6 Life Hacks for Optimal Emotional Health

By Helen Godfrey, MA, NCC, BCC, LPC


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“A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well.”-Unknown

I love this quote because oftentimes, we are stressed when something in our life changes. Yes, even if it’s good. Yes, even if we wanted it. Change is stressful. It is a new road. It is something that we have never tried before. You may ask, “Will I know what to do?”, “Will I be able to figure this out?”, “Where will this lead me?” You may be in a situation that is stressful right now. We all have busy lives and stress is certainly a part of it. Some stress is good. It gets you going. It gives you the motivation to pursue and complete your goals and projects. However, ongoing stress can take a toll on the mind and body. How do we harness stress so that it is our friend rather than our enemy?

A key component of managing stress is good physical health. Eating healthy meals, getting exercise and adequate sleep is extremely important to your overall well-being. Something to consider before you react strongly to another is: Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? (HALT). All of these factors can make a difference in your emotional health. "Hangry" is not a joke. 

Another way of managing stress is making sure that you have a good relationship with yourself. When things go wrong, what is your initial reaction? Do you blame others? Blame yourself? Do you balance self-reflecting and learning from situations that didn't go as you'd hoped? Your inner dialogue is something to cultivate with care. Uncomfortable situations give us the opportunity to grow and try new things that we may not have considered doing. Anais Nin said, "We see the world, not as it is, but as we are." This is a thought worth examining. How do you see the world? What stories are you telling yourself? Are you energized by setbacks because they force you to grow or do you think you don't have the resources to figure out a new path? If it is the latter, explore and reflect on where that thought pattern came from. Is it serving you?  


“Feelings are much like waves. We can’t stop them from coming but we can choose which ones to surf.”-Jonathan Martensson

I agree- you can’t change your feelings, at least not right, away but you can choose what you do with your feelings. Will you self-reflect and try to understand where they come from? (Recommended.) Are you unsure of the root of your reactions? Here is something to consider: if you have a strong reaction, aka a trigger, to something, it is typically not about the presenting issue. It is typically a theme from long ago. For example, do you think that your boss is unfair to you? Do you think that you don't get credit for your effort? Take a deep breath.  When is the first time you felt this way? Go back. Go way back. Got it? Great! Now think of other examples when you felt the exact same way.

Was it uncomfortable to think back and feel those feelings again? Here is the interesting thing. Most of us find those uncomfortable feelings inconvenient and we want to make them stop as soon as possible. We want to get away from those feelings. We want to be happy and these feelings are not making us feel happy. This is understandable but let me ask you a question:: If your leg was broken, would you be mad at it for hurting? My guess is that you wouldn’t be mad, you would be grateful because you would know that something is wrong. You know where the hurt is because you can feel it. It’s the same thing with your feelings. When you find that you are triggered by certain themes, ie, it’s not fair, I don’t like being taken advantage of….and you don’t like those feelings those feelings are coming up again so that they can be healed. Look here…look here…..no, it still hurts. How do you diffuse those feelings? How do you move forward?

First, accept that you feel this way. Squishing down your feelings is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater. You can do it for a little while but sooner or later, it is going to pop up somewhere in the pool. Be honest with yourself. It’s ok to admit to yourself that you are having some of the less sexy thoughts: anger, rage, jealousy, fear of rejection…..be honest. Just looking at your feelings, accepting them, trying to figure out where they originate.. all of these strategies can help you release your triggers. Try journaling. Ask yourself questions on the page and keep going deeper and deeper-keep asking more questions. Ask yourself as you are writing, "What do I need in order to let go of these hurts?" One of the answers may be below this paragraph: forgiveness. Come down the page with me. Let’s discuss forgiveness. 


“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” -Budda

It is not possible to live on the planet and not have your feelings hurt at some point and time. Again, feel your feelings. Look at them more closely. What are you telling yourself about this situation? Our minds are always making up stories to try to understand the world around us. Oftentimes, we will make up our own explanation so quickly that we won't even realize that we are making up a story. How do you know that your interpretation of events is accurate? Look more deeply and try to understand the reason this situation triggered you. Try journaling about it. As you journal, ask yourself questions such as:

  • What is it about this situation that bothers me so much?
  • Is this typical behavior for this person?
  • Is this someone who has my best interests at heart? I wonder if there is another reason he/she did/said that to me?
  • What is another perspective?
  • If I asked him/her about this situation, would he/she even remember doing/saying this? 
  • What meaning am I giving to this event?
  • What did this teach me about myself? 
  • Am I engaging in negative self-talk which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like what this person said to me? 

It may be helpful to write a letter to the person in question and say exactly what you need to say. It is probably better to tear it up rather than give it to the person. If you do feel the need to share your feelings, wait for at least a week before you share the letter. Make sure you are comfortable with your decision. Ask yourself: What is my ideal outcome? What do I hope will happen as a result of sharing my thoughts? Remember: you can only choose how you react, not how the other person reacts. 


"Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do."-Rachel Wolchin

If you are new to setting boundaries, brace yourself. People won't be happy when they are used to counting on you for everything from typing up a homework paper at the last minute to dropping everything to come to the rescue. Lack of boundaries can make you feel overwhelmed and drained in an already busy world.

How can you set boundaries without feeling guilty? Well, let's go back to our triggers and self-talk. Where is the guilt coming from? What stories are you telling yourself? Do you have an image of an ideal father, mother, sister, husband or wife? What are your expectations of yourself in these roles? How does the ideal person behave?

Boundaries are a form of self-kindness. When you are kind to yourself, you can be kind to others. When you take care of yourself, you can take care of others. Most people wouldn't want to impose upon you but realistically, do they know your schedule? Do they have a copy of your planner or to-do list? Do they have a clear understanding of your deadlines? My guess is no. 

Ask yourself, "If I say "yes" how will I feel?" Will you feel drained? Happy? Resentful? Will you create unspoken expectations for the other person as a result of doing said favor? When you say "yes" to one thing, you are saying "no" to all the other options. Are you ok with that? If not, what are some ways that you can gently break the news to someone that you will not be able to help? Here are some suggestions:

  • I would love to help with the bake sale this week but right now, I have too much on my plate. I'd be happy to help at the next one. (Only say the last part if you mean it).
  • It would really help me if you could give me at least a week's notice so that I can fit you into my schedule. Unfortunately, I won't be able to help out this time. 
  • You could offer an alternative: I won't be able to...but I could....

Definitely customize some responses that feel comfortable to you so that you have them on hand when the need arises. You may feel nervous if you are not used to saying no to people. Practice your pre-planned scripts out loud so they are second nature to you. 


“Let silence take you to the core of life.”-Rumi

The National Center for Complementary Integrative Health discusses many benefits related to meditation including stress and pain management as well as improved cerebral function. So how do you start? Try meditating for about 10 minutes per day. There are many strategies and techniques that you can try as you learn this practice. Some people light a candle and stare at the flame. Some like to close their eyes and focus on their breathing. Some prefer a guided meditation. There are countless resources available from apps to mediation programs. See which one works for you.The goal of meditation is to quiet the mind. Our minds are constantly racing so it is a practice to consciously slow down and relax. Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati said, "Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak." That last quote alone sounds like it is definitely worth the effort to me. How about you?


“Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.”-Tony Robbins

Gratitude is a practice which can help you find good regardless of the circumstances. Berkely has a department dedicated to studying the positive effects of gratitude and their research is quite promising. They are finding that gratitude can help the immune system, add meaning to people's lives and more. Gratitude can become part of your inner dialogue.

Imagine how much better your life will be when you start noticing the good. It's easy to notice the things that need to be fixed. We are wired for survival so it makes sense that we would notice what needs to be fixed. So, how can you consciously and intentionally you incorporate a gratitude practice into your life? An easy way is to keep a gratitude journal. Aim to write down 3 things that you are grateful for each day. Add some details. Pick 3 different things each day. Going back to your gratitude journal on tough days is extremely helpful and will help you re-live to those positive experiences and feelings when you need them the most. 

How can you incorporate feelings of gratitude into your everyday life? Well, imagine you are stuck in traffic. Yes, it's annoying. Yes, it's frustrating. Feel those feelings, don't sugar coat them. Now pivot. "I am feeling annoyed because I am stuck in traffic. Day in, day out, I spend at least an hour on the road. I am tired. Where do people get their licenses? Wal-mart?" Now, pivot into gratitude which can lead to solutions. "I have an hour on the road every day. This seat is really comfortable. It is so nice to have a car. I remember all those years I had to take the bus. It is so convenient to have a car. I feel really grateful that I am not a part of the accident on the road up ahead. I wonder how I can make the most of my time. Maybe I could listen to a podcast. Imagine if I studied Italian every day in the car. In a week, that would be at least 10+ hours of Italian if I listen on the way to work and on the way home from work. They say it takes 10,000 hours to be competent in any subject.  Maybe I could plan a trip to Italy. Hmmm. Something else that is positive is that I rarely have a whole hour to myself. Wow. I actually have time to talk to myself. Sometimes it's the most intelligent conversation I have all day. Haha. I am pretty funny....". It's easy to build upon positive thoughts. One leads to another just like negative thoughts, one leads to another. Which do you prefer? What thoughts would you like to dominate your mind?  Practice thinking positive thoughts and you will find that they come more naturally to you. 


"You are only confined by the walls you build yourself."-Unknown 

Stress is a fact of life and something each of us has to learn to manage. Incorporating a regimen of positive self-talk, forgiveness, boundaries, meditation and gratitude can not only help you manage your stress more effectively, it can help you feel more satisfied and fulfilled in your life. Try out the suggested strategies and slowly incorporate each into your life.


You may also be interested in: 3 Essential Life Hacks for Optimal Physical Well-Being