Recently I was talking with a friend who is a special needs parent. She was maxed out on every level and needed to vent. After discussing insurance, therapy, extended family, children, spouse and everything else that was driving her crazy (I’m pretty sure laundry and sock count was on the list), she paused. I just waited. Finally she took a deep breath, spent from her tirade of the many things she had been shouldering. I asked one question.
“How are you doing with self-care?”
“Terrible!” Then the tears. They came and came, a cathartic release long overdue.
Emotional health is just as important as physical health. I was asked recently, “What is emotional health?” Folks understand taking care of their bodies, or taking care of their spiritual life, but taking care of emotional well-being is the more mysterious part of this self-care trinity.
Emotional health is being mindful of your emotional state. What are you feeling? Why are you feeling it? All emotions are valid, but are you stuck too long in the more “negative” emotions such as anger, depression, or guilt? Taking time for self-care of your emotional health builds emotional reserves for times when life is extra challenging. Barb Dittirch of SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES refers to it as “Comfort in the midst of chaos.”
Jesus, being fully human and fully divine, experienced emotions. He was angry when he saw the way the temple was being desecrated by money-changers. When he returned to Bethany after the death of Lazarus he was deeply troubled. Jesus was indignant when the disciples kept the children from coming to him. Jesus was anxious on the night of his arrest, taking his disciples with him to pray, asking the Father to take the cup from him.
In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. (Luke 22:44 NRSV)
Jesus models for us good emotional health by being in relationship with friends, taking time for himself in solitude to relieve stress, expressing emotions in a healthy way, and turning to God in prayer for strength.
So how can we nurture good emotional health? Here are a few tips:
- Be mindful of your emotions. Especially notice emotions that dominate in ways that have a negative impact on you or your family: anger, depression, anxiety. Look for underlying causes when stuck in particular emotions.
- All emotions are valid. Allow yourself to feel what you feel and acknowledge those feelings.
- Nurture friendships. Set aside time to nurture the friendships that matter most to you. Having close friends who are worthy of trust can help process experiences that are challenging and celebrate joys.
- Spend time in prayer. Talking with God is like talking with your closest friend who knows you better than you know yourself. Emotional healing and emotional health are helped through prayer.
- Enjoy time with your child. Spend time just having fun with your child without a goal for development or therapy. Simply have fun together.
- Pay attention to self-talk. Is your self-talk positive (Yes I can! I tried my best, etc.), or negative (Why do I bother? I’m the worst parent ever). Reshaping self- talk positively is a powerful tool in emotional health. Refute negative talk with, “That’s not true.” If it helps, say it out loud.
- Set aside time for yourself. Take a break and relax when you can. Regularly do something you enjoy whether it’s going outside, reading or meeting a friend. Make it a priority to do what makes you happy at least for a little while each day.
- Find ways to reduce stress. Do not take on more than you can handle. It is okay to say, “No.” It is also okay to say, “Yes.” (Do you need a break? Would you like some help? How about a night out?) If someone is offering help it is not a sign of weakness to accept it.
- Engage in your favorite hobbies. Take time to enjoy the things that most inspire you, help you relax, or create contentment.
- Practice gratitude. Every day say out loud something you are grateful for. Make it part of the family meal, with everyone sharing their thankfulness. Write them on a list and add to it every day.
- Keep a journal. Writing can be highly effective in processing emotions.
- Join a support group. It is helpful to talk with others who share your experiences, allowing you to talk openly and be heard.
- Talk to a counselor. A trained professional is a valuable asset for emotional health.
Look over the list and find the ones that resonate with you. Do you need more time with friends? Intentionally nurture those relationships. Are you over-committed? Take a thing or two off of your plate and feel the stress go down. Need a creative outlet? Dig out that favorite hobby you haven’t done in ages and set aside an hour or two for yourself to unplug and enjoy. Do you think you need talk with a professional? Good for you for seeing that need. Take the first step and make an appointment. Whatever appeals to you most, make it a priority to recharge your emotional batteries.
Check back next Wednesday for the final part of this blog series, spiritual self-care.
Healing God, We come to you with praise, sorrow, joy, worry, fear, with so many emotions. All of our emotions we lay at your feet knowing you love us and that you can heal the broken places in our hearts. Amen.
“Cry Laugh Buttons Shows Crying or Laughing” by Stuart Miles
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net