Cognitive processing and expression can support or hinder well-being.
As a society, we have made great strides in embracing total well-being as integral to personal happiness. This acknowledgement that well-being involves more than mere physical health has given rise to a greater focus on emotional and mental health. But, are we focusing on it the right way? Are we even clear about the difference between emotional health and mental health, let alone how to support them?
Thinking versus expressing
While the terms mental health and emotional health are sometimes used interchangeably, they are distinctly different. That said, you really can’t have one without the other and an imbalance in one can pull the other out of balance as well. 1
A good way to think about mental and emotional health is like a tag team. Mental health refers to your ability to process information. Emotional health, on the other hand, refers to your ability to express feelings which are based upon the information you have processed. So, if your cognitive function is hindered by depression or anxiety, for example, you may struggle with accurately identifying a situation. This can then trigger inappropriate responses because those responses are based upon inaccurate thoughts.
Tapping into your root thoughts or thought processes can therefore be integral to unlocking some challenges you experience. It may help you to realize different outcomes, ones that are more pleasurable or beneficial to you in part because of a shift in mindset.
Not always a bed of roses
Certainly the ability to direct one’s mental energy in a positive direction can be essential for one’s emotional health. Psychology Today identifies the ability to counteract the demoralized feeling that can develop when things don’t go our way or to find value and meaning in the face of loss or trauma as characteristics of emotionally healthy people. 2 That said, playing Pollyanna’s “The Glad Game” and searching for something to be glad about in the face of a challenge may not always be what one needs.
As explained by Scientific American, true emotional and mental health requires one to accept, process and respond to things that are not always pleasant or positive. What many refer to as “negative” emotions are part and parcel of the human experience and running away from these simply because they do not feel good does not actually support true well-being.3
There is essentially a distinct difference between choosing to focus on something positive and ignoring something unpleasant. In some situations, a “negative” emotion may be a cue that there is something in our life that needs our attention. These emotions help us evaluate experiences and make decisions based upon those evaluations just as much as do positive emotions.
Resilience supports true emotional and mental health
As I wrote in an earlier post, resilience to stress isn’t about whether or not you experience or feel stress but about how you respond to stress. Fortunately, one can build resilience and doing so supports not only stronger emotional and mental health but stronger overall well-being.