationships sustains self-confidence and augments our opportunities to enjoy happiness, pleasure, delight and affection.  Helping others, learning new skills, sexual release, experiencing something new, exercising our physical selves and accomplishing goals also promote feeling good.

How have other psychological thinkers described mental health?

Freud, the father of modern psychological thinking, defined mental health as the ability to love and work.  Work is what we do on our own, and love is what we do with others.  A subsequent psychological theorist, Adreas Angyal, similarly defined mental health as “the ability to experience both autonomy and belonging.”

A 1970’s group called The Incredible String Band beautifully express this paradoxical set of goals for human well-being when they sing:  “What is it that I am? and what is it that I am part of?”

How can folks upgrade their mental health?

While many think that mental health involves just doing what comes naturally, I myself am a believer that feeling consistently good —  alone with oneself, in work settings, and in relationships — takes skills. In addition to the emotional functioning skills I describe above, “people skills,” like the ones taught at poweroftwomarriage.com, are vital.  These include ability to say things tactfully, to listen constructively, to minimize conflict and be able to make decisions with others cooperatively to repair misunderstandings, to manage emotions so that anger  and jealousy doen’t tarnish your relationships, and more.

Looking for a way to feel better?  Learn the skills that enhance mental health!