Emotional health refers to how a person thinks and feels. The ability to acknowledge and cope with both positive and negative emotions is a sign of good emotional health.

Emotional well-being, or emotional health or wellness, refers to how well people are able to accept and manage their emotions and cope with challenges throughout life.

Emotional health can affect how well someone can function day to day or how they are able to deal with change or uncertainty.

Difficulties in emotional well-being may have a negative effect on a person’s mental and physical health.

This article looks at emotional well-being, what factors can affect it, signs someone may be experiencing difficulties with emotional well-being, and tips to improve it.

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The National Center for Emotional Wellness (NCEW) describes emotional wellness or well-being as an awareness, understanding, and acceptance of feelings and an ability to manage effectively through times of change or challenge.

Uncomfortable or painful emotions and overwhelming thoughts can affect how well individuals function and may make people feel they are losing control of their lives.

By gaining awareness of the emotions each person feels and how to process them, the NCEW says people can regain a feeling of control, minimize difficulties, and continue to function healthily.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), emotional well-being is important because it can affect how people function and carry out everyday tasks.

It can also affect how well individuals are able to handle stressful situations and challenges, how they adapt to change, and how they respond to difficult life events.

Emotional well-being can affect relationships, work, and overall mental and physical health.

Issues with emotional well-being can also affect physical health and may lead to higher blood pressure, a weakened immune system, and increased illness.

Factors that can influence emotional well-being may include:

  • challenges with work, school, relationships, or home life
  • changes in health
  • changes in relationships
  • retirement, which may affect social circles or sense of purpose
  • losing loved ones
  • moving away from family and friends

A child’s emotional well-being is equally as important as their physical health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that being mentally healthy can help children to:

  • reach emotional milestones
  • reach developmental milestones
  • learn healthy social skills
  • learn how to cope when problems arise
  • have a positive quality of life
  • function at home and in school

Emotional well-being issues in children can lead to problems in school, at home, and in their ability to form relationships.

Tips to improve emotional well-being in children and adolescents

At home, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends that parents and caregivers:

  • be there to listen
  • regularly ask them about how they feel
  • stay involved in their life and show an interest in what they find important
  • support them through difficulties and help them work through it
  • encourage their interests
  • build positive routines
  • take what they say seriously

If a parent or caregiver has concerns about a child’s emotional well-being, they may find it beneficial to speak with their teacher, pediatrician, or other healthcare professional.

A person can also find help through:

According to the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), getting older does not directly influence quality of life, but emotional health difficulties can reduce it.

The changes with getting older may affect health, social relationships, or sense of purpose, which may all affect emotional well-being. In turn, this may have a negative effect on physical health. For example, a 2015 review states that older adults with coronary heart disease, chronic lung disease, and arthritis had high levels of depression.

Signs that people are experiencing difficulties may include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • feeling irritable, tearful, or angry
  • withdrawing socially
  • loss of interest in activities that are usually enjoyable
  • changes to eating or sleeping patterns
  • feeling restless or agitated
  • fatigue or lack of energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • neglecting self-care
  • difficulties with work or studies, or carrying out everyday tasks
  • mood swings
  • thoughts of death or suicide
  • self-harm
  • substance misuse

In children

Parents and caregivers can look for the following signs:

  • ongoing sleeping difficulties
  • changes in behavior that is significant
  • withdrawing from social situations
  • self-harm
  • a lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy

The NIH offers the following strategies for improving emotional health and well-being:

Be mindful

Staying in the present moment may help people become more aware of everything going on internally and in their surroundings and release thoughts or worries. To practice mindfulness, individuals can:

  • Breathe deeply: Inhale through the nose for four counts, hold for 1 second, then exhale through the mouth for 5. Repeat when necessary.
  • Take a walk: While walking, pay attention to breathing and engage the senses to take in the surroundings. Notice any thoughts or worries that come into the mind, but then bring awareness back to the present moment.
  • Eat mindfully: Take time to smell and taste food thoroughly, and notice the textures and flavors with each mouthful. Pay attention to when the body feels hungry or full.
  • Body scan: Mentally scan through the body from head to toe and bring awareness to how each part of the body feels.

Manage and reduce stress

Some stress can be helpful when carrying out tasks, and it is typical to feel it now and then, but long-term stress can be unhealthy. People can help lower stress by:

  • trying to get 7 or more hours of quality sleep each night
  • exercising regularly
  • creating a positive social support network
  • setting priorities and scheduling time to relax
  • practicing self-compassion by focusing on achievements, rather than what they did not achieve
  • speaking with a healthcare professional

Try to develop a positive mindset

Holding onto positive emotions for longer, noticing and appreciating the good things in life, and quickly bouncing back from challenges are all signs of emotional resilience. People may be able to build this by:

  • recognizing any good deeds they have done for others
  • forgiving themselves for any mistakes they have made
  • writing down what they are grateful for each day
  • spending time with positive people
  • focusing on beliefs and values that feel important to them and letting them guide life decisions
  • taking care of physical and mental health through a balanced diet, regular exercise, and good quality sleep

Reinforce social connections

Healthy social connections may help improve emotional, physical, and mental well-being. To create a positive support system, people can try:

  • joining a group that focuses on an enjoyable hobby or activity
  • creating positive relationships with their children, family, or friends
  • asking for help from others
  • trying a new class to learn something new
  • volunteering with a cause they care about
  • traveling to new places or meeting people from different backgrounds

Cope with loss

Losing a loved one can have a huge impact on emotional well-being and may feel overwhelming. To help cope, people may try:

  • talking with individuals they love or trust
  • prioritizing self-care, and taking time to exercise, sleep well, and eat healthily
  • finding a grief support group
  • avoid making any major life decisions while grieving
  • consider counseling, therapy, or consulting a healthcare professional

The NCEW recommends the following tips for improving and taking care of emotional health and well-being:

  • Aim to become more aware of feelings by labeling them, such as “I am feeling nervous.”
  • Avoid judging any feelings as right or wrong and accept them for what they are.
  • Try to notice how feelings relate to thoughts, such as “I am thinking about what I said to that person, and I’m feeling angry.”
  • Think before acting and make decisions according to goals.
  • Be aware of choosing thoughts and what to focus on.
  • If thinking about something repetitively is causing emotional discomfort, try to recognize the thought and release it.
  • Realize that feeling uncomfortable emotions during times of challenge or uncertainty is expected.
  • If feeling emotional discomfort, try talking it through with someone, take a walk, exercise, or listen to music.
  • Try communicating thoughts or feelings face-to-face with a person who is a good listener.
  • Work on becoming the person they wish to be.

Emotional well-being is how well people are able to process their emotions and cope with life challenges.

Managing stress, fostering positive social connections, and taking care of physical and mental health may all help individuals maintain good emotional well-being.