written by Erin Merrihew
photos by Emma Morem
When it comes to staying healthy, most of us look to the basics: food, exercise, and sleep. There’s no doubt that these things are incredibly important! But there is another crucial wellspring of health that many of us unknowingly neglect, and often feel less adept at tackling: our emotional wellbeing.
We’ve all had those moments—we binge on comfort food after a stressful conversation. We skip our workout because we’re feeling overwhelmed and getting down on ourselves. We burn the midnight oil worrying about an unresolved situation with someone in our life. The list goes on.
We know that our emotional life has a huge effect on our health. But how many of us actually know what to do about it? Sometimes the solutions to our inner dilemmas aren’t as straightforward as simply eating a balanced meal, going to the gym, or getting a solid night of sleep. Often they are deeper, and more nuanced.
Our emotional lives are complex, but there are a few simple tools you can start using today and take with you anywhere, that don’t require visiting a therapist, sitting on a meditation cushion, or reading a self-help book (though all of those are certainly wonderful ways to support yourself, too!).
1) Get to know your needs.
All of us share the same inner library of universal human needs—things we care about and require to thrive (download the list here). The more connected we are to our needs, the greater wellbeing we experience. This might feel abstract at first, but look at it this way: every feeling we have points us toward the needs we care about. Comfortable feelings tell us our needs are getting met, and uncomfortable feelings tell us the needs we’re wanting more of. In any moment, ask yourself the question: How am I feeling, and what am I needing? Developing this inner curiosity in your day-to-day will radically boost how grounded you feel, and inspire you to move toward the things that matter most to you. And the good news is, even if you can’t find a way to meet all your needs (we rarely can), simply acknowledging what they are can have a profoundly positive impact on your emotional wellbeing.
2) Set healthy boundaries.
The main concept here is simple: learn to sense the difference between your yes and your no, and practice honoring it. Many of us are so used to operating out of obligation that we forget to slow down, check in, and genuinely trust the answer we find. It can feel foreign and scary at first to share your boundaries with the people in your life, but it gets easier the more you do it—and trust me, it will strengthen the trust and connection in your relationships big time, and you will feel happier and lighter! Whether it’s a task you already do, a request you’ve received, a relationship dynamic you notice, or a decision you’re contemplating, ask yourself honestly: How much of a “yes” do I have for this? You can flesh out the layers of your process by referring back to your needs, as well. Try replacing the word “should” with “could,” and let go of the notion that you can do it all (none of us can). Start embracing what you need to say no to, so you can give more of your energy to the things you have a true yes for.
3) Practice vulnerability.
Vulnerability is the cornerstone of emotional health. When you expose your raw feelings to someone you trust, when you open up about your fears and insecurities, when you soften and show the less perfect, capable, or polished sides of who you are—these are profound acts of courage and wellbeing! Learning to become vulnerable with yourself and others takes time and practice, and unfortunately it’s almost never easy or comfortable, but you’ll start to see the payoff quickly. The more vulnerable you are, the more authentic and connected you will feel. If you’re not already familiar with Brené Brown, she has some fantastic resources on vulnerability. Start by practicing vulnerability with the people you trust will receive you warmly, and build your stamina from there. Be gentle with yourself, and keep going.
About Erin Merrihew
Erin Merrihew helps people learn everything we were never taught in school about how to be human together: how to build strong relationships, move through challenge gracefully, and live with courage, authenticity, and kindness. She is a Communication & Empowerment Coach and Certified Trainer in Nonviolent Communication, and has a degree in Sociology. In her coaching work with individuals, couples, leaders and organizations, Erin blends together powerful expertise in emotional intelligence with human intuition and a refreshing dose of realness to catalyze fierce, openhearted living in her clients. Born and raised in Seattle, Erin is passionate about hiking and backpacking, world travel, speaking Spanish, singing and playing the ukulele, vegetarian cooking, yoga, and devouring inspirational self-help books. Learn more at www.erinmerrihew.com.