Stressing the importance of emotional health on Stress Awareness Day

Stress Awareness Day offers a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the power of emotional health in managing stress.

We all know that the state of our physical health dictates how well we cope with things that place stress on our bodies, like going for a run or playing in a football match. We also know that those with excellent physical health and skills are equipped to deal with challenges that others could not withstand, like winning a boxing match, or swimming the channel. What is less well known, is that our emotional health works in a very similar way.

Emotional health describes the set of malleable skills and beliefs which dictate how we deal with the things that happen to us. These include, amongst others, our relationship skills, self-beliefs (commonly referred to as self-esteem, self-worth etc.), and self-regulation (the strategies we use to manage our emotions). These skills can be developed and strengthened, in the same way that we can develop physical skills.

The state of our emotional health affects everything, from our performance at work, to our mental health. Here we explore three benefits of good emotional health and our ability to manage stress.

  1. Practice self-reflection, not rumination

  2. Self-agency – take back control

  3. Self-regulation – developing positive coping strategies

Practice self-reflection, not rumination

At the heart of all the emotional health competencies is self-reflection.

Self-reflection is an active process by which we constructively think about a situation, with the specific aims of learning, developing and finding a solution.

Rumination, on the other hand, is a passive process, where we become fixated on the problem and the difficult feelings that it provokes.

Research has shown that rumination can cause stress and that stress has very little to do with the events that happen to us, but rather with how we process and think about them.

Self-agency – take back control

Self-agency is all about the level of control, or autonomy, we think we have over our lives, and the extent to which we see ourselves as having control over our actions. Research has shown that lack of personal autonomy is a key cause of occupational stress.

It might seem like the level of control you have over your life is not something that you can control. However, self-agency is not about how much control we have, but how in control of our lives we feel.

Key strategies for boosting self-agency are all centred around focusing on what we can control, rather than ruminating on what we cannot. By spending some time thinking about the choices that we make every day, and taking full control of those choices, we can boost self-agency, and help reduce the stress that stems from the feeling of helplessness that is associated with lack of self-agency.

Self-regulation – developing positive coping strategies

Self-regulation describes our ability to manage our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and is therefore crucial for times when we are faced with stressful situations.

Whether we know it or not, we all have way of coping with stress, but not all responses are beneficial to us. Some, such as drinking, over-eating, using drugs, or indeed blaming ourselves and ruminating, will only end up increasing levels of stress.

A key part of self-regulation is noticing our negative responses to stress, reflecting on them, and in their place attempting to develop positive strategies that allow us to cope. Exercise, social support, creative expression and mindfulness are all examples of strategies that have a good research basis as reducers of stress.

Nurture, not nature

Approaching stress from the perspective of emotional health demonstrates that coping well with stress is not something we are born with. We do not simply have to resign ourselves to being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at coping with stress. Rather, by working on and developing the skills and beliefs central to emotional health, we can put ourselves in a significantly better position for coping with the stresses and strains that daily life throws at us.

To find out about our work to support positive emotional health, call us on 01865 401800 or email us at