What is it, and How Does It Tie Into National Recovery Month?
The National Institutes of Health defines emotional wellness as “the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.” I’m a fan of this definition because it’s so simple. It’s clear that being emotionally well means you can cope with the highs and lows of life without everything falling apart. Substance abuse very often comes out of an inability to handle these things, also known as distress intolerance. In fact, studies demonstrate a direct correlation between a low level of distress tolerance and substance use cravings in those in residential treatment for substance abuse.
One of my favorite perspectives on addiction and emotional wellness as a whole comes from this Ted Talk about addiction. My favorite quote from it is this; “And a core part of addiction, I came to think, and I believe the evidence suggests, is about not being able to bear to be present in your life.” This, I believe, is also the foundation of emotional wellness (or the lack thereof).
So in order to make sure you’re emotionally well, you need to focus on being able and willing to stay present and cope with the ups and downs of life effectively in order to do so.
Emotional Wellness Inventory
As we’ve done with the other facts of wellness, I’d like to take a moment to take an emotional wellness inventory. To do so, ask yourself questions such as these:
How do you handle stress? – Do you feel like you’re able to cope with stress and view it as a learning/growth opportunity and a natural part of life? Or does it feel debilitating?
Are you able to adapt to change? – If unexpected (or even expected) change makes you feel like you’re out of control, this is worth taking a look at.
Do you prioritize and meet your own needs and wants? – Do you feel confident in your ability to take care of yourself despite whatever external factors are at play? If not, your emotional wellness could be low.
Are you able to express and process emotions? – This one may be obvious, but it’s incredibly important. If you’re unable to both process and express all of your emotions, it leaves you vulnerable to unhealthy coping mechanisms that may have negative – and even disastrous – consequences on your life (such as substance abuse).
Do you make time for self care? – Cliche or not, if you don’t make time for self care, you’re directly taking away from your emotional wellness by reducing your resilience to stress and change and increasing your emotional vulnerability.
The Most Important Question
Can I bear to be present in my own life?
This is the most important question of all. If you can’t answer this one with a resounding “Yes!” it’s worth exploring why. If the answer is yes, congratulations. You probably rank pretty high on the emotional wellness scale. If the answer is no, go deeper. Play the 5 Why game with yourself by asking yourself why 5 times (did you see that one coming?) to drill down into the root issues. So for example, you start with your answer, a simple no. Then you ask “why not?”. If the answer is “because I feel really lonely”, ask “why’s that?” and so on. That’s where you start. In the short term, working on things like stress management and emotional regulation can help lend stability where you need it. In the long term, discover your foundational why and address it.
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