How to build your emotional fitness

Mental healthArticleMarch 4, 2021

Your mental and emotional health are every bit as important as your physical health.

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Just like you can take steps to improve your physical wellbeing, there are steps to boost and strengthen your emotional wellbeing as well. Being emotionally healthy doesn’t mean instant or permanent happiness. It does mean that you are able to control and understand your emotions and have the resilience to deal with the negative ones.

Mind over matter may be a cliché, but it is relevant in changing how you think and feel. In her TED Talk, ‘The secret of becoming mentally strong’, psychotherapist Amy Morin, speaks of the need to rid ourselves of unhealthy beliefs:

  1. About ourselves
  2. About others, and
  3. About the world

Self-pity or magnifying your misfortune is one of these unhealthy beliefs. This belief system allows the people around you to influence how you feel about yourself; it also takes away your power and ultimately, your choice. 

“Empowering yourself is an essential component to building mental strength and creating the kind of life you want...”

Amy Morin


For example: Thomas wakes up. As he drinks his morning coffee, he scrolls through social media. He sees a post from a friend on an overseas holiday, another from his cousin who just graduated with a PhD and a third from an ex who has started her own online business. Thomas feels deflated by the self-comparison especially as he heads towards a somewhat humdrum day at work.

Through self-pity and comparisons, he has allowed the actions of others to diminish his beliefs about himself. This is an unhealthy emotional state.

Here’s another scenario: Amanda is pumped. Today is the day she expects the announcement of her promotion to vice president – she’s put in the time and feels she deserves it. The announcement she gets, however, is about cost cutting, company restructure and possible retrenchment.

Amanda’s intense disappointment soon gives way to anger, apathy and disinterest in her job – making her more likely to be made redundant.

This is another unhealthy belief: expecting success to fall into your lap – and then being angry at the world when it doesn’t go your way.

Morin believes that even one or two small bad mental habits, like those mentioned above, can significantly hold you back. Giving these beliefs up, are some of the steps towards mental strength. She recommends these five tips to emotional fitness:

  1. Counter your unhealthy beliefs with positive ones.
  2. Work through uncomfortable emotions, like grief or depression – don’t ignore them.
  3. Don’t compare yourself to others.
  4. Accept that life isn’t fair.
  5. Set yourself a goal and start it today. Even if it’s just one small step.

In her article, ‘Nine Ways You Can Improve Your Mental Health Today’, featured in Psychology Today, Patricia Harteneck supports these recommendations, with some additional suggestions:

  • Look carefully at how you speak to yourself. Switch your negative beratements into ‘pep’ talks that provide feelings of self-worth and personal power.
  • Try a gratitude list. Increasing your feelings of gratitude by listing the things you are grateful for; these can be valuable steps towards positive mental health and happiness. Try keeping it on your fridge or somewhere you can read them every day.
  • Be present in the moment. Focusing on right now - the physical sensations, sounds, smells and tastes – allows us to release negative emotions from past experiences that weigh us down. While this can be challenging in a noisy, busy environment, you could try and find a quiet space where you can focus once or twice a day.
  • Breathe. When it all seems like too much, take some time out to close your eyes and take ten deep breaths. This may be all you need to refocus and address the issue that had your blood pressure rising in the first place!

Good emotional health is a skill, taking practice and dedication. Being in control of it, could be all you need to help you realize your full potential.