Each month here at Joy Energy Time through December, you can expect us to cover one aspect of wellness. In May (yes, we’re getting an early start!), we’re covering all things emotional wellness that can be applied to your personal life and in the workplace.
This post is brought to you by our free toolkit you can get here:
I get stressed out. Pretty easily. On a regular basis. In fact, I’m excellent at stressing myself out over nothing. It’s quite a gift, a gift I’d rather not have. Thankfully, I’ve gotten better with paying attention to when this happens and shifting my attention and not giving in so easily to the thoughts running wild in my head.
Since we’re covering emotional wellness in May, let’s begin by defining emotional wellness. According to the National Institutes of Health, emotional wellness is the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.
Before we go into the five tools, I want to share a bit of history with you. Working in healthcare can be quite stressful at best. When I first began working as an occupational therapist, I can recall most moments wrapped in a sheath of stress. Eager to excel and prove my coworkers I was worthy of being there, I would go into a state of internal panic if something didn’t come out right or if I made a mistake. Holding myself to high expectations (as a Virgo sun and Capricorn moon does, duh), any mistake, big or small, sent me into a rumination replay that ultimately impacted my sleep and time away from work.
I felt the stress in my body. I became accustomed to the tension that dominated my muscles, particularly my shoulders and neck. My shallow breathing, tight chest, and racing thoughts persisted throughout the work day and into the night. If it wasn’t for the support of my coworkers and management at the job during that critical time as a new grad, I honestly don’t know what would have happened.
In retrospect, I didn’t have sufficient engagement coping skills, which are the skills you need to effectively face your stressors and emotions from those stressors. Unknowingly, I practiced disengagement coping, which is running away from your stressors and emotions from those stressors.
Let’s look at a scenario and my old thought patterns vs what the way I responded to the same situation but a few years later with some tools under my belt:
Scenario: A not-so-ideal outcome from a conversation with a patient/parent
Thoughts: Omg. OMG. I suck. I’m terrible. My patient’s parent is judging me. I’m not good enough to be an OT. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not confident. I hate the way I sound and look. I don’t take myself seriously. Are my coworkers going to judge me? I can’t wait to go home and watch four hours of House of Gilmore Girls. I’ll go to happy hour tonight with my friends tomorrow anyway for Friyay, so I have something to look forward to.
Scenario: A not-so-ideal outcome from a conversation with a patient/parent
Thoughts: Well, that didn’t come out like how I expected, which makes me feel stressed right now. I can feel the stress in my shoulders and my shallow breathing. I don’t think I explained my point in a way that my patient’s parent would understand. What I can I do differently when I see them tomorrow? Maybe they need a more visual explanation. I’ll brainstorm tonight and come up with a solution.
Do you see the differences here between the two styles of coping? In engagement coping, you are focusing on a solution. In disengagement coping, you’re not doing anything to proactively come up with a solution or address your stressors.
For many, MANY years, I did not have an effective coping system in place. I often tied a stressful situation to my ~lack~ of self worth. I had low efficacy, which significantly affected performance at work and how I showed up in all other areas of my life. My coping was just worrying, which I took everywhere with me, including my workouts, time with friends, and like I mentioned before, in my sleep. In the second example, I had already been doing the work to heal from the traumas of burnout and also rebuilding a healthy way of coping with stressors that I didn’t have before… AND in a way that reflected I was working on really deep stuff, like my self-worth.
When I experienced significant burnout in the workplace (other work setting with ~not~ the same supportive crew as I was describing before), this all worsened by 100x. I’ll go into more details about my burnout story in upcoming blog posts and in our show, The Burnt Out to Lit Up Podcast.
So what about coping for uncontrollable stressors? You can employ emotion-focused coping, which is aimed at minimizing distress triggered by stressors (Carver & Connor-Smith, 2010).
According to Carver & Connor-Smith (2010), since there are different ways to reduce distress, emotion-focused coping includes a wide range of responses with both positive and negative qualities, such as self-soothing (e.g., relaxation, seeking emotional support), expression of negative emotion (e.g., yelling, crying), a focus on negative thoughts (e.g., rumination), and attempts to escape stressful situations (e.g., avoidance, denial, wishful thinking as seen in disengagement coping).
Knowing what I know now with the years of exploring interventions aimed at improving stress management and reducing likelihood of burnout (because some personal factors CAN contribute to burnout, although it’s mainly organizational and systematic problem, which is for another day), I am still by no means perfect or even the best example for effective stress management.
I do cry sometimes. Or ruminate. Just because I have the tools doesn’t mean I’m a magical unicorn. The five tools below have given me the freedom to respond to stressors in a way that wasn’t available to me before. I can now face my stressors in a way where I produce less of a physiological stress response and I can utilize more engagement coping strategies that support my mission. My mission? To live a well and healthy life and not let my emotions get the best of me. To handle things like a B0$$.
Alright, here we go! Let’s break down the five tools for your emotional wellness toolkit. If you want the practical straight up strategies and exercises for each of these tools, then you can get our handy dandy free Emotional Wellness Toolkit for Healthcare Professionals sent right to your inbox.
TRUE OR FALSE: Optimism means being happy all the time. *DING* False! I think optimism gets a bad rep. Phrases like ‘positive vibes only’ just add salt to the wound. That isn’t helpful for anyone, because it neglects the fact that we are emotional beings with a wide range of emotions experienced on a daily basis.
The main difference between optimists and pessimists is that optimists are confident about their future and pessimists tend to be doubtful and hesitant about their future. It’s kind of like your overall attitude and outlook on life.
Being an optimist has been linked to improved emotional well-being, more effective coping, and better health outcomes ( Carver & Scheier, 2017). Optimists tend to be less reactive to stress and therefore produce a lower physiological stress response, which results in less wear/tear on the body.
Pessimists expect bad outcomes and have more negative feelings like anxiety and even despair, whereas optimists expect good things to happen and take the steps to ensure good things happen. Optimists don’t just stick their heads in the sand and ignore threats to well-being- instead, they take action!
Are you mindful or mindless? Do you feel stuck in your head, you overthink frequently, you rush through daily tasks, or know that you are frequently distracted? Being mindful, albeit trendy nowadays, is anything but a trend that is meant to go away. In fact, it’s rooted in ancient Eastern spiritual traditions (Raab, 2014).
Without the ability to tune into yourself, most of your life runs on autopilot. By definition, mindfulness is a state of consciousness characterized by a non-judgmental and attentive state of awareness of momentary events and experiences (Goldhagen, Kingsolver, Stinnett, & Rosdahl, 2015).
There are plenty of mindfulness interventions that vary in duration, target population, and meditation practices. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is an eight week program that can done online all for free.
Mindful moments throughout the day can serve as a way to check in with your body, your mind, and your behaviors. In the words of a physician working in the Emergency Department:
“…I was always one to say, ‘I’m not stressed, I’m not stressed’, through clenched teeth and believe it. Whereas now I’m saying, ‘Hang on, I’m very stressed and I’m taking it out on…’.” (Lynch et al., 2018).
Emotional intelligence It can have a significant impact on our lives. It is the way in which people process emotions and how they identify, express, understand, regulate, and use their emotions (Vlachou et al., 2016). Thoughts play a critical role in how we experience a situation. First comes the thought, then the emotions, then comes our reaction or response to it.
Having high emotional intelligence translates to greater self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy, and social skills. These traits are associated with many positive outcomes, with a few of them being (Serrat, 2017):
- Have a guiding awareness of your values and goals
- Reflective, learning from experience
- Able to show a sense of humor and perspective about yourself
- Present yourself with self-assurance and have presence
- Entertain original solutions to problems
- Find a sense of purpose in the larger mission
- Show sensitivity and understand others’ perspectives
- Foster open communication and stay receptive to bad news as well as good
Gratitude has been shown to increase flourishing, life satisfaction, and well-being. It can be seen as replenishment of emotional resources such as positive mood state, energy, vigor, and self-efficacy (Martin, Dixon, & Thomas, 2017).
Gratitude is essentially being inherently grateful for something outside the self and stems from a personal positive outcome, not necessarily earned or deserved. Good news- gratitude and negative emotions just don’t mix! So the more gratitude you practice in your life, the less space there will be for negativity.
Whenever I get a chance to go outside and feel the sunlight, smell some lavender or other calming scents, touch the grass with my bare feet, put good foods in my body, or journal my thoughts, or anything that I enjoy that involves a sensory component- I feel grounded. We can take for granted the little things in our day that add richness to our lives living in a modern world where we’re just about always connected to technology.
Energizing daily routines, whether that’s a five minute meditation with calming music or a full hour of beach yoga (that sounds so delish) can enhance your emotional health and well-being. As an occupational therapist, I understand how performance patterns (habits, routines, roles, and rituals) can enable or hinder your performance in your daily occupations (the things you do everyday, not just your job).
A brand that aligns with my values of self-care and enhancing emotional wellness is TheraBox. Founded with one mission in mind, Therabox’s goal is to inspire happier lives through practical joy boosting activities and thoughtful products. They are for all finders and seekers of a purposeful and inspirational life (that’s me!). Therabox is a one-of-a-kind self care subscription box that has different delivery options (1,3,6, and 12 months plans available) and includes one self care therapeutic activity along with 5-7 full sized wellness products to improve your life and boost joy.
Therabox is founded by a practicing therapist based on her passion towards the amazing mechanics of the brain, and your ability to change it. The reason why I love Therabox is because they’re proponents for action. Not a random subscription box, Therabox believes that in other to change your life, you must first change your day. I love how my Therabox package supports the things that contribute to a happier day for me!
Here’s a sneak peak:
So what came in my box? I’m so into journaling as I share frequently on my Instagram stories, so a self-love journal from Knock Knock Stuff is meaningful for me. Journaling allows me to express my innermost thoughts, aspirations, and goals. I also got incense holder and sticks that smell like thebomb.com and that I light while I’m working at home from The Happy Shoppe. As a chocoholic, I can never turn down anything chocolate TBH. The package of dark hot chocolate with ashwagandha is a combination I didn’t know I needed before from Element Truffles. I started to get into ashwagandha tea when I was living in San Francisco a few months ago as I’ve heard of it’s incredible health benefits. I also got rose moisturizing mist from Modern Skyn Alchemy that is utterly divine, a pedicure-in-a-box set from Voesh a jade roller from TRUBEAUTY, and volumizing mascara from Manna Kadar.
If you want the practical straight up strategies and exercises for each of these tools, then you can get our handy dandy free Emotional Wellness Toolkit for Healthcare Professionals sent right to your inbox.
FTC: This post is not sponsored.
Serrat O. (2017) Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence. In: Knowledge Solutions. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-0983-9_37
Carver, C.S. & Connor-Smith, J. (2010). Personality and Coping. Annu. Rev. Psychol.
Raab, K. Mindfulness, self-compassion, and empathy among healthcare professionals: A
review of the literature. Journal of Health Care Chaplaincy, 20:95–108, 2014.
Goldhagen, B. E., Kingsolver, K., Stinnett, S. S., & Rosdahl, J. A. (2015). Stress and burnout in
residents: impact of mindfulness-based resilience training. Advances in Medical
Education and Practice, 6, 525–532. http://doi.org/10.2147/AMEP.S88580
Vlachou, E.M., Damigos, D., Lyrakos, G., Chanopoulos, K., Kosmidis, G., & Karavis, M.
(2016). The relationship between burnout syndrome and emotional intelligence in
healthcare professionals. Health Science Journal, Vol.10 No.5:2 DOI:
Martin, W., Dixon, B.J., & Thomas, H. (2017). Enhancing Mental Well-Being. In C.L.
Cooper & J. Campbell Quick (Eds.), The Handbook of stress and health: A guide
to research and practice (461-471). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell