October is Mental Health Awareness and Emotional Awareness Month. When I heard that, I thought to myself, What’s the difference? I always thought that if you are mentally healthy, then you will correspondingly be emotionally healthy and vice versa. So I consulted my friend who knows everything—Google.
Google says mental health and emotional health are, in fact, two different things: “Emotional health is the ability to cope with and manage emotions. It’s also the ability to have positive relationships. Mental health is the ability to think clearly and make good decisions. It’s also the ability to cope with stress and manage emotions.” Mental health has to do with your cognitions, while emotional health has to do with your emotions.
The reason I have such a challenge separating them is that I believe in Choice Theory®, which tells us that there are four inseparable components of human behavior: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology. You can’t separate them from one another because, in one discreet behavior, they all operate simultaneously.
Most people become aware they aren’t happy because they get signals from painful emotions or painful physiology. Once aware, they can become the victim and stay stuck in those painful places. On the other hand, they can focus their energy on the two things they have power and control to adjust—their actions and their thinking—and consequently, their feelings and physiology will adjust to match the new acting and thinking.
The key to mental and emotional health begins with awareness. You must first listen to the signs that inform you that you don’t have what you want. Once those signals have registered, the next step is to process the actions you are taking, or thoughts are you having, that are leading to those painful emotions or physiology. Let’s say you’re feeling depressed because someone you care about doesn’t seem to know you exist, and you think you will never get together. What is creating the depression isn’t the fact that you haven’t spoken to this person yet, the depression is being created by thinking you will never have a chance, so you avoid taking action while sending shy and disinterested vibes to the person you like without even realizing it.
If you want to experience more pleasant emotions and physiology, you must take control of your actions and thinking. Those changes will lead to adjustments in feelings and physiology because the four components are inextricably tied together in a system of behavior.
Naturally, someone may be better at problem-solving than another person, but that person might be better at relationships than problem-solving. However, we aren’t generally talking about mental and emotional abilities when we refer to health. We’re talking about a person’s propensity to live a more content life with healthy cognitions and emotions.
Trying to separate cognitions from emotions is like trying to divorce the mind from the body. Everyone knows the mind influences the body and, conversely, the body influences the mind. They are part of our physical system and operate in harmony to accomplish health.
Thoughts and emotions are inexplicably linked together. Healthy thoughts lead to healthy emotions. Painful thoughts lead to painful emotions. Experience painful emotions long enough and you will begin to have more painful thoughts, which can lead to more painful emotions.
Since we have not yet discovered how to change emotions at will, the path to emotional health is through good mental health. When you have healthier thinking, your emotional life will be better. Here are some examples of thoughts you can change:
- Change “I failed” to “I learned something.”
- Change “that’s wrong” to “help me understand why you think that way.”
- Change “I don’t like you very much” to “I probably need to get to know you better.”
- Change “you are hurting me” to “you are doing the best you know to get what you want.”
- Change “I hate that” to “my preference is______________.”
- Change “I/you/they should…” to “I would prefer it if I/you/they would…”
- Change “I have to” to “I want to ____________ because of what I gain when I do.”
- Change “I would be happy if you would just…” to “I choose happiness regardless of what you do.”
- Change “you have to earn my respect” to “I respect everyone, not because of who they are, but because of who I am.”
- Change “I have been broken by my trauma” to “I know I can fully recover from this.”
This sounds easy to do, and it really can be with practice, but if you need a little help recognizing your unhelpful thoughts and formulating new ones, try a coaching package to help you get started.