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5 Habits That Will Improve Your Emotional Wellness

09/03/2013 08:19 am ET | Updated Nov 03, 2013

Do you monitor your emotional well-being and take action when you hit a rough patch? Let's be honest, most of us don't. Even if you did pay attention to your psychological health, would you know how to ease emotional pain when your feelings were hurt, how to boost your confidence when your self-esteem was low, or how to recover after experiencing a loss? Again, most of us do not.

What makes this a surprising truth as well as an inconvenient one is that our psychological health impacts our quality of life as much as our physical health does (some might argue even more). Yet other than noting our general mood, we do almost nothing in terms of regular psychological maintenance. Compare that to how automatically we apply ice packs to sprains, use Band-Aids for cuts, or gulp down chicken soup when we have a cold. Clearly, when it comes to getting attention and care, our psychological health has a lot of catching up to do. A great way to start closing the gap is to adopt the habit of "treating" common psychological "injuries" when you sustain them. Here's how:

1. Protect Your Self Esteem. Self-esteem is the armor we wear to the "battle of life," and yet when it is low, we often become self-critical and injure it even further. We would never spread salt on a cut or run around in a T-shirt in freezing weather if we had a cold, but for some reason, we have no qualms about kicking our self-esteem when it's already down. Even more concerning is that by weakening our emotional armor we make ourselves more vulnerable to things like failure, rejection, anxiety, and stress. So stop the self-criticism and protect your self-esteem when it's low by practicing self-compassion. Whenever self-critical thoughts pop into your head, consider what you would say to a close friend who expressed similar feelings. Then address those exact thoughts to yourself. Practicing self-compassion and allowing your self-esteem to recover will give a big boost to your overall mental health.

2. Take Control After a Failure. Failing impacts our perceptions such that our goals seem further out of reach and our abilities seem less up to the task. As a result, we often feel helpless and passive and we lose our motivation. To combat those feelings, review your goal and how you approached it. Make a list of all the factors that are in your control such as effort, preparation, and planning, and give thought to how you can improve your execution of each of them. Focusing on variables that are in your control will balance out defeatist thoughts, do wonders for your motivation and consequently improve your chances of future success.

3. Distract Yourself From Brooding Thoughts. Stewing over upsetting events only makes us feel worse, as brooding is surprisingly damaging to our mental health. When you find yourself stuck in a cycle of brooding and stewing, disrupt the urge to brood by developing a zero tolerance attitude toward your repetitive distressing thoughts. As soon as the thought begins, distract yourself by engaging in a task that requires concentration. Try listing state capitals, the names of your middle school classmates, or the order of songs on a playlist. Provided you catch it quickly, distracting yourself for two minutes is sufficient for the distressing thought to recede and for your mood to recover.

4. Find Meaning After a Loss: Loss is a natural part of life and something none of us can avoid. Regardless of how painful or traumatic the loss, one aspect has been found to be extremely important for emotional recovery -- our ability to find meaning in the events. Once you've begun to heal, think about possible ways in which you might derive some good from the situation. Perhaps you can develop a greater appreciation those who remain, make changes that allow you to live your life in closer accordance with your values and ideals, or take action to honor what or who has been lost. Doing so can be challenging, but gaining a sense of appreciation and purpose will allow you to gain strength from your memories rather than feel broken by them.

5. Recover Self-Worth After a Rejection: One of the reasons rejections are so painful is they register in our brains like physical pain. But unless we know that, we're likely to misinterpret the magnitude of emotional pain we feel as an indication that we're weak, needy, or pathetic -- and damage our self-worth even further. In order to help your self-worth recover, remind yourself of what you have to offer. Make a list of attributes you know you possess and that are valuable in the sphere in which you were rejected (e.g., dating life, social life, or work life). Choose one and write a paragraph or two about why the quality is meaningful and valuable to you and why it would be equally meaningful and valuable to another person (e.g., a dating partner, friend, or employer). Reminding yourself of the many substantive things you have to offer will help your self-worth rebound, ease your emotional pain, and improve your short and long-term mental health.

Acquiring new habits isn't easy. But isn't it time we gave our emotional health the same tender loving care we typically afford our physical bodies?

For more by Guy Winch, Ph.D., click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.