Impact of emotional awareness on mental well-being
As discussed in previous articles, mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a meaningful contribution to their community.
To be able to manage our emotions effectively and maintain mental well-being, we need to be able to recognise our emotions and express them in healthy ways.
Mental health challenges are sometimes a result of poor emotional awareness, bottled up emotions and frustrations and maladaptive ways of handling difficult emotions.
What is emotional awareness?
Emotional awareness is the ability to identify our emotional state and its impact on our behaviour and on other people.
Emotional awareness is a part of emotional intelligence which can influence our mental health and well-being. Studies have shown that emotional awareness can range from complete absence of emotional awareness to full emotional insight:
- Lack of emotional awareness: at this level, one is unaware of their internal emotional state. This lack of understanding of one’s emotions can result in maladaptive ways of coping with difficult emotions, challenges with mental well-being and challenges in relating with others.
- Awareness of bodily sensations: Emotions will often influence how our bodies feel. Anxiety can make us experience heart palpitations, sweaty palms, dizziness and chest pain; anger can make us feel flushed and hot and make our muscles tense; sadness and grief and make our chest feel heavy. Some individuals may recognise these physical sensations but may not relate them to the underlying emotions.
- Awareness of behaviours: As we become more aware of our emotions we may find ourselves becoming more aware of the effects of certain emotions on our behaviour even if we may have challenges naming that emotion.
- Awareness of an undifferentiated emotional state: At this level of emotional awareness, one will recognise that they are experiencing a difficult emotion but may still have difficult describing which emotions. They may “feel” bad or overwhelmed but would not be able to describe this as anxiety or sadness.
- Differentiated emotional awareness: As our emotional awareness improves we can now identify and describe specific emotions we are experiencing. This can help us communicate this to others and it helps us to be able to identify similar emotions with others.
- Full emotional awareness and insight: At this level of emotional awareness, we are fully aware of our emotional state and its impact on our behaviour and on others. We are able to recognise when we are having difficult emotions and when we need to reach out for help.
How can I improve my emotional awareness?
- Monitor your emotions: this requires us to be in tune with ourselves, to have times of reflection in our lives when we take stock of our emotional well-being. Keeping a journal can help with keeping track of our thoughts and emotions and this can help us improve our emotional literacy and emotional awareness.
A journal can help us reflect on the events of the day, our emotional state during the day, what went well, what to be grateful for and what challenges we faced, how we handled them and how we could handle things better next time.
- Find healthy ways to express your emotions: talking to a trusted friend, spending time with nature, exerting ourselves in exercise and sport can all be ways to express challenging emotions.
Distraction with excessive television and social media use, alcohol and substance use are commonly used but these are unhealthy ways to deal with stress and challenging emotions and they are best avoided.
- Build a social network around you and seek feedback from those close to you concerning your emotions and how you handle them: we all have some blind spots concerning our emotions and subsequent behaviour.
We may be unaware of how our emotions may be affecting others unless we ask and humbly receive feedback from others.
If you think that you or someone that you know may be struggling to understand and manage your emotions, please contact your nearest health service provider and get help.
l This Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) article written by: Dr. Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse, Consultant Psychiatrist for 24 April 2023. Feedback: (Dr. Chido Rwafa-Madzvamutse +263714987729) (AHFoZ www.ahfoz.org; [email protected]