The Differences Between Emotional Health and Mental Health
We often use terms like ‘emotional health’ and ‘mental health’ interchangeably. That’s because having a mental health condition affects both our mental and emotional health. Conditions like major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, which affect about 1 in 25 US adults, affect both emotional and mental health. But even though the two domains go hand in hand, they mean different things.
A major development in today’s wellness landscape is that people are paying more and more attention to the emotional and mental aspects of their wellbeing. Although this is ultimately good news, a lack of understanding about the terms can affect the type of care provided. So, it’s worth taking a look at what they mean, how you can improve your overall wellbeing, and the differences between the terms.
What is Mental Health?
This is the umbrella term that includes our social, psychological, and emotional wellbeing. Our mental health impacts how we feel, think, and behave, and subsequently, how we make decisions, respond to stressful situations, and relate to other people. It’s linked to our overall functioning, which includes cognitive thinking, memory functions, and information processing.
Poor mental health refers to when you’re having difficulties with decision-making and managing stress. It’s not, however, the same thing as having a mental disorder, which is a diagnosable condition. Nevertheless, there are certain signs that could indicate the development of a mental disorder, such as thoughts of suicide, feelings of hopelessness, hallucinations, and impaired functioning.
What is Emotional Health?
Emotional health, which is a part or subset of your mental health, is your awareness and ability to manage positive and negative emotions. Generally, emotionally balanced people have healthy coping mechanisms for their negative emotions.
Your mental and emotional health work together to help you process information and manage feelings based on the information you process. Sometimes, certain conditions can affect our ability to manage our emotions. If you have anxiety, a condition that impairs your cognitive functioning, you may respond differently to stressful situations like meeting a new person or giving a presentation.
Why is Emotional Health Important?
Your emotions influence many of your daily actions and decisions. In fact, your emotional state can also change how you respond to positive events, life stressors, and challenges. And just like your physical health can deteriorate due to a lack of exercise, improper nutrition, and poor sleep quality, your emotional health can become imbalanced as well.
When your emotional wellbeing is compromised, you adopt unhelpful coping strategies. Some people turn to self-harm as a way to feel something, while others choose to self-medicate to escape unpleasant emotions. It’s quite common for people to rely on the mood-changing effects of illicit substances and alcohol to change or suppress their emotional state.
When your emotional health is negatively affected, you experience sleeping difficulties, isolate yourself from friends and family, and show poor performance at work or school. It’s important to remember that you can’t control every aspect of life in order to avoid experiencing unpleasant emotions – this is a part of being human. Nevertheless, there are ways to make sure you’re well-equipped to handle challenges that come your way, like building social connections, getting better sleep, and practicing mindfulness.
How to Improve Mental and Emotional Health
Despite our culture’s emphasis on improving physical health, it’s important to remember that nurturing mental and emotional health is also as important. And even though they’re different in certain aspects, techniques to improve your mental and emotional wellbeing can overlap.
Strengthen Social Connections
Your relationships with friends, family, and community members have immense impacts on your wellbeing. People who remain socially connected and have supportive relationships have a higher likelihood of making healthy choices. In fact, they also have improved mental health outcomes, according to the CDC.
Studies have indicated a link between social isolation and reduced psychological wellbeing. In fact, fewer close relationships and smaller social networks are associated with depressive symptoms. Similarly, having someone you can talk to about your feelings allows you to release pent-up feelings and manage your emotions.
And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, discussing your issues with other people can even help you find solutions on how to address them. Here are a few ways to build better social connections with others:
Find Opportunities For Leisure Activities:
When you have few friends, a great way to make new ones is to bond over a shared love for an activity or interest. Whether you enjoy Zumba, reading, or baking, or just want to try something new, there are plenty of opportunities to find people with similar interests. Look up events or classes at your local community center, library, or church.
You can even view online forums and social medial groups for upcoming events or volunteering opportunities that you can attend. And it’s not just social connections that boost your mental and emotional health – but the activity itself, too. Research shows that leisure activities can act as a barrier against high stress levels by increasing positive emotions of self-fulfillment.
Find Support Groups:
Struggling with poor mental or emotional health can be an isolating experience. It can make you feel like you’re the only one going through such a predicament, even though that’s not necessarily true. Sure, you may have friends or family members who are concerned, but they may not understand how you’re feeling. In this situation, surrounding yourself with people in a similar situation can act as a source of hope and emotional support.
Talking to people who are or have been in similar positions also provides an opportunity to learn from their experiences. They may have techniques for problem-solving, emotional coping, stress management, and self-care that you haven’t learned yet. Even if you don’t learn something new, it’s still a chance to practice healthier coping strategies you’ve learned in therapy or elsewhere.
Reach Out To Loved Ones
Lastly, remember to reach out to your loved ones. Even if they can’t relate to what you’re going through, they can offer support by listening to you, presenting solutions, or providing help where they can. When asked to join friends for lunch or a hiking trip, say ‘yes.’ But that’s not all it takes to maintain relationships. You need to make a commitment to meeting others instead of waiting for them to reach out, practice active listening, and communicate clearly.
Try Reducing Stress Levels
How you react to distressing circumstances can impact your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Such circumstances stimulate your sympathetic nervous system, activating your stress response. This causes you to start experiencing mental or physical symptoms. Consequently, you experience fatigue, overwhelm, and exhaustion.
Stressful situations are unavoidable, but learning to manage your stress levels can help you respond in a way that’s more productive. Letting stress get out of control can cause it to affect your mental capacities. This can lead to emotional turmoil and physical illness. A few ways to keep your stress levels low include:
Practice Breathing Techniques
When your mind is trying to protect the body from a perceived threat, telling yourself to ‘calm down’ won’t do much good. Here, a more effective strategy is to calm your body to calm your mind. Doing so will signal to your body that the threat has subsided, so it doesn’t need to stay primed for a potential fight-or-flight situation.
Deep breathing techniques are a good way to suppress the stress response and activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your body’s ability to relax. A few techniques include box breathing and the 4-7-8 technique. Box breathing is meant to soothe hyperventilation by distracting your mind. It involves slowly counting to four each time you inhale, hold your breath, exhale, and wait before inhaling again. The 4-7-8 technique is only slightly different in that it requires holding your breath for about 7 seconds and exhaling while counting to 8.
Practicing mindfulness allows you to process information without labeling it as good or bad. Although mindfulness can refer to a practice that promotes awareness and emotional state, the most common definition is a moment-to-moment awareness of your experiences without judgment. Although there are numerous practices and disciplines that develop mindfulness, like yoga and tai chi, most of the evidence focuses on mindfulness meditation. This refers to self-regulation practices that train your attention and awareness, allowing you to have greater control over your mental processes. This, in turn, helps you foster overall mental wellbeing, while developing concentration, clarity, and calmness.
Mindfulness meditation helps with emotional regulation by building these cognitive capacities. It promotes an awareness of what you’re thinking, reduces rumination when you’re stuck on a dysfunctional thought, and develops your working memory, thereby enhancing attention. A simple exercise for mindfulness meditation involves sitting comfortably, breathing through the nose, and focusing on your breathing. When thoughts or physical sensations interrupt, acknowledge them without judgment and continue focusing on your breath.
Get Regular Exercise
Since your physical and mental health are linked, it doesn’t come as a surprise that exercise is a factor for improved wellness. Research indicates that exercise is effective at reducing cortisol levels while increasing dopamine. This, in turn, keeps your stress levels under control while improving mental health.
While exercise is often touted as a means to improve mental health, its other benefits include improving emotional regulation. Because these endorphins are responsible for sustaining feelings of calmness, regular exercise can encourage a chemical state where it’s better equipped to handle difficult emotions. Other studies on the efficacy of exercise show that it can boost emotional regulation at both the explicit and implicit levels and that people who exercise regularly report higher scores on emotional intelligence.
Improve Your Sleep Quality
Your sleep quality can have a major effect on your mental and emotional wellbeing and vice versa. Having poor emotional health or a mental disorder means low your sleep quality, and poor sleep can have negative effects on your wellbeing. Studies indicate that sleep deprivation compromises your cognitive functioning and, consequently, your ability to regulate and express emotions. In fact, you risk becoming more reactive when exposed to stressful situations.
Some of the ways you can get better sleep each night include:
- Sticking To a Consistent Bedtime: A maladjusted circadian rhythm can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night. This can lead to issues like oversleeping and daytime fatigue. One way to keep this from happening is to wake up and go to bed at a specific time each day. Doing this can train your body to fall asleep and wake up at a specific time.
- Avoid Caffeine or Alcohol In The Evenings: Though you think that a glass of wine before bed will help you wind down and de-stress, it’s actually the opposite. Studies show that alcohol consumption before bed can cause disruptions and reduce REM sleep, contributing to excessive sleepiness the following day.
- Avoid Excessive Napping: When you’re tired and exhausted during the day, it can feel like a nice nap will solve all your problems. However, excessive napping can make it harder for you to fall asleep at night. Experts recommend napping for 20 minutes during the early afternoon to fight off daytime sleepiness without affecting nighttime sleep.
Seek Professional Treatment
While taking self-help measures to improve your mental and emotional health is a great idea, it’s still best to see a professional. If you’re not fully aware of any possible mental health conditions you may be struggling with, a clinician can perform an assessment to find out. Similarly, they can implement therapeutic interventions to address emotional dysregulation, even if you don’t meet the criteria for a specific diagnosis.
Psychotherapy is an evidence-based treatment option that’s used to address mental disorders or improve emotional wellbeing. It gives you the space to talk about your problems, come up with solutions, and practice healthy strategies to cope with stressful emotions. A common approach in psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which uses concepts of cognitive restructuring to change how you think and feel about stressful situations.
Emotional and Mental Health Differences
Your emotional health is affected by your emotional state, such as your satisfaction or level of happiness. Meanwhile, your mental health impacts issues like cognitive functioning, like neurological or psychological disorders. Although both mental and emotional health is affected by external factors, the latter is influenced by experience and environment more often. Meanwhile, mental health can require a professional assessment and intervention.
At the same time, your emotional and mental wellbeing are interlinked. So if you have a mental disorder, emotional wellbeing can help you manage your symptoms better, while giving an outlet for dealing with difficult psychological issues. In contrast, your emotional health can be affected by issues that affect your mental health. Here’s how you can categorize the differences between emotional and mental health.
Information Processing Versus Emotional Expression
The primary difference between the two terms is psychological. Your mental health refers to your overall mental wellbeing. This means it includes aspects like handling difficult situations, making good decisions, and thinking rationally.
In contrast, your emotional health refers to the ability to manage your feelings. This includes the capacity to regulate stress, sadness, and anger for healthy relationships. In short, the former deals with how well your mind understands and processes experiences, while the latter is the ability to manage emotions that arise from what you experience.
Logical Versus Intuition-Based Decision Making
There are specific cognitive differences between your mental and emotional health that affect how you think about a situation and react to it. One example is how your mental health is linked to logical decision-making because you take the time to process events and information. In comparison, your emotional health refers to intuition-based decision-making.
Another difference in this domain is how mental health is associated with how we organize and label our memories. Emotional health, on the other hand, controls how we express emotions and manage feelings regarding memories.
Irrational Behavior Versus Increased Emotionality
A more obvious difference between emotional and mental health is that they’re linked to different kinds of behavior. When you struggle with poor mental health, you behave in ways that are out of character and irrational. For example, you may engage in risky behavior like driving over the speed limit, indiscriminate sexual activity, and substance abuse.
With regard to your emotional health, behavior is the result of how you’re feeling rather than a mental disorder. Take being overwhelmed, for instance. Many people tend to cry or act out when they’re emotionally exhausted, even if they don’t struggle with a mental disorder like generalized anxiety or major depression.
Influenced By Mental Versus Emotional Triggers
Your mental and emotional triggers refer to factors that can affect your sense of wellbeing. A mental trigger is any experience or event that causes unhelpful thoughts and emotions. When you go through a string of stressful events, it increases the risk of developing psychological problems like depression and anxiety.
Meanwhile, emotional triggers can be the result of past trauma or caused by your reaction to certain stimuli. Such triggers can make you feel overwhelmed and emotionally unstable, causing feelings of fear, sadness, and anger. An effective way to improve your wellbeing is to find out your mental and emotional triggers and deal with them in a healthy way. Knowing the source of your triggers can give information as to the causes behind unhealthy emotional and mental states.
Deficiency in One Doesn’t Imply a Deficiency In The Other
A core difference is that even if they go hand in hand, they’re not the same thing: it’s possible for you to have balanced emotional health without good mental health. For instance, if you have a mental disorder like major depression, you can maintain emotional health by trying to find ways to deal with your low mood. Similarly, just because you struggle to cope with stressful situations doesn’t mean that you’re depressed or suffer from a disorder.
Each Term Has a Different Scope
Compared to emotional health, your mental health has a much wider scope because it also includes the ability to reason and maintain focus. Not to mention, it affects aspects of your psychological and social wellbeing as well, while emotional health has a narrow focus on trying to understand and manage your emotions.
Examples Of How Emotional And Mental Health Differ
If you’re still having a hard time separating the two concepts, here’s a thought exercise to help. Start by considering your emotional health. When emotionally balanced, you can relate with others, feel joy, and experience other positive emotions. You’ll also show empathy, have a sense of belonging, and have confidence in your abilities.
Next up, your mental health: it’s important for you to think clearly, solve problems, set goals, and act in a way that helps you reach those goals. As mentioned above, you can have both capacities, or you lack in certain areas.
1. Having a Mental Disorder With Balanced Emotional Health
Let’s suppose you have an anxiety disorder. This doesn’t necessarily imply that you have poor emotional health. You can still be emotionally healthy by maintaining social connections, experiencing positive emotions, and regulating emotions based on the context.
2. Having a Mental Disorder and Poor Emotional Health
It’s also possible to have a mental health condition and poor emotional health at the same time. In this case, you don’t just experience the symptoms of a disorder but also struggle with managing emotions, handling stressful situations, and maintaining relationships. Nevertheless, you may still be able to show empathy towards other people, so it’s not like you lack all the abilities of an emotionally healthy person. This also makes emotional health much more subjective – you can struggle with some things but not others.
Mental health and emotional health are similar-sounding concepts with different meanings. One refers to the ability to process information and experiences, while the other involves managing the emotions arising from that experience. Although they both play a role in your overall wellbeing, they can exist independently: for instance, you can be emotionally healthy with a mental disorder. A few ways to improve mental and emotional wellbeing include practicing breathing exercises, getting quality sleep, exercising, and keeping stress levels low.