Emotionally healthy people are in control of their emotions and their behavior. They're able to more readily handle the challenges of life. They tend to build stronger relationships and more easily recover from setbacks.
Over the years many young adults have conveyed to me that beauty and health are important—but that they wish to be emotionally stable and happy even more than being physically fit.
We know the effort required to build and maintain physical health. Mental and emotional health requires the same or more. Improving your emotional health is rewarding, benefits all aspects of your life, boosts your mood, builds resilience and improves your enjoyment of the life God has given you.
What is mental or emotional health?
Mental or emotional health refers to one's overall psychological well-being. It includes the way you feel about yourself, quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties that arise.
Good emotional health isn't just the absence of mental health problems. It's much more than being free of depression, anxiety or other psychological issues. Mental and emotional health refers to the presence of positive characteristics.
Here's how God describes it: "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" (Proverbs 17:22, English Standard Version, emphasis added throughout).
The Bible also emphasizes the need for positive focus: "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8, New International Version).
Similarly, merely not "feeling bad" is not the same as feeling good. While some people may not suffer from negative feelings, they still need to do things that make them feel positive to achieve emotional health.
The teenage and young adult years progressing through puberty while dealing with social and peer pressures tend to affect emotional health. The results are sometimes devastating, and a few seem to never recover, carrying emotional scars with them for the remainder of their lives.
God never intended us to stay emotionally ill, or to suffer continuously. In fact, one of Christ's apostles put it this way: "Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 1:2, New International Version). Let's look at how we can take care of ourselves emotionally and mentally.
Mentally and emotionally healthy people develop positive characteristics:
• A sense of contentment.
• A balance between work and play, rest and activity.
• An ability to deal well with stress and bounce back from adversity.
• A zest for life—laughing often and having fun.
• Flexibility to learn new things and adapt quickly to change.
• A sense of meaning and purpose in activities and relationships.
• An ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships with others.
These factors allow you to fully participate in life through productive, meaningful activities and solid relationships. They also help you cope when faced with life's challenges and stresses.
Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn't mean you never go through difficult times or experience emotional challenges. We all have disappointments, loss and change. While these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety and stress.
Many men and women in the Bible faced mental and emotional challenges (we aren't the only ones!), and we can draw strength from their examples.
Emotionally healthy people bounce back from adversity and stress—that's called resilience. Such people cope with difficult situations and maintain a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible and creative during good times and difficult times.
Throughout His ministry Jesus Christ dealt with lots of adversity and stress, yet He was able to maintain a positive outlook. That's the ideal mindset, so "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). This will give us resilience.
One of the key resilience factors is effectively balancing stress and emotions. The capacity to recognize your emotions and express them appropriately helps you avoid getting stuck in anxiety, depression or other negative moods.
Boost your resilience by turning for encouragement and support in tough times to a strong network of trusted people—family and church members, friends, and your pastor.
How do you feel?
Strengthening your mental and emotional health also requires paying attention to your own needs and feelings. Don't let stress and negative emotions build up. Try to maintain a balance between daily responsibilities and the things you enjoy.
Pursue activities that naturally release endorphins and contribute to feeling good. Endorphins are released with physical exercise and when we do things that positively impact others. Serving others and focusing on helping others will help us too.
Take an education class, visit a museum, learn a new language, or simply travel somewhere new. Learn and discover new things. Think of it as an "intellectual treat."
At my home here in North Carolina I enjoy the beauty of nature. I've found that simply walking through my forest garden has lowered my blood pressure and helped reduce stress. The same goes for taking a walk through a park or art gallery, hiking, just sitting on a bench or relaxing at the beach.
Because we're all different, not everything will be equally beneficial to all people. Some feel better relaxing and slowing down, while others need more activity, excitement and mental stimulation to feel better. Find activities that you enjoy and that give you a boost.
Whatever internal or external factors have shaped your mental and emotional health, it's never too late to make changes that will improve your psychological well-being. Counter your risk factors with protective factors like strong relationships with God and your family and friends, a healthy lifestyle, and coping strategies for managing stress and negative emotions.
The "wonderful Counselor" Jesus Christ wants you to take care of yourself emotionally and mentally (see Isaiah 9:6-7). The effort will bring you rich rewards!