The emotional dimension of wellness is a seemingly broad topic, one that may seem intimidating and even impossible to obtain. But, once you dive into the different components that comprise a truly emotionally well person, you just might identify areas that you’d personally like to improve. In order to determine if you’re emotionally healthy, one must first learn what it is they’re trying to achieve.
Several local experts were excited to share the traits of an emotionally healthy person. Dr. Sanford Kaufman is a practicing psychiatrist and also serves as the interim chief medical officer at Meridian Behavioral Health, and he said the emotionally healthy person displays “Good self-esteem, a positive outlook, confidence in decision-making, confidence in his or her attributes, and knows his or her personal limits. Also, people who are willing to learn from mistakes (and apologize if needed).”
Heather Sarkis is a board-certified psychiatry/mental health nurse practitioner at Sarkis Family Psychiatry. As a nurse practitioner, she evaluates and manages treatment (including medication and therapy) for patients of all ages who are challenged with mental health issues. “In my practice, I not only focus on healing people that are ill but also on maintaining and optimizing wellness,” she said. When asked what kinds of small things people can do for themselves on a daily or weekly basis to make a positive change in their emotional health, she responded with a great list of tangible, do-able action items:
“Effective communication is imperative to being healthy. Whether it’s peers, family, co-workers, etc., we all need to effectively communicate feelings in order to be heard by others.” – Heather Sarkis, Sarkis Family Psychiatry
“Another key tool in the emotionally healthy person’s toolbox is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is defined as ‘maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment…without judging them.’ This is typically a very difficult concept to grasp. However, being able to acknowledge and accept situations can often lead to managing related feelings and stress better,” Heather shared.
“Along with mindfulness, there are many other coping skills people of all ages can incorporate to find healthful ways to manage stress and anxiety. Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths might make a huge difference when it comes to approaching a difficult situation. Journaling, hobbies (and) talking things out with someone are just a few positive coping skills. I also encourage ‘time-outs’ when stress escalates to a place where it is difficult to manage — walking away from a difficult situation, taking time to think about it, and then returning to the situation when calm might help change the mindset and stress level significantly,” Heather added.
“And remember, be sure to reach out for support if you feel stressed,” Dr. Kaufman reminded readers. North Central Florida residents have many local resources to rely on if they’ve reached an unhealthy emotional place. Professionals like Dr. Kaufman at Meridian and Heather Sarkis at Sarkis Family Psychiatry are available, and residents can also talk to primary care physicians or other health providers about emotional health concerns. They may make a referral to a therapist or have other helpful suggestions. Additional resources available to help achieve emotional and mental health are available through self-help groups as well as churches and synagogues.
As you can see, there are a lot of big and small steps that can be taken on your own this year to get to a more emotionally healthy place. One thing is for sure: North Central Florida is a wonderful place to start the journey. Because if there’s one thing to learn through this study of emotional health, it’s that wellness is obtainable!
Emotional Wellness for Teens
By Heather Sarkis
There are several steps teens can take to improve emotional wellness:
- Make human connections! The current generation of young people has no idea what life was like before screens, Facebook, cell phones, text messages, email, etc. While these are effective ways to communicate and keep up to date as to the happenings in friends’ lives, they do not compare to human connections and actual face-to-face conversation. Humans are social creatures, and being around friends makes us feel accepted, more confident and happy.
- Care for your body! Teens often think they are invincible. Thus, they tend to overlook the importance of regular physical activity, quality sleep and healthier food choices. Physical health and emotional health are so closely connected; I usually tell my patients, “Junk in; junk out.”
Warning signs of an unhealthy teen may include hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt; agitation, anger, or moodiness; withdrawn and isolating behaviors; no longer enjoying or participating in activities that were once important or enjoyable; and increased risky or dangerous behaviors. Significant personality or behavior changes may also be noticeable. Changes in sleep, appetite or self-care may be present. Teens may start to pass comments that reflect hopelessness or low self-worth such as “not being worth it” or “I’m such a loser.” Grades may start to decline and behavior problems may arise at school or home.
When parents maintain open and honest relationships with teens, it is more likely that teens will be willing and able to talk about negative feelings before they escalate to an unhealthy place. Teens are more likely to talk to parents if they are comfortable.
Worried about your teen? Here are some helpful resources:
- Talking to a mental health professional is the first step for teens who may be suffering from depression or other mood disorders. There are many providers in the area (psychiatrists/nurse practitioners, therapists and counselors) who are able to help struggling teens. Depending on the symptoms and severity of the issue, therapy and medications may be necessary, but they usually yield good outcomes.
- School guidance counselors can also offer support in the academic setting.
- Programs like Partners in Adolescent Lifestyle Support (PALS), a local program in many schools that also offers support throughout the school year.
- The local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource for patients and families struggling with a variety of mental illnesses. It offers classes and support groups throughout the year.
- The Alachua County Crisis Hotline and Suicide Prevention Hotline are available for teens who may feel hopeless and suicidal. These are staffed by specially trained operators 24-hours a day.
- Interface Youth Program provides shelters for teens who may need a place to stay outside of the home or just a counselor or adult to talk to.