In our Research Café article series, we explore the evidence researchers have found that helps us enjoy good wellbeing and health in later years. This time our focus is emotional wellbeing.
Emotional wellbeing is the ability to manage your emotions so you can handle life’s challenges. It’s an aspect of mental health, but not the same thing - for instance it is possible to live with a mental illness and be emotionally well.
Changes common in later life including poor health, loss, social isolation, and changes in income, identity, and status, can have a big effect on emotional wellbeing. Understanding emotions, and how they influence our actions and worldview, help us to make sense of such changes.
Emotional wellbeing benefits the body, including aiding survival and recovery from physical illness. We know that being physically active can affect our emotional and mental health. So, in addition to moving more, what can we do to boost our emotional wellbeing?
Noticing and naming
Recognising what you are feeling can help. Emotions last only a very short time in the body and brain. By noticing and naming them precisely, without judging, we give ourselves space to act on emotions when helpful, and let them go when not.
Set aside a few minutes each day for an emotional ‘check-in’. Name two feelings you have right now or ask yourself ‘what kind of vehicle do I feel like today, and why?’. You could try this with a friend or in a supportive group - it may feel uncomfortable at first, but over time it can strengthen your connection.
Getting in the habit of writing down your thoughts and feelings, for 15 minutes a day, can boost emotional wellbeing - plus your brain and immune system.
Mindfulness practices cultivate awareness of what is happening within and around you, in the moment, without judgement. They include prayer, meditation, and even savouring a favourite piece of music. Mindfulness helps us manage stress and our emotions, and boosts body and brain health. Breathing techniques are a common feature. Try this; breathe in for four seconds, hold breath for seven, and blow slowly through pursed lips for eight. Repeat four times. Benefits of this ‘4-7-8’ breath technique include decreased anxiety and fatigue. Consider joining a yoga or Tai-Chi class to make mindfulness practice social.
Spend time in nature
Regularly being in nature will boost your emotional wellbeing and general health, with one study finding two hours a week ideal, regardless of whether visits were short or long. Practicing mindfulness in woodlands – forest bathing – boosts emotional wellbeing and general health.
Go with the flow
In a ‘flow state’ you are so lost in an enjoyable activity you don’t notice time pass. Reading a book, arts and crafts, and playing a musical instrument are examples of where you can enjoy flow. It’s great for emotional wellbeing, so give it a go.
What else can help?
What can get in the way?
The practices described here are free or low cost, but there can be barriers. Thinking about and sharing emotions will be unfamiliar or difficult for many people. And sticking to wellbeing practices routinely, is a challenge for most. If you need support, seek out a group in your community that offers emotional wellbeing-boosting activities. You can contact the Age Scotland helpline 0800 12 44 222 to find out what’s available in your area.