But some forms of psychological stress are less obvious or misunderstood. How do you measure up?
7 Questions to Ask that Reveal Your Emotional Health
1. Have you felt sad, angry, and frustrated lately?
If so, you must might be in good emotional health. Thought you were supposed to feel happy and elated non stop to be mentally healthy? Not at all.
It’s normal and good to have many emotions. In fact emotions tend to work together – the more sadness we can honestly process, the greater the joy we can feel.
If you are convinced you are only happy, it might be that you are actually just consciously blocking all other emotions out of fear of judgement or of being engulfed by what you are repressing.
And happiness isn’t just an ability to generate a ‘high’ feeling or positive emotions. Many psychologists now suggest a sense of meaning and purpose in life might be a better indicator of psychological wellbeing and happiness – learn more in our article “What is Happiness, Really?”.
Of course feeling sad and angry all the time is not good either, and is indeed a sign of depression.
Psychological wellbeing is present when we are able to feel the complete spectrum of our emotions with acceptance, and without being thrown by them.
Manage to make work last until bedtime every day, have an endless list of tasks, tell your friends it’s just ‘the way you are’ when they hint you don’t slow down? They might be on to something.
Productivity is one thing, and often is a sign of psychological strength – it takes a clear mind to focus.
But being constantly busy can bea sign that you are hiding from yourself. It might be that you have emotions you aren’t comfortable with, or old traumas that need your attention.
3. Spending a lot of time alone lately?
Taking time to yourself is the best way to know yourself and become comfortable with all that you are, so is something we actually need to be mentally well balanced.
Always avoiding being alone can be a sign that you are hiding from feelings or thoughts that are overwhelming.
Although if you are spending time alone and it does not feel good, ask yourself if you are hiding from others, and if so, why? Are you suffering from a sense of shame that you need support with? Or feeling low self-esteem?
Of course we all have different requirements for time alone versus time with others, depending on our natural personalities. So look for changes in social patterns which are often a sign that you are psychologically struggling. If you are usually the life of the party but haven’t been leaving the house much in the last year, or are usually an introvert but are now out every night chatting up strangers, it can be a sign of imbalance, from intimacy issues to bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, or avoidant personality disorder.
As for loneliness, don’t confuse it with being alone. Loneliness is less to do with the physical presence of others and more to do with a feeling you are disconnected and can happen even surrounded by a crowd.
4. Do you always say nice things?
Are you sort who knows how to make others feel good? Say just the right words at the right time?
Being nice all the time has nothing to do with good psychological health. If you always say good things but your thoughts are actually judgemental and dark, you are lacking in what is called ‘congruency’, a sign you are not comfortable with yourself.
And being nice all the time or trying to make others feel what you want them to feel is more often than not a form of codependency.
Good psychological health means being able to accept that others are responsible for how they feel, and it is less about being nice then being honest with our feelings.
Of course human acts of kindness with no strings attached are a sign of good emotional health. Lending a hand to someone in need, such as a tourist lost on the street, called ‘prosocial behaviour’ by psychologists, a sign you have a good level of empathy.
5. Do you think you have gotten rid of most of your flaws?
Striving to be perfect or ‘get rid of’ parts of yourself you deem ‘unacceptable’and ‘bad’ is not actually healthy.
Psychologically healthy people can recognise and accept all that they are, both their easy bits and more complicated sides. If someone points out something they can work on, it might cause a bit of annoyance, but generally they then accept there are things to work on and are okay with that.
And the usage of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ falls away as self-compassion rises. All sides have purpose when dealt with in a healthy manner. Anger helps us set boundaries, for example. Sadness helps us process pain and loss. And character traits some deem unacceptable, like talking to much, can also be what got you that job in communications.
6. Do you think we all deserve to have secrets?
If your secrets are around habits that give you a high followed by a sense of shame, maybe you are using this line to hide real psychological trauma.
And it’s not just the obvious like drugs and alcohol abuse that are a major sign of psychological upset. Any addiction can hide emotional wounds, including shopaholism, social media addiction, exercise addiction, and even romance addiction. As a rule of thumb, if you feel a need to keep a habit a secret, then it’s likely it’s an addiction – we only hide things as unconsciously we know we are abusing ourselves.
As for small secrets, ask yourself, why do you need them? We all deserve time to ourselves and nobody needs to know everything we think. But feeling a need to keep parts of yourself secret is again a sign of different issues including low confidence, lack of identity, or codependency, where you don’t know how to take time to yourself and feel you can only have it by being secretive.
6. Do you like to say that stress is just a part of life?
Life is challenging at times, there is no doubt about that. And sometimes, stress can help us up our game and move forward.
But how do you handle stress? A temper tantrum or cry if things get too much is actually normal and useful. If you hold in stress, only to burst later over something small, it’s a sign you are not coping
As for the modern line that ongoing stress is okay? It’s not. Stress can lead to real psychological problems if left unchecked, including anxiety disorders. And it wreaks havoc on your physical health, relationships, and family life, all of which can damage your self-esteem and moods.
Also look at how you recover from stress, or your ‘resilience’. Do you learn from it, eventually laugh at what happened? Or are you still feeling sorry for yourself for things that happened years ago, or unable to relax even though you left your stressful job months back now? This might be a sign that your recent stress has snowballed on old, hidden stressors that need your attention.
7. Do you have your ‘feet on the ground’?
Feeling stable in life because you have structure you have chosen that makes you feel good is great.
But do you often say that you have your ‘feet on the ground’ because you took the practical route? The job that was expected of you or makes you look good, the partnership because you didn’t want to seem to wild by staying single and felt it was a ‘good enough’ match, the family because that was ‘the right thing’ to do, the hobbies that your friends like even if you used to do other things you might have enjoyed more? Maybe not so psychologically healthy after all.
There is a difference between having your feet on the ground and following a path that was expected of you. Being grounded means you have realistic expectations of life. It does not have to mean at the expense of your own true hopes and dreams.
Having meaning to your days and leading a life that makes you feel you have a mission and purpose is seen by psychologists as an indicator of strong emotional wellbeing. It means you have identified your own values and have enough self-belief to act on them.
WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T DO THIS
Reading the above might be overwhelming. If you do suddenly feel you might be struggling more psychologically than you realised, don’t use it to beat yourself or compare yourself to others.
The truth is that most of us struggle psychologically at some point. The question becomes, how long do you want to struggle or choose compensating behaviours?
You don’t have to wait until you are at rock bottom to seek support. A counsellor or psychotherapist can create a safe space for you to recognise your issues and find new ways to live that are positive and forward moving.
Do you have an indicator of psychological health you like to use? There are others. Share yours below.