At the Top of Your (Emotional) Game

We never stop changing. We never stop growing. People often ask about the sorts of things they can do that will have the most impact on their lives. It’s the sort of question that gets asked a lot around the new year in particular. We are in that resolution frame of mind.

Perhaps the most popular area in which we resolve to change is in our physical health. You might be among the millions of people that decide to make a change related to the amount of exercise they get, or the types of food that they eat. And this is healthy! It’s so important to get physical activity and to be aware of the impact that the food we eat have on our overall well-being. If you’re not satisfied with these aspects of your life, then allow me to help add my voice as encouragement for you! You can do it!!

For me, I often wonder at this time of year why we don’t hear more about people resolving to make a change for their mental health. It could be that it’s just not as emphasized in our culture. Advertising, television shows, and movies all spend a lot of money presenting people who are physically attractive and seemingly healthy. It makes sense that we would want to apsire to be like them.

Working on our internal, emotional health though isn’t nearly as sexy. But I think it should be!! Think about it: one of the most common attributes that men and women find attractive in other people is when they have a sense of confidence. We know that when people work on fostering a strong sense of emotional health in their own lives, we can develop a deep-seeded sense of self-assurance. Not only that, but we become more appreciative of others.

Of course, working on your physical health – at least in theory – can be pretty easy. We know that we can run, or bike, or swim and if we do that more than we have done in the past, we should start to feel healthier. If we increase the amount of healthy food that we eat relative to the less healthy food that we eat, we should see some positive effects.

We don’t always have those same tools available when it comes to our mental health though. If we tend to be anxious, it’s not like we can just worry less and we will feel better. It just doesn’t work that way. There aren’t as many obvious exercises that we can use to improve our emotional world.

So, here is one simple idea things that can get you started towards improving your mental health in 2017. It might be helpful to start thinking about your mind as a muscle that you can work out the same as a bicep or quadricep. These are easy, exercises that you can start to do on a daily basis that, if you stick to the regime, should start paying dividends for you!

Be Present

One of the things that can keep us from developing emotionally is when we are distracted. Our minds are really good about focusing on memories or regrets from our past or worrying about the way things might go in the future. Both are important but when they take away from our well-being or our relationships, it can be really damaging. One easy way to help improve our emotional lives is to practice being in the present. The stronger the muscle that keeps us here an now, the less likely that regrets or worry can overwhelm us; we can just give them the attention that they deserve.

There are a couple of ways to practice this exercise.

The first is about engaging your senses. Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch all have a way of connecting you to a time and place. It’s the way that you are connected to the world around you. And they can be great tools to help you strengthen your emotional muscles.

One exercise that helps requires the aid of food or a drink. Personally, I like to do this with the help of a cup of coffee in the morning but you can substitute just about any food for this experience. Once you have your coffee, find a quiet place (e.g. get back in your comfy bed, sit on a couch in a quiet room, or some other retreat in your home). Take about five minutes and just “experience” that coffee with all of your sense. How many times do we quickly pour our coffee in the morning and drag it around the house with us while we’ll getting dressed, getting the kids ready, shaving, or getting something together for work that day? This is the complete opposite of that and completely designed to slow you down.

Start by holding the cup of coffee in your hands, feeling the warmth of the cup. You might want to wrap your hands around the entire cup. If you really pay attention to your hands, you might notice the warmth as it starts to radiate through your palms and fingers. You might even notice the warm feelings spreading all the way up to you wrists. Just notice the sensation – no need to do anything else except pay attention to it.

You’ll probably notice that your mind starts to wander pretty quickly. When you’re training your mind in this way, you’ll often notice that other thoughts start to creep in. It’s OK. You’re not used to this sort of exercise so it might take a while to really get used to it.

After a few moments of paying attention to your sense of touch, move to another sense. You might want to smell the coffee. Move your nose in close to the cup and notice the smells. You might notice the coffee but you might notice some other things too. If you’ve just washed your hands, for example, you might notice the smell of your soap. You might even use your sense of touch again and notice the steam as it rises to your face. What you’re trying to do during this exercise is to simply pay attention to your senses and notice what they’re perceiving.

You can use you other senses too. Use your sense of sight to look at the cup in your hands. We have a lot of handmade cups at home so, for me, I find myself paying a lot of attention to the curves, the glazes, and any other unique characteristics in the cup itself. You might look at the way your fingers fold and curve around the cup. You might notice the steam as it rises from the coffee. You can use your sense of hearing. You might not hear anything coming from you coffee, but if you listen during this time there are lots of sounds you could hone in on. Maybe it’s the sporadic sound of cars on the street outside. Maybe its the creaking of wood in the structure of your home as the sun comes up and the temperature changes.

Again, the real exercise here is using your attention to notice what your senses are trying to tell you. This exercise, over time, will help your mind from wandering as easily into things that might be the seeds of anxiety or worry or depression.

Maybe there are some other ideas too! Feel free to add them to the comment section below or over on our Facebook page.

 

Desmond Smith

After ten years in digital media and marketing, Desmond recently graduated with a Master's in Marriage & Family Therapy from Pfeiffer University. He is currently working towards becoming licensed as a therapist in North Carolina. His wife, Kristy Yetman, is the owner of Yetman Counseling Services.

Desmond writes about relationships and life at his blog, PartSaintAndPartSinner.com.