“It’s up to you today to start making healthy choices. Not choices that are just healthy for your body, but healthy for your mind.”
― Steve Maraboli
Good emotional health is the basis of a good work-life balance. You can’t leave your feelings at home before you come to work and vice versa – it is hard not to bring important work concerns home. It’s not right to think that you must always be happy and feel good. Life is full of emotions of different colours, both good and bad. Don’t ignore them. On the contrary, take the time and attention to identify, understand, and accept your emotions and feelings.
Emotional health is part of mental health, defining how we handle positive and negative emotions. Good emotional health does not mean a constant state of happiness. It’s each person’s ability to accept themselves and function in life: the ability to express themselves, cope with stressful situations, and experience happiness, sadness, and pain.
Women and men may face different emotional challenges when balancing work and life since society still stereotypically expects women to take care of home and children while men are working. Men often feel pressured to earn more once their family grows, so paradoxically, they may feel incentivised to work longer hours than usual, putting them at risk of getting detached from the family, the very thing they made the initial decision for.
How do you notice the first signs of facing challenges in this area? Here are several signals showing that you might want to stop and take care of yourself:
- Loss of concentration: jumping from task to task without completing any of them.
- You make mistakes more often than usual.
- You find it hard to fall asleep or sleep poorly, wake up in the middle of the night with thoughts of work or personal concerns, sleep shorter, wake up earlier, etc.
- You feel a lack of energy, move less, or don’t want to move at all.
- You need repeating, such as rereading the text you’ve already read, because you don’t understand what you’ve just read, or you’re more forgetful than usual.
- You get up to do something that is not urgent or necessary and un-related to the task you were just doing.
- You are constantly irritated for no reason, small details get you off-track, and it seems like you have less patience.
- You are overreacting to simple questions and get frustrated over little things. For example, someone has asked for a small service, and you respond as if they are asking for something impossible.
- You feel detached from other areas of life that usually make you happy and enjoyable: you don’t see your friends or family, skip doing sports, abandon your hobbies or other leisure activities, don’t have time for yourself, not engaging in intellectual activities, etc.
It’s likely you just need a break from what you’re doing if:
- You can’t stop scrolling on social networks or checking emails.
- You are reading websites that are not work-related.
- You are chatting with friends or colleagues online.
- You are staring aimlessly out a window or at a wall.
IMPORTANT! You are responsible for your health. Mental health, like physical health, can sometimes falter. After all, when your body gets ill, do you seek help from your doctor? Mental health should be taken care of in the same way.
If you are facing challenges that you cannot overcome yourself, consider seeking emotional help from professionals. If you doubt that you really need it – try to talk about it with someone you trust. An external opinion often helps us to assess the situation better.
Where do I start?
Create an environment based on honesty, both at work and at home. An environment that doesn’t accommodate your emotional needs and challenges is unhealthy. You can contribute to changing the environment by showing empathy for other people and sharing your feelings. If you’re angry, sad, frustrated, or tense, name the emotion, explain to others why you feel that way and what you need in this situation. Maybe it’s an extra minute to calm down, a short walk, or a call to another person. You don’t have to discuss your state in detail, but a clear statement of what happened to you and what you need right now will help the people around you understand what’s going on better and provide what you need at this moment.
Be empathetic to others. If you see a friend, relative, or colleague feeling unwell, ask about it. Don’t be afraid to show attention. Practice empathy.
Strengthen psychological resilience. This describes the ability to handle crises (such as the loss of a loved one, failure, betrayal of a loved one, or other painful and traumatic events) and successfully return to the state you were in before the crisis. This does not protect us from unpleasant emotions but helps us become stronger, deal better with similar situations in the future, and prevent these emotions from causing long-term mental health damage. Take complex situations as an opportunity for personal development by strengthening within yourself qualities such as patience, resilience, control, optimism, etc.
How to find more time?
Have good quality rest. Rest can be active (such as sport, time in nature, hiking, swimming, doing yard or farm work) or passive (such as reading a book, watching a movie, or visiting an exhibition). No matter what kind of rest you choose, it’s important not to do the work you’re resting from. In a world where, thanks to technology, we’re available 24/7, you sometimes need to actively try to disconnect (usually from the technology itself). If you want the rest to bring the maximum benefit, put the effort in.
Disconnect from work-related communications. Turn off your business phone, email, and other work-related communications during rest. Do not reply to messages or calls, and don’t write or call colleagues yourself while away from work. Break this rule only in exceptional cases, subject to prior agreement with other persons.
Allow yourself to have pleasant experiences. When it comes to things that bring you joy and satisfaction, don’t limit them. Positive emotions and rest give your mind a break from stress and help you take a fresh look at the challenges you might be facing. It doesn’t have to be grandiose or fancy; focusing on something you already practice in life, just doing it consciously and with your own permission can be enough. For example:
- Go to a bookstore or a library and take a slow walk, taking the time to look at the books, and pick the right one for yourself.
- Instead of a short shower, take a bath or longer than the usual shower.
- In the evening, take a walk outside, in a park or forest, and listen to an audiobook or your own thoughts.
- Make a cup of delicious tea or coffee and drink it without rushing, taking the time to enjoy it.
- Call a loved one for no specific reason.
- Stand in the sun for 5 minutes.
- Allow yourself a nap after lunch.
- Take 10 minutes to meditate.
- Go home on another, more interesting route, or get off the bus a stop earlier.
Make your personal list of pleasures and regularly add to it. Have it on your phone or on your desk and use it when you feel the need to recharge or prepare for tackling another task.
Replace unpleasant work. If you are constantly in a hurry, cleaning the house or completing another routine task, can cause extra stress. On the other hand, sometimes switching activities can serve as an excellent break for the mind and the body. For example, walking away from your computer and work tasks to wash the dishes. It’s not about what you do but about how you do it. If you choose dishwashing as a breather from working on a complex text, it can be an enjoyable and relaxing experience.
Plan a pleasant reward for hard work. When you’re planning a difficult, stressful task, plan how you will reward yourself for completing it. It might be something more festive, like a dinner with friends at a beloved restaurant, or simply a planned and clearly defined time to rest – watch a movie with your family, take a bath or read a book.
Use short moments for pleasant experiences. A brief conversation with a stranger on your way to work or in a shop, a 5-minute break in the sun, petting a dog – a similar, short moment can improve your mood for a much longer period. Look for moments like this and enjoy them.
Listen to your negative emotions. All emotions are useful and carry a specific message about what is happening to us and around us in a particular situation. Anger can help us mobilise to react to a certain situation, boredom encourages the search for something new, doubt prompts seeking for new solutions, jealousy, frustration, or loneliness inform us about what we really want, and guilt motivates us to apologise or focus on improving relationships, etc. Learn how to hear them, get to know them, and take advantage of them. Sometimes, just let yourself be angry, upset, or get bored. It’s also part of your life that shouldn’t be denied or suppressed.
See your loved ones. They are a massive part of maintaining our emotional health. If you find it hard to be spontaneous, plan your time with your loved ones in advance. When the time comes, you will no longer have to decide on the spot whether you should stay at work for longer. With time and age, social ties tend to weaken, and we all become more and more invested in our own routines and everyday lives. If you want to maintain your relationships for years, you have to nurture them and devote your time and attention. You have to plan, initiate meetings or activities together, etc.
Spend some time reflecting every day. One of the daily sources of energy (without food, sleep, rest, etc.) is the time you spend on reflection. You can do this in many ways, including reading, writing a diary, praying, meditating, practicing gratitude, checking your conscience, etc. Without taking time for reflection, we start floating on the surface of everyday activities, succumbing to external factors and circumstances, without taking strength from our values and goals, and losing track of why we need to do what we do. It’s particularly easy for busy people to give in to this because to them it seems like there’s no time for reflection. So, if you want to find more time for emotional health, start with making it an everyday practice to reflect on the ideas that matter to you, how you feel, and how you view today’s achievements, lessons, and failures. It can be 10 minutes of writing in a diary, noting in a gratitude journal before bed, prayer, or an evening walk – whichever form of reflection you choose, make sure you do it every day.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (Bessel Van der Kolk, 2020). Renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring—specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on Dr van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score shows the power of human relationships that can both harm and heal and gives new hope to reclaim lives.
First, We Make the Beast Beautiful: A New Journey Through Anxiety (Sarah Wilson, 2019). Wilson offers readers comfort, humour, companionship, and practical tips for living with the Beast:
- Cultivate a “gratitude ritual.” You can’t be grateful and anxious at the same time.
- Eat to curb anxiety. Real food is your best friend.
- Just breathe. Embrace the healing power of meditation.
- Make your bed. Every day. Simple outer order creates inner calm.
- Study fellow fretters to know thyself. Emily Dickinson, Charles Darwin, and Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. all struggled with anxiety.
- Actively practice missing out. Forget FOMO, curl up on the couch, and order takeout.
Practical and poetic, wise and funny, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful is a small book with a big heart. It will encourage the myriad souls who dance with this condition to embrace it as a part of who they are, and to explore the possibilities it offers for a richer, fuller life.
The Healthy Mind Toolkit. (Alice Boyes, PhD., 2018). Dr Alice Boyes presents simple, practical solutions that will help you identify self-sabotaging behaviours and change them so that instead of limiting yourself you would be free to live the way you really want to live. Combining scholarly research with cognitive behavioural therapy methods, the author discusses different self-sabotage strategies and gives advice on strengthening positive personality traits, finding creative solutions to defective behavioural patterns, and practicing self-care.
Emotional First Aid (Guy Winch, PhD., 2013). We all have emotional wounds. Failure, guilt, rejection, losses – all these are intrinsic parts of life. How can we help ourselves when faced with challenges? The author suggests preparing an emotional first-aid kit and presents strategies and practices that can help us overcome hardships and negative emotions.
Joyful (Ingrid Fetell Lee, 2018). This book talks about searching for inner joy by noticing the little things that impact our moods a lot. The author examines why some things stress us out or make us competitive while others spark joy, happiness, acceptance, and pleasure.
“Krizių įveikimo centras” (Eng. “Centre for Overcoming Crises”): https://krizesiveikimas.lt/
On enjoying the little moments: https://ideas.ted.com/whats-a-delightful-way-to-get-more-time-out-of-the-day-savoring/