The great thing about being a human is that we all have the ability to think, feel and choose our actions. Unfortunately, sometimes those very things that we find wonderful about our species can provide us with the greatest challenges to our happiness and well-being. “Increased emotional awareness is the key to achieving success in your personal and professional life,” writes Amy Morin, psychotherapist and author of “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.”

Let's face it, our brain doesn't come with a manual (wouldn’t that be great?). Instead, it takes a great deal of trial, error and well-examined empirical evidence to achieve good mental health. This means practicing emotional awareness (knowing what's going on for us mentally and emotionally) on a regular basis. When you consider the effects of a global pandemic for more than a year, it's easy to see how being unaware of our levels of emotional stress and having limited ‘positive emotional software’ (mental-emotional tools that can help us change our emotional state), can leave us feeling at the mercy of the events, situations and relationships in our lives.



Dr. Guy Winch, a leading advocate for integrating the science of emotional health, says that we prioritize our physical health more than our psychological health. For example, “We are taught that we must disinfect and treat it so that it will heal. But when we are facing an emotional wound, we blame ourselves, making ourselves feel even worse.”


The most important thing that we can do for ourselves is to build our ability to notice where we are at emotionally at any given time. If you don't know that you have a broken leg (that would be hard to believe, but go with me on this), you can't take steps to rehabilitate it. This would leave you very curious as to why you are dragging your leg on your evening run or limping around the lunch line at school. The same is true when you feel uncomfortable emotions like depression, anger, fear or loneliness. You may have taken an ‘emotional’ hit and are not feeling your best, whether at school, work or home, and you have no idea why you are down in the dumps.


Make time for “emotional check-ins” - I realize we are busy and on the go. However, when we lack awareness of our emotional state and don’t know where we are at mentally and emotionally, we may be on the go but it will be our emotions that are at the wheel deciding our destination. Try setting aside time a few times each day to check-in with yourself about how you've been feeling. An easy way to make this a ritual is to put ‘emotional check ins’ on top of your meal times to just take a moment for yourself or even with your family. Consider different parts of the day and start to identify how your emotional state affected your outcomes. How did you perform at school? How did your interactions with other people go? What did you choose to avoid because of how you were feeling?


Bring “why” or “what” into the picture: -- Sometimes fear, anxiety or self-doubt is so big that they feel like they actually are who we are instead of something we experience in our bodies. Take a moment and ask yourself, “Why am I having these emotions?” Or, “What is causing me to feel this way?” This can help you separate yourself from your emotion and give you enough emotional breathing room to see that you are not your emotions. You will begin to feel that you are in control of your emotions and not the other way around.


Ask yourself “How do I want to feel?” -- A great deal of the time we think feelings are something that ‘just come upon us.’ Somebody or something made us feel a certain way and there's nothing that we can do about it. Nothing is further from the truth. We create our emotions inside of us, everything else is basically a catalyst at best. But before we can move into another emotion, we need to decide how we would like to feel. While you're doing your emotional check-ins during meals, practice asking other family members how they would have liked to have felt during an event during the day. Maybe ask for one thing they could have done that might have helped them feel that emotion they preferred. Remember, these are your family members, so, if they’re open to it, help them out! Suggestions of other ways to feel differently might be welcomed if your loved one is still too close to the emotion. You could also ask them for suggestions that you could use in your own scenarios.

These three methods may seem simple, but what I have heard from people I have coached is that becoming more self-aware has helped them see where they are holding themselves back and take action to move themselves forward. When they are aware of their emotions, they are able to change the way they feel about what they are facing, rather than feeling mentally beaten before they even start. Our emotions should not hold us back! Rather, they can be tools that help us understand what we need, enabling us to choose the actions that best serve us. 

Bevacqui lives in Fayston.