The Mental Health Foundation defines emotional wellbeing as “a positive sense of wellbeing which enables an individual to be able to function in society and meet the demands of everyday life; people in good mental health have the ability to recover effectively from illness, change or misfortune”. This ability to recover can also be described as your personal resilience.
When we are in emotional distress we may suffer with low self-esteem, pessimism, emotional sensitivity, and self-criticality. We may also lack confidence, be overly worried about the future or focused on the past. When we are in emotional distress it can result in stress, anger, sadness, worry, anxiety or depression.
The connection between the mind and the body is so strong that mental and physical states feed into each other in both a positive and negative way. If you are struggling to balance your emotional wellbeing, it can lead to physical issues such as chest pains, ulcers, and high blood sugar.
Living lagom leads us to seek the natural balance of health in mind, body and spirit. According to Lola A. Akerstrom in her book ‘Lagom – the Swedish secret of living well’, lagom aims for us to have “adequate rest for our minds, regular exercise for our bodies and enough time to nourish our souls”.
Your emotional wellbeing is interconnected to, and impacted by all the other personal wellbeing dimensions:
Social– our need for connection and social support – to build relationships and seek support from others
Physical – our need to be active, to feed our bodies with nutritious foods and to ensure we have enough rest and sleep
Spiritual – our need for purpose, to acknowledge gratitude and to be mindful and present
Intellectual – our need for self-development and to improve our self confidence
Occupational – our need to balance our work with home life, to reduce occupational stress and to do meaningful work
Financial – our need to have enough money to live well and to reduce financial worry and stress
Environmental – our need for a safe and secure physical space and living in harmony with nature
If we have balance in all other dimensions of our personal wellbeing it can positively impact our emotional wellbeing.
Here are additional suggestions for using the principles of lagom to manage the balance of your emotional wellbeing:
1. Understand your emotions
Emotional wellbeing is not the absence of emotions, but it is your ability to understand the value of your emotions and use them to move your life forward in a positive direction.
Living lagom helps us to pause and take note of how we feel; recognising our thoughts and feelings, allowing us to make the best choice, including how we react, in any situation.
It is important not to be ashamed of your emotions, but instead take the time to recognise them, sit with them, accept them and come to terms with them. Emotional acceptance promotes mindfulness, or the ability to see the emotion for what it is without judging it or attempting to get rid of it. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust or write it down in a journal. There is plenty of resource on the internet for prompts on recognising your emotions, but this one from the mindfulness muse offers six questions that may help you to work through a situation and identify your emotions and feeling:
- What happened?
- Why do you think it happened?
- How did it make you feel? (emotionally & physically)
- What did you want to do as a result of how you felt?
- What did you say & do?
- How did your emotions & actions affect you later?
If your emotions are becoming overwhelming don’t be afraid to ask for help. Mind.org offers some great advice on who to turn to, how and when.
2. Be kind
It is nice to be nice. Being aware of how you make others feel is key to embracing lagom. Lagom guides us on how we should exist within communities as well as how we should live our personal lives in a way that doesn’t negatively impact others or the environment.
Science shows that as children, we’re biologically wired to be kind; however, due to outside influences and the stress of our day-to-day lives, we can lose this inherent ability. Kindness and empathy help us relate to other people and have more positive relationships with friends, family, and even perfect strangers we encounter in our daily lives.
In addition to improving personal relationships, kindness can make you happier and healthier. Kindness releases the hormone oxytocin which releases nitric oxide in blood vessels; this dilates the vessels and reduces blood pressure, looking after our hearts and helping to reduce anxiety and stress. Being kind also boosts our serotonin which can help to provide us with a feeling of satisfaction and improve our self-esteem in addition to strengthening our sense of self and improvement and optimism.
The Mental Health Foundation has some great tips on how to bring kindness into your life, but being kind to someone can be as simple as giving them a smile, and as the poem by Spike Milligan explains, “Smiling is infectious, you catch it like the flu, when someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too. I passed around the corner and someone saw my grin, when he smiled I realized I’d passed it on to him. I thought about that smile, then I realized its worth, a single smile, just like mine could travel round the earth. So, if you feel a smile begin, don’t leave it undetected, let’s start an epidemic quick, and get the world infected!”
It is important to remember that kindness shouldn’t be reserved for other people. It is just as important to be kind to yourself as it is to others. Be conscious about your inner voice – talk to yourself in the same way that you would a loved one – let your inner voice be a friend and be kind to you, rather than one that is harsh or belittles you. This can help you be more resilient, enabling you to pick yourself up if things go wrong and help you cope better with life’s challenges.
3. Have some perspective
Having perspective in a challenging situation allows us to step back and look at the situation in its total, rather than just focusing in on the negative elements. When we have perspective, we can find balance in a situation, accepting the negative aspects whilst finding opportunity and meaning. Perspective-taking expands our choice options, empowering us to make a conscious choice rather than just react on our emotions. Perspective allows us to focus our efforts on those things we can change and accept those things we cannot.
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t”Steve Maraboli
Change is one of the few certainties of life. If we can adapt to changing situations, we can maintain our emotional wellbeing and build our resilience.
When we have perspective, we can:
- Positively re-frame negative experiences
- Focus on the solution rather than the problem
- Accept the past, learn from it, and change the future
How we practice perspective when faced with a negative situation:
- Step away – take a breath – take time to digest the situation before responding
- Identify the ‘real’ problem (which is often hidden by our emotional reaction) – think about all of the different potential solutions – no matter how ‘out there’ they may seem
- Identify what is in your control and what is not
For us personally, 2020 has really made us focus on our perspective. It has been easy at times to get caught up in the emotion, the frustration of lock downs, being scared by the increasing R rate and overreacting to every cough. Focusing on the negative elements of the pandemic situation has made us feel low and despondent. However, after a short ‘wo is me moment’ we have been able to re-group, to view the situation as a whole, to realise that we can’t control the fact that there is a global pandemic but we can control how we react to it, physically and mentally.
We can wear our masks, social distance and wash our hands. We can be grateful that we have our health, as do our family and we are both lucky enough to still have our jobs. We are very aware that there are many people that don’t have these privileges. We can also decide where to focus our attention and what we chose to digest. For example, we have made the choice to reduce the amount of news we watch and social media we consume. We still need to be educated on the changing situation, but we chose to focus on information from reliable sources, rather than accept the emotional manipulation that some news and social media platforms portray for their own means.
4. Take a digital detox
Using our digital devices can provide us with access to many useful apps, information at our fingertips and ways to interact with friends and family afar, but we only gain the benefit from technology if we use it in moderation. Constant connectivity impedes our ability to live a more balanced life.
Studies such as those conducted by Anxiety UK have shown a correlation between the amount we use technology (i.e. computers, mobile phones, smartphones and social networking sites) and our anxiety levels. Their studies found that over half of respondents who regularly use social networking sites saw their behaviour change negatively – comparing themselves to others, spending too much time in front of a computer, having trouble being able to disconnect and relax, as well as becoming confrontational online; thus causing problems in their relationships or job.
Research has also shown that technology use impacts our ability to sit with and acknowledge our emotions – we use our digital devices for avoidance purposes, distracting us from the feelings we have rather than addressing them in a healthy way – this is another important factor in technology-related anxiety and depression.
The Rochester Institute of Technology released a study identifying that for many students, eating has become a multi-tasking activity whilst using a digital device. Multi-tasking in this way can promote unhealthy eating habits such as overeating as it prevents us being mindful and conscious of what we are eating.
Finally, excessive use of digital technology is a time waster – it is preventing us spending time on activities that could help us better maintain our wellbeing. Globally we spend an average of 2 hours 24 minutes on social media every day. Think about what you could achieve with an extra 2 hours each day. You could finally learn that language you have always wanted to speak, take that yoga class you’ve been wanting to take or make some time for self-reflection, meditation or journaling – things we often want to do but feel we don’t have the time for.
The website Time to Log Off has some tips for how to take a digital detox:
- Declutter your devices – like decluttering our homes, having clean devices with only what we need and everything in its place, means that we know where to access an app we need without being distracted but other apps – remove any apps you haven’t used in the last 3 months – file apps in folders of similar topics such as health, travel, social media etc. and turn off notifications so that you control when you look at your phone rather than it controlling you.
- Set technology boundaries – designate certain spaces in your home as digital free such as the bedroom, the bathroom and the dinner table – eating without technology promotes healthy more conscious food choices.
- Create a detox schedule – designate certain times as digital free – this could be no digital devices for the first hour after waking or switching off your devices an hour before bed. We utilise the in phone digital wellbeing functions to grey scale our phones after 9pm making it less attractive to use and avoiding blue light before bed. You can also use focus apps which switch off access to email and social media apps at set times.
- Take up an analogue activity or hobby – find a wellbeing boosting activity to fill the time you would otherwise have spent on digital devices – go for a walk, do some yoga, read, colour, journal – the list is endless
5. Get into nature
Into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soulJohn Muir
Spending time in nature is a big part of Swedish culture and thus a bit part of living lagom.
Exposure to natural environments has been linked with better general health and less stress – when we are in natural environments, we have reduced brain activity and brainwaves – our brains literally relax in nature.
Go for a walk, a run, a bike ride or try open water swimming – moving your body in a natural environment will do wonders for your mood.
Practice being present and acknowledging the beauty that surrounds you – colours, noises, scents – use your senses to really be in nature.
If you want to be extra lagom why not take a refuse bag with you and pick up litter whilst you enjoy your outdoor activity – getting out in the fresh air is good for you – litter picking is good for the environment.
For those who are unable to get outside, there’s also some research indicating that looking at photographs of natural environments (like pictures of the beach or the mountains) can have similar effects. You can also bring nature inside your home with plants and natural colours and materials like stone and wood. Take a look at our environmental wellbeing post for more ideas on bringing the outside in.
Want to know more about living lagom?