Boosting emotional wellbeing is not about stopping or avoiding emotions. Emotions are a normal and necessary part of life. Emotional wellbeing comes from enhancing emotional awareness, emotion regulation, and emotional recovery. That means increasing emotional wellbeing is entirely possible—we just have to build some key skills. Here are some ways to do it:
Emotional awareness often emerges from engaging in self-reflection—What are we feeling? Why are we feeling these things? And, what might help us stop feeling these things? When we're not aware of our emotions, we may engage in behaviors that hurt our emotional wellbeing. But, when we pay more attention to our emotions, we'll begin to learn which situations, people, or thoughts affect our emotions and as a result, we can take actions that help us have more enjoyable emotions.
Mindfulness involves emotional awareness but it also includes emotional acceptance. Emotional acceptance is when we experience emotions without judging. This helps prevent the development of secondary negative emotions. For example, if you feel guilty about feeling angry then guilt is a secondary emotion. Acceptance of our negative emotions helps prevent these extra negative emotions from emerging. To practice acceptance, try to let your emotions come and go without labeling them as good or bad. Just let them be. This skill can be cultivated using mindfulness meditation.
Another emotional wellbeing strategy involves re-directing your attention away from the bad things and towards the good things. For example, if we're focusing on the worst things in our lives or a situation, we might shift our attention to focus on the good parts. It's easier said than done, I know, but research shows that training ourselves to focus on neutral stuff instead of threatening stuff can reduce anxiety (Amir et al., 2009).
Reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that involves reinterpreting a stressful situation in a more positive light. As a result, we feel better, and over time, can see boosts in emotional wellbeing. You can practice reappraising situations by listing things that are good in different situations—for example, how is this an opportunity to grow, what did you learn, and what are the good parts? Reappraisal is a skill, so the more you practice it, the easier it can become.
Emotional distancing involves imagining yourself as “a fly on the wall” when you are going through a hard time. Or, you could imagine you’re from the future looking back on your current self. For example, after a fight with your partner, think about how you'll feel about this fight in a week, month, or year. By using emotional distancing, we usually don’t feel quite as bad and can recover from negative experiences more easily (Bruehlman-Senecal & Ayduk, 2015).
When we imagine positive things, our brains produce similar signals as if we were experiencing those things in real life. That’s why positive imagination can be such a powerful tool for wellbeing. When times are tough, we might not have a lot of positive things to focus on or think about, but by using our imagination, we help our brains experience positive emotions nonetheless. So when you’re feeling bad, try to imagine yourself in a good place to generate more positive emotions.
By sharing our positive moments, we help these moments to grow, expand, and last longer. So when something good happens to you, show, tell, or share your experience with someone you care about. For example, you could send a text to a friend or call them on the phone. Just be careful not to ‘humble brag’. For example, if you got a promotion, you could say, I'm feeling so great today about my career. I'd love to celebrate by taking you out to dinner.