What will make this year one to remember…and treasure?
According to Pew Research Center, consistent polls show that spending time with our loved ones creates the most meaning in our lives. Yet if anger, anxiety, and knee-jerk reactions dominate our emotional experience, they can profoundly detract from our ability to make meaningful connections with others—even those we deeply love.
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Improving your emotional fitness will result in lasting improvements in your relationships and your life. But where do you start when wanting to build greater emotional fitness?
First, let's define the term emotional fitness before describing how you can use it to improve your relationships and launch yourself into an amazing life.
The Definition of Emotional Fitness
Emotional fitness, otherwise known as emotional intelligence or EQ, is our ability to make sense of our own and others' emotions to create meaningful relationships. When we are emotionally fit, we are aware of what we're feeling, regulate ourselves and express our emotions appropriately.
Emotional fitness includes essential skills like resilience, patience, and empathy that help us relate to others in a positive way. Although there are a plethora of EQ skills, these three are foundational for building healthy relationships and navigating these challenging times.
Just like your physical fitness, you can strengthen your emotional fitness over time by exercising EQ muscles. Like any fitness goal, exercising your emotional fitness begins with identifying your core motivation for improving your EQ.
Why Do We Need Emotional Fitness?
Improving our emotional fitness tremendously enhances the quality of our lives. Emotions are an integral part of everything we experience and they can either steal moments of happiness or increase our inner peace and joy. To improve your emotional fitness, it's crucial to identify the motivation that most resonates with you.
Perhaps there's a glaring problem in your life you've been avoiding or hoping to solve in the year ahead. Whether at work or at home, the problems in our lives often boil down to unprocessed emotions, unresolved conflicts, and a lack of effective communication.
Or, maybe there's a big goal you're hoping to achieve. Social and emotional development are critical to succeeding in life since our relationships with others play enormous roles in the achievement of happiness, well-being, and meaning.
Related reading: "Simple Ways to Build Resilience and Emotional Fitness."
Whatever success means to you, strong EQ skills can help you get there—quicker! For example, surveys consistently rank empathy as the most important leadership skill. There are many ways to be a leader, and all benefit from greater emotional intelligence.
Whether you’re a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, an entrepreneur, a great employee doing what you love, or a stay-at-home mom, everyone needs to be a leader so they can at least lead themselves and guide their own life. Otherwise, life’s opportunities can pass you by unwittingly.
And, because emotional fitness is a lifelong skill, it will not only improve your life daily but will also continue to aid in your ability to solve problems and achieve success for years to come. What other motivation could you need to strengthen your EQ?
The Four Cornerstones of Good Emotional Health
Unsurprisingly, our emotions are the foundation and building blocks of EQ. Emotions are there to guide us, but when we don't know how to cope with our emotions constructively, we can't decipher or understand what they're trying to tell us. These messages are critical to helping us succeed individually and develop healthy relationships with others.
These cornerstones of emotional health and fitness are:
Emotional Awareness: Being able to identify the emotions you are experiencing.
Emotional Management: Awareness of and constructive handling of both positive and challenging emotions.
Emotional Expression: Conveying your emotions through both verbal and nonverbal behavior.
Awareness and Empathy for Others: Taking these skills and applying them to help you better understand the emotions of others. By exercising the skills contained within these four cornerstones of emotional intelligence, you can strengthen your overall emotional health and develop better relationships with yourself and others.
Deep dive: "What Is Emotional Intelligence?"
The Importance of Improving Emotional Wellness—Even Before Physical Fitness!
Everywhere we go, cultural messages tell us we need to lose weight or get fit. You can't even stand in the supermarket checkout line without reading a magazine headline encouraging you to "work those abs." And of course, physical exercise has a ton of research backing its importance.
As a society, we put far more emphasis on our bodies than on our internal emotional experiences. However, our body stores the memory of our emotional experiences, and our emotions are vital to the mind-body connection. According to Candice Pert, Ph.D., in her book Molecules of Emotion, “Emotions are the nexus between mind and matter, going back and forth between the two and influencing both.”
So even if you are physically fit, if you don’t listen to and regulate your emotions, you may not feel "healthy" despite a robust lifestyle. Pent-up emotions or unprocessed feelings can affect the body by manifesting as migraines, an upset stomach, a depressed and sluggish body, a sore neck, and other aches and pains.
However, when we are emotionally fit, we usually don't experience these somatic symptoms. When we resolve conflicting emotions quickly and value emotional fitness as much as the physical care of our bodies, it can dramatically improve our physical health. Our sense of well-being will grow, and happiness will be a natural outcome.
Benefits of Emotional Health
The benefits of emotional health have a ripple effect across many areas of our lives. Strong emotional health can help you to:
- Cultivate a healthy relationship with yourself and others.
- Combat stress and anxiety through emotional regulation.
- Build greater resilience to life's challenges.
- Enhance your self-esteem.
- Develop a more positive outlook on life.
- Boost your energy and motivation to succeed.
EQ affects every area of your life. By improving your emotional health, you can also improve your ability to face life's challenges, meet your goals, and sustain better physical fitness.
5 Keys to Emotional Fitness
If you want to improve your emotional fitness, it can be overwhelming to determine where to begin. After all, there is a myriad of EQ skills that can improve your relationships and your life. That being said, these are five important keys to emotional fitness to help you streamline your efforts to improve your emotional intelligence. These hold tremendous leverage in achieving positive change and healthy habits.
It's important to be realistic when viewing our experiences as well as keep a positive spin. Positivity improves both our physical and mental health. In fact, simply smiling more can lower your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure in stressful situations!
The way we frame events or interactions has a clear effect on the way we perceive them. In psychology, this mental tool is called cognitive framing and has been well-studied. As Amy Morin, LCSW puts it: “The essential idea behind reframing is that the frame through which a person views a situation determines their point-of-view. When that frame is shifted, the meaning changes and thinking and behavior often change along with it.”
You can consciously choose to frame situations in a way that allows for a more positive outlook and encouraging emotions. When applying this practice in our lives and keeping an eye on self-talk, we can increase self-compassion in our internal dialogue.
Of course, it isn't necessary to be positive all the time. To avoid unpleasant circumstances by putting on a happy face is unhelpful, and ignoring uncomfortable emotions by attempting to stay positive isn’t healthy either. In fact, it’s been coined toxic positivity. However, seeking different ways to perceive a situation helps us develop mental flexibility and often shifts and uplifts our feelings. Likewise, deliberately framing a situation in a more realistic or meaningful way helps improve your resiliency for the future.
Many of us who are caregivers, empaths, or highly sensitive persons may focus on others' needs at the expense of our own. Or we’re passionate about our work and work super long hours. While both are noble endeavors, the problem is that neglecting our needs is a recipe for burnout.
Taking care of ourselves is not selfish; in fact, it increases our capacity to care for others. Nor is self-care about yoga and green juice, as recent trends may lead you to believe; instead, it is about identifying activities that nurture you so you can show up as your best self.
A bonus is finding activities you enjoy and trying to incorporate them into your day. Whether your hobby is knitting or jogging, taking just 30 to 60 minutes out of your day to do something you love can leave you refreshed to take on the day's emotional challenges.
Related reading: "3 Things Your Mom Should Have Taught You About Self-Care and Healthy Boundaries."
Do you often find that you are less forgiving of yourself than you are of others?
Negative self-talk is painfully familiar to many and finding ways to retrain our inner critic into becoming our advocate is an important part of emotional intelligence.
Changing critical self-talk and practicing self-compassion improves our mood and increases our empathy. If you are kinder to others than you are to yourself, try asking yourself, "How would I speak to a friend in this same situation?" Then turn that same response inward to yourself!
Mindfulness means paying nonjudgmental attention to your thoughts instead of interacting with them or acting on thoughts as though they are facts. A regular mindfulness practice improves our EQ by enhancing our ability to stay present without jumping to conclusions or reacting anxiously. You might be sick of people telling you to meditate, but there is a good reason for all of the fuss about mindfulness!
MRI studies show that mindfulness improves focus, empathy, and compassion: three essential skills for emotional fitness. By reducing self-judgment, you create more space for conscious responses, which translates to less judgment of others. Self-acceptance and compassion are contagious, and we naturally share our sense of peace with others around us.
You do not need to become a Buddhist monk to benefit from the practice of mindfulness. Start with small changes, such as going for a mindful walk once a day or consciously relaxing your body while you sit at your desk, and gradually reap the positive effects.
The ability to self-soothe improves emotional regulation by calming the amygdala, the part of our brain responsible for the "fight, flight, or freeze" response.
Many of us are not taught to self-soothe as children, so we have emotional regulation problems as adults. Children who lack acceptance of their emotions may learn to hide or stuff them. And when empathetic responses from caregivers are absent, so is the experience of feeling heard and felt. Therefore, as adults, we can have difficulty dealing with our emotions. However, we can still teach ourselves the essential emotional modulation skills that our parents could not teach us in this vital area.
Related reading for parents: "How to Teach Your Child Emotional Regulation Skills."
Self-soothing activities often utilize the five senses to help us feel calm and centered. The next time you feel stressed or overwhelmed, try lighting a scented candle, wrapping yourself in a warm and cozy blanket, or savoring nature with deep breathing to signal to your amygdala that you are safe.
As you continue throughout the year, give each of the five keys of emotional fitness a try.
And if you find you could use a little extra support, reach out to Heartmanity. Transforming lives is our business. Contact us today if you’d like personalized coaching to grow in emotional intelligence.
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