“A clear understanding of negative emotions dismisses them.” – Vernon Howard
Stress, depression, panic attacks and anxiety. The modern world is overflowing with emotional problems of all different kinds. And chances are you or someone you know has suffered from some form of emotionally unhealthy state. So how can we avoid these problems? Are there things we can do to prevent them coming about?
In this post I am going to present the lifetime guide to staying emotionally healthy. I hope it helps someone out there.
What is emotional health?
Before I present any ideas about emotional health I need to define it. Without a solid idea we really won’t know what were talking about and we will get lost.
Emotional health is not a single state of mind like “pleasure” or “joy” but an ongoing process. Emotional health is a conversation, a journey and above all it is work. It will change and you will go up and down. Even the most emotionally healthy person will have bad days. But those bad days are all part of the process, and they’re aware of it.
Emotional health is all about gathering new tools and methods to constantly better your mind. It is flux.
To be emotionally healthy you need to spend a lot of time being open and learning. As soon as you close your mind to new ideas or information you cut yourself off from the possibility of being healthy. This post could perhaps serve as a starting point. It is by no means the end point. Read, research, study and practice. And never give up, because emotional health is an ongoing process.
Why is emotional health so important?
I have always found it extremely interesting that today’s society will place a massive emphasis on physical well being but almost nothing is done about the mental state. Unless you are suffering from serious depression or some other mental illness, you don’t hear anything about “working on your mind” or “developing emotional health”. And this is quite troubling.
Imagine how happy we could be if we spent as much time working with our emotions as we did running on the treadmill or cooking a healthy dinner. Imagine how different the world would be if there was less anger and more compassion. I think it would be a very different place.
What I am going to show you in this post, however, is that you don’t need to necessarily sit on a cushion or take separate time out to become emotionally healthy. In fact, going to the gym and cooking a nice meal is a big part of emotional health. Stick around and see if you learn something new and, as always, leave a comment if I have forgotten anything.
The lifetime guide to staying emotionally healthy
Now for the main bulk of the post. Here I am going to present some ideas that you can use work with your emotions in order to become more emotionally healthy. Remember, this is a long term project that you will have to stick at for the rest of your life. You will, however, start to see results right away.
1. Understand you are in control of your emotions
The very first step you need to take on this journey is to realize that you are in control of your emotions. This fact is lost on the modern world; many of us become slaves to anger and depression and stress. But when you turn that around and start to understand that you are the boss of what goes on in your head, you are suddenly left with a very workable situation. Without this understanding, however, no progress can be made.
2. Become familiar with your mind through meditation
Once you have conviction that you are in control of your emotions, you need to become familiar with them through meditation. Now, meditation does not mean sitting on a cushion saying “OOMMM” over and over. Sure it can be that, but it is not only that. The way to meditate is to constantly bring your attention to your thoughts and just let your mind relax in that.
The Tibetan word for meditation is “gom” which means “to familiarize”. This gives us a great insight into what meditation is supposed to be. It is not about relaxing so much as it is about familiarizing ourselves with positive states of mind. Compassion, love, patience, silence. And the very interesting thing about meditation is that these states of mind arise naturally when you just start to look at your mind.
How does this work? Simple. According to Buddhism the nature of every being is compassionate. We are not inherently evil and we are not naturally sinners. Naturally we are compassionate but we have lost connection with that innate part of our being. But looking at the mind re-connects us with that state because we all of a sudden get in control of our minds. And when we get in control of our minds the first thing we feel is sadness for all those people out there who are still struggling. It is an intensely powerful moment in your life.
If you want to learn more about meditation you can check back on some of my other articles:
- Loneliness vs aloneness: lessons from a solitary mountain retreat
- A look into the psychology of meditation
One of the best things you can do for yourself if you want to become happy and proficient in controlling your mind is learn from someone who has already done it. There are so many wonderful meditation teachers in our world, I encourage you to connect with one. And that leads us to our next point.
3. Connect with good people and avoid bad company
A few weeks ago I wrote an article about avoiding bad company which ruffled up some feathers. A got a few emails that day saying that I was a disloyal friend and that you should stick by your mates even if they are bad for you. Okay, fine. I agree. You should stick by your bad mates if you are able to do so without them being a negative influence on you. But when you see yourself in a downward spiral it is time to leave them alone.
Surrounding yourself with good company is one of the most important life lessons a person can learn. Once a dear friend of mine told me that you will become the average of your five closest friends so make sure you choose wisely. I did. I chose people who were happy, successful and who worked for the betterment of others. I very rarely spend time with people who are selfish, hateful and bigoted. The Buddha once said:
“Put a rose in a sack of fish and soon the rose starts to stink too.”
Now there is no problem visiting people with the motivation of helping them or cheering them up. That is a wonderful thing to do. But if you are best friends with a drug addict racist who starts to rub off on you then you are in for problems. If you want to be emotionally healthy you need to surround yourself with people who are living a life you wish to emulate. Let them rub off on you.
4. Practice ethical behavior to avoid depression, anxiety and fear
Once you have become familiar with your mind and have made a commitment to stay emotionally healthy it is important to live an ethical life. Without a solid basis of ethical behavior there is no chance for long term happiness. So why are ethics so important? Let’s take a look.
The first thing you will notice about an unethical or mean person is that they have very few true friends. They may have followers or people around them who latch on out of fear, but they have no trusted confidants. And that is a very lonely place to be. In fact, it is a situation that will eventually drive you crazy.
It is also important to realize that negative acts come back to you. If you spend your life stealing or cheating on your girlfriends the chances are your reputation will come back to haunt you. And I am not just talking about other people being mad at you. Soon you will begin to feel guilty. Imagine living your whole life hurting others and to be in the last stages of your life and feel intense regret. It would be an emotion so crippling that you would struggle to cope. Life your life without regrets.
5. Read the masters and scholars of the past
Will Smith is a Hollywood star that many people admire for his staunch opposition to gangster rap that denigrates women and encourages violence and his lifetime pursuit of being a “nice guy”. A few years ago I saw a video of Will Smith speaking to thousands of kids at a Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards ceremony. What he said really knocked my socks off.
The human race has an amazing history full of struggles and hardships. But out of those hardships have come some amazing thinkers. There have been men and women who, instead of picking up a sword or gun, have sat thinking. Their messages have been passed down the generations long after the wars were over. And now we are left with a gold mine of knowledge and wisdom. These people left a legacy that we should feel honored to be a part of and study. Like Will said, there are no new problems. If you want to be emotionally healthy you need to take a look at what the great adepts of the past have thought and said about being emotionally healthy.
Let me give you a little introduction to a few great minds that have affected my life. A starting point for you.
The Buddha was a revolutionary, possibly the first of his kind. He sat under a tree and developed theories that have served as the basis for most philosophical thinking. Start with the Buddha’s teachings and work your way forward through history. Study the European philosophers and the masters of meditation from India, China and Japan. Do this and you will be well on your way to emotional health.
6. Avoid man made food, eat naturally
For most of my youth I failed to recognize the link between food and depression. I, like most teenagers, ate a lot of fast food and drank a lot of sugary sodas. And I felt crap, all the time. If you want long term emotional health you need to be very careful about what you put in your body.
To prove this point to yourself I want you to go out and buy the most unhealthy lunch you can. McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC or some other deep fried animal should do the trick. Now watch your mind for the next two hours. Are you more irritable? Are you more depressed and tired? Are you quicker to anger? I bet you are. Now for dinner I want you to have a meal that contains nothing man made. That means no pasta, baked goods or anything produced in a factory. Make something full of colorful vegetables and natural products. Avoid meat if you can. Now watch your mind for the next two hours. How much more energetic, happy and alive do you feel?
The thing about food is that it can change your life. If you eat poorly you are more likely to get cancer, heart disease and diabetes. If you eat well you can live longer, avoid illness and look super sexy. So why do we always opt for the bad choice? Laziness? I’m not sure. Eating well is a big part of being emotionally healthy.
7. Enjoy the middle
Quite often the reason we get unhealthy emotionally is because we do things in excess. Instead of partying once a week we do it four times a week. Instead of eating junk food on the weekends we eat it on the weekdays. Instead of having one coffee per day we have seven. A key to being emotionally healthy is doing things in moderation. Quite often it isn’t that something is inherently bad for us, it is just that we do it too often.
8. Develop strength in your own personal set of values
Emotional health is not just avoid depression and learning to cope with stress. That is just a tiny fraction of what we are talking about. Emotional health is also become a less angry person, considering other human beings in a different way and improving yourself on a variety of levels. One of the ways you can improve your emotional health is to develop a set of values and stick to them.
When I was in high school I remember hearing that “the measure of a man is by how quickly he gets angry“. I found this statement to be extremely inspiring and decided then and there that I was going to avoid anger at all costs. The more I looked into the statement the more I realized how much other people respected calm, strong and un-angry people. This was something I was going to follow through.
Over time life has thrown me many more of these lessons. Compassion, love, patience. All of these ideas I have tried to adopt into my own persona and stick to them no matter what. And it has been an amazing source of strength. Whenever I feel my emotional state slipping I remind myself of who I want to be and whip myself back on track.
Emotional health is all about working with your mind and your body to achieve some sort of personal mastery. It is a long process and along the way you will inevitably stagger, fault and make mistakes. But these mistakes all serve to make you stronger. If you want to stay emotionally healthy for your entire life you need to explore your mind, read philosophy, take care of your body and avoid extremes. If you can do even a few of these you will be far better equipped than the majority of the population.
So how emotionally healthy are you? Do you do most of these things already or do you have work to do? Most important, what have I missed?