Getting an annual physical is something many of us do without much thought. Even if your spouse urges you to make that appointment, it’s something you probably know you should do to make sure your blood pressure, heart rate and other markers of your health are what they should be.
“An emotional check-up is just as important, because your emotional state affects the quality of your life and your health,” says Jeffrey Rossman, Ph.D., director of life management at Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Mass. “What makes this different than its physical counterpart is that you can evaluate how you feel on your own.”
This check-up may reveal that you’re in a good place emotionally. Being reminded that you’re satisfied with most or all aspects of your life increases your awareness that you’re, in fact, happy and content—feelings we often take for granted. Just as a good physical report may encourage you to continue exercising and eating well, discovering that you’re emotionally healthy helps you see that what you’re doing to feel fulfilled is working—and that you should keep it up.
On the flipside, identifying any imbalance in your emotional health can be helpful too—though figuring out the cause of it can be more difficult to pinpoint. “You really need to reflect and dig deep to understand how you’re doing and what might be bothering you,” says Rossman. Maybe you feel like your life is more than you can handle. Maybe you’re just going through the motions but you don’t feel particularly satisfied, or you’ve felt sad lately and you’re not sure why. “Taking the time to identify these feelings will help you get back in touch with yourself. With this awareness you might figure out how to address a challenging situation or make peace with a situation you can’t change,” he adds.
There are several ways to check in with your emotions. “You can have a conversation with a friend or family member, or self-reflect,” Rossman explains. Think about how you feel when you wake up, when you’re at work or doing your daily activities, and when you go to bed. Consider the state of your relationships and how the interactions and conversations you have with those people make you feel. Think about what fulfills you spiritually, what makes you smile and laugh, and what makes you upset and worried. Really take the time to explore all the parts of your life that influence your emotions. Writing about these parts of your life and your feelings in a journal is a wonderful way to increase your self-awareness and thoughtfully address the important areas of your life.
Our Life Satisfaction Scale (PDF) may also prove particularly useful in guiding your thinking. It encourages you to look at the different aspects of your life that impact your emotional health. Rate each area by drawing a dot in the rectangle corresponding to the appropriate rating and then connect all the dots to see a graphical representation of how you feel.
Here’s an example:
“You’ll see what you feel good about and where you’re lacking in contentment,” says Rossman. “You may realize where you’re putting more time and energy and where you’re neglecting to.”
If you notice areas that could use improvement, consider solutions that work with your lifestyle. You may want to explore practices like meditation, spiritual journaling or prayer. Or maybe a daily walk with your partner or phone call to a friend can help fill a void. Taking up a new hobby or starting a relaxation ritual are other examples of how you can take action. “Over time, the benefits of these practices become ingrained in you, helping you feel emotionally balanced. And hopefully your next check-up reflects that—or shows progress,” says Rossman.
Commit to Checking In with Yourself
Making an emotional check-up an ongoing practice helps you see how you’re doing over time and encourages you to continue to engage in healthy practices that nourish your mind, body and spirit. “Hopefully by doing that, you can build your emotional resilience and better handle tough situations or those times when you don’t feel like yourself,” says Rossman.
Depending on your assessment, there may be times when speaking with your doctor or psychotherapist can help you get to the root of how you’re feeling and find solutions that work for you—especially if you’re feeling particularly down. “It might be difficult at first to make the call and say, ‘I don’t feel right, emotionally,’ but when you can’t get a handle on it, it’s just as important as if you were to say, ‘I have a medical problem that needs professional attention,’” Rossman notes.