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Health Resource Center

Emotional Well-Being


Sustaining our emotional well-being is often challenging. Most of us feel sad, angry, frightened, or confused at various periods in our lives, and it often helps when family and friends give us emotional and practical support. But when we can’t get through difficult periods even with their help, it can be useful and even life-saving to turn to other sources. These may include activities that help us feel better, specialized self-help groups, clergy or pastoral counselors, and mental health professionals. 

Figuring out what to do and where to turn can take some trial and error. You often have more resources available, both within yourself and within your family and community, than you might at first imagine. You can rely on your own intuition as well as the advice of people you trust.

You may be upset over work, money, relationships, illness, or other concerns. Discrimination (because of sex, race, class, age, looks, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion, disability, or other factors) may have affected you in ways that are hard to handle. Life-altering events such as sexual abuse or the loss of a loved one may feel difficult if not impossible to deal with alone. You may have recently moved to a different area, lost your home, or migrated from one country to another. Regional or military conflicts may have turned your life upside down. Or you may simply feel bad and not know why.

During difficult times, doing positive things for ourselves such as eating well, exercising, and enjoying simple pleasures (hot baths, time alone, or special time with friends) can bring some relief and comfort. These activities may also help prevent or manage the physical problems that can result from periods of excessive demands and pressures. These include headaches; neck, back, and shoulder pains; insomnia; skin rashes; jaw pains; cold sores; stomachaches; severely increased or decreased appetite; and diarrhea or constipation.

At times it is enough to talk, cry, ask friends for encouragement (or a foot rub), or find ways to laugh and play. Here are some other things you can try:

  • Wellness strategies such as eating well, getting enough rest and exercise, meditating, and participating in relaxing activities. A healthy body and a calm mind can help you become more resilient.

  • Spiritual work, including meditation, prayer, and involvement in a religious community.

  • Creative activities, alone or with others: dancing, singing, arts and crafts, reading for fun, or learning about the kinds of dilemmas or problems you are confronting, through novels, biographies, or magazine articles.

  • Support, self-help, or common-interest groups. Many groups exist that address various problems and challenges becoming a new mother, recovering from addiction, growing older, choosing parenthood as a lesbian, understanding self-injury, living with a particular illness or disability, or separating from a long-term relationship. At their best, these groups help people to feel less alone and to see individual concerns within a larger societal context.

  • Friendships and community. Find and reach out to a community of family, friends, neighbors, and spiritual advisers with whom you can celebrate and grieve life transitions. Sometimes a good listener is what we need most.

  • Working for social/political change. Working to change social and economic factors that make life difficult, from expensive day care to racial discrimination on the job, can be meaningful, especially when the things you are trying to change are the things that cause you pain.
Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.


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