No matter how positive we try to be, life can sometimes take unexpected turns. When things get tough, it can take a toll on our mental health, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.
If you’ve been experiencing elevated levels of sadness, stress, and anxiety recently, there are several ways that we can help to feel more grounded. From practicing gratitude to staying connected, here are eight ways to help you maintain emotional balance.
1. Be aware of your emotions
In order to balance our emotions, we first must become aware of what they actually are. Many people waste a lot of energy on repressing how they feel, both physically and psychologically. But it’s important to acknowledge negative feelings rather than try to bury them – this way, you’re actually dealing with how you feel. Emotions of sadness or stress exist for a reason. They’re there to tell us something, so if you feel a negative emotion, try to allow yourself to actually feel it for a short while.
Once you’ve identified what the emotion is, you might find it helpful to verbalise it – e.g. “I feel frustrated,” or “I feel angry”. By saying the words out loud, it can make it easier for you to step back from your initial response and react more consciously. Alternatively, you could express negative emotions by journaling, which is another way to create distance between yourself, and your thoughts and feelings. To find out more about this, have a read of our article on the power of journaling.
Becoming aware of negative emotions and accepting these feelings without judging yourself can provide a feeling of instant relief. It can also give us a new perspective on how to handle these unwanted thoughts or emotions. It’s not usually helpful to wallow in these feelings, but try not to repress them or resist them. There’s a reason why these feelings exist, so let the emotion express itself, try to recognize why you’re feeling like that, and then use this understanding to move forward. When we deny our feelings, we’re essentially denying who we are – but when we acknowledge these feelings without judgement, we learn more about ourselves and can develop mechanisms to protect ourselves in the future.
If you’ve been struggling with stress and anxiety recently, you might want to read our suggestions of ways to help manage stress and anxiety.
2. Get enough sleep
We know that getting enough good-quality sleep is important for both our physical and emotional wellbeing. Our bodies rely on a certain amount of regular sleep for a variety of essential brain and cognitive functions. However, it can often be much easier said than done as conditions like insomnia, racing thoughts, and stress and anxiety can cause us to lose sleep.
Whilst there is no silver bullet for getting a good night’s sleep, there are a few tried and tested suggestions to help give yourself the best possible chance of a restful night.
From creating a comforting routine, to watching your caffeine intake and using blue light filters on your electronic devices. If you’ve been finding it harder than usual to get a good night’s sleep recently, you may find it helpful to read these 8 suggestions to help get a good night’s sleep. Alternatively, you could try using the NHS sleeping app Pzizz. Find out more in our article 12 NHS apps to improve health and wellbeing.
3. Manage the physical signs of stress
Feeling overwhelmed with stress can quickly send your emotions skyrocketing. Learning to identify the first signs of stress and figuring out how to manage it can be an effective way to balance your emotions. One of the biggest indicators of increasing stress levels is erratic breathing. If you catch yourself holding your breath, sighing frequently or breathing irregularly, take a few moments to pause what you’re doing and focus on your breathing. Breathing deeply can help you slow down and feel more grounded – and even if you only have a minute to spare, taking slow, deep breaths for that time can help you feel more balanced and in control. If you’d like to try some different breathing exercises, have a read of our guide to breathing exercises that help reduce stress and anxiety.
Because they’re focused on breathing, meditation and yoga are some of the best ways to practice deep breathing and become more aware of the first signs of stress. Many people feel a pressure in their chest, or tension in their stomach when they feel negative emotions. For other people, their heart begins to beat faster. If you feel the physical symptoms of stress kicking in, try not to panic, and try not to fight them. By practicing meditation or yoga, or at the least, taking a minute to do some deep breathing, you’re soothing your body and alleviating these unpleasant sensations.
Aside from calming your mind and body, meditation can also improve your sleep and help you feel grounded in the present moment – two things that are very helpful in finding emotional balance. If you want to give meditation a try, you could download an app like Calm or Headspace, or even go on a mindful walk, where you observe different sights, sounds and smells as you stroll, and try to become more aware of how your body feels. To find out more about this, have a read of our article, an introduction to mindfulness.
While things like yoga and meditation are enormously beneficial, there are other ways you can help manage the physical signs of stress. For some people, simply going on a long walk with their dog can help, while other people might find that switching their phone off, or sitting quietly in the garden or on a beach can help. Try to identify the habits that help you manage the physical signs of stress, and when you feel negative emotions escalating, take time to practice them. It doesn’t matter what you do to relieve stress, as long as you can find a quiet place inside your own mind to retreat to.
4. Practice gratitude
Taking some time each day to practice gratitude is a great way to offset these emotions. Studies show that people who regularly practice gratitude have a more optimistic outlook and are more resilient in the ways they handle difficult situations. When you’re feeling low, it can be hard to feel grateful, but focusing your mind and becoming aware of a few things in your life that you are grateful for – however small – can be a surprisingly effective way to focus on the positive and feel more balanced.
If you want to practice gratitude, try stopping yourself at certain moments throughout the day and isolate the things you’re grateful for. This can be anything – the only requirement is that it has to be something you’re genuinely grateful for. Don’t force anything, and don’t pretend. For gratitude to work, it has to be grounded in honesty. You might feel thankful for your friends or family, or for a healthy body, or for the companionship of a dog or cat. You might feel grateful for your home, or for the dinner you’re looking forward to later, or for the fact you have access to clean water.
It might be a small step, but true feelings of gratitude have the power to change your emotional state and bring you to a place of emotional balance. If you find it useful to record your thoughts, you might want to start keeping a gratitude journal, which can help keep you focused on those small little positives in life. We’ve written about the power of journaling, and you can find out how to keep find a gratitude journal specifically on the Shutterfly website.
5. Stay connected
Having a support network is a great way to help manage life’s ups. Knowing that you have friends and family to lean on can have a significant effect on boosting your mood and improving your mental health.
Something as simple as having a weekly phone or video call with a friend or family member can help you manage your emotions and feel more balanced. When you’re overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, having someone to reach out to is important. Talking about your feelings with someone you trust can make you feel secure, which can in turn help you feel calmer and more positive.
Growing your social circle is another way to feel connected to people. If you’re looking to make new friends and forge meaningful connections. you might find our article 7 ways to meet new people useful. Whether you join a neighbourhood hub, sign up for friendship apps, or even think about online dating, there are many ways you can cultivate connections with people, make new friends, and know that you’re not alone.
6. Prioritise self-love
When you feel low, it can be easy to forget to be kind to yourself. It can be tempting to feel frustrated, blame yourself, or to think that if only you were stronger, tougher, or more resilient, you wouldn’t be feeling like this. But these are the times when it’s most important that we prioritise self-love and take care of ourselves, so try not to beat yourself up. Negative feelings exist for a reason. If you’re feeling emotions of anger, sadness, or loneliness, remind yourself that these feelings are perfectly valid, and there’s no shame in them.
Taking care of yourself and practicing self-love is an important way to boost your emotional health and wellbeing. A good way to practice self-love is to make a list of all the things that make you feel good, and then ensure you do at least one thing every day. It doesn’t matter what the act is – it could be having a bath, going for a run, watching a feel-good movie, drawing or painting, having a glass of wine, or even singing along to your favourite song. If this strikes a chord, you may like this article that one of our Coaching Partners, Marian, recently wrote on how to bring more joy into your life. When you intentionally do something that makes you feel great, you’re reducing your stress levels and helping yourself feel more confident, capable, and calm.
Some people find it harder than others to be kind to themselves and treat themselves with love and care. If you’re one of these people, try talking to the people who are always kind to you. Seeking out people you know that have your back can make it easier to feel safe and grounded. Another way you can practice self-love is to spend time learning a new skill. Not only does this take your mind off a difficult situation, it’s also rewarding, confidence boosting, and often has powerful therapeutic benefits. If you’re interested in taking up a new hobby or skill, have a look at the arts and culture section of our website: from painting to knitting, calligraphy to carpentry, there’s something for everyone – and it’s never too late to learn something new.
7. Get moving
When you’re feeling stressed or low, it’s easy to let negativity overwhelm you. You might feel tired and sluggish, as though you just want to lie down or curl up in your favourite chair. Often, the very last thing we feel like doing when we’re overwhelmed is getting moving! But if you want to get your energy back, sometimes you have to generate it yourself. Exercise is one of the best ways to get out of your own head, relax and unwind, and give your mood a boost – and the good news is that you don’t need to go and run a marathon to feel the benefits. Even the smallest bit of exercise can make a big difference to balancing your emotions.
Low-impact exercises like walking, yoga, leisurely cycling or even gentle stretching can help your body feel better, and your mind feel clearer and calmer. Whatever exercise you take, the important thing is that you try to incorporate it into your daily routine. You could try going for a walk after breakfast, or doing some yoga in the evening. If you’ve never been someone who’s done a lot of exercise, you can find inspiration over on the healthy body section of our site. Whether you want to try exercise videos from the comfort of your own home or get out in the fresh air, we hope that you’ll find something there to inspire you.
If you feel you have lots of pent up tension, anger or frustration, you could even try free movement, where you let your body move in a way that’s totally free. Many of us haven’t done this since we were children, so it might feel a bit odd at first – but it can be a hugely enjoyable and liberating way to let your anxiety and tension out. Make a playlist of your favourite songs, or turn the radio to your favourite station, and then just let yourself go like no-one’s watching!
8. Spend time in nature
Getting outside and spending time in nature can have a powerful effect on our emotions. Studies show that spending just 10 minutes a day in natural surroundings can reduce stress and improve feelings of happiness. Being in sunlight is always good for our mental health, and while in the UK the sun isn’t usually strong enough after September to top up our vitamin D levels, we can still benefit from being outside, whatever the weather. Fresh air (or a strong breeze!) can act as a refresher for our brains, literally blowing unpleasant thoughts away and helping us feel present.
If you feel your emotions becoming overwhelming, simply going for a brisk walk around the block can help – although ideally, it’s best to spend some time in a more natural environment like a park or garden. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, you could try to spend time out there each day, whether that’s to have your morning coffee, to read a few pages of a book, to reply to emails, or to listen to a podcast. If you don’t have a garden, you could walk to your local park and sit for a while on a bench, or just walk around focusing on nature. Pay attention to the sounds and smells around you, take deep breaths, and try to connect to your surroundings. If you don’t have a nice park within walking distance, you could consider driving out to an empty wintery beach, or to the countryside, or to any outdoor space you find appealing.
Some people find it especially beneficial to spend time among trees. “Forest bathing” has been practiced in Japan since the 1980s, and in recent years it’s become popular in the West as a way to alleviate feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. The benefits of forest bathing can be so effective that the Woodland Trust have even suggested it be among a range of non-medical therapies and activities recommended by doctors – and studies suggest it can also boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and improve sleep. You might want to try heading to your local wood or forest and taking some time to appreciate the beauty of your environment. You can find your nearest wood or forest over on the Woodland Trust site.
When faced with tough times, it’s important to remind yourself that it’s only temporary. Having ups and downs and feeling fear, sadness, or loneliness from time-to-time is all part of the human experience. Acknowledging your emotions is the first step to finding emotional balance – as only once you identify negative feelings can you start taking steps to work through them.
If you feel your emotions are unsettled right now, we hope that some of the ideas above will help you. With a bit of practice, you’ll probably find you feel more emotionally balanced, calmer, and perhaps even happier to boot.
Have you tried any of the above techniques – or do you know of any other ways to balance your emotions? We’d love to hear from you. Join the conversation on the health section of the Rest Less community forum, or leave us a comment below.