The Differences Between Mental And Emotional Health

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If you are asked about what constitutes a healthy life, thanks in large part to the many advertisements that we’re inundated with in this day and age, what usually comes to mind is likely to be something related to weight loss or a large bowl of salad. But there’s more to being healthy than just the physical: while an active lifestyle and balanced diet can help us be physically healthier, there are other components to our well-being that we can’t see externally. 

To be truly healthy, we must also experience internal well-being 一 and this involves our mental and emotional health. These aspects that contribute to a 360-degree perspective of what it means to be healthy are a fundamental part of our ability to think well, feel well, move well, and indeed, live well, and when one or some of these components is out of balance, it can affect our ability to live life to the fullest. Here’s the other thing: they’re not mutually exclusive, either. Our mental, emotional, physical, and physiological health is all interlinked, and when one aspect is suffering, it’s likely to affect the others. 

Yet when it comes to these internal aspects, how do we differentiate which is which? One simple way to look at it could be that mental health is about how we perceive, process, and understand all of the information that we absorb at any given moment, while emotional health is how we feel一or to be more specific, the feelings that are evoked when we process this information. Of course, in reality it’s a little more complex than that, but discovering more about these different types of internal wellness and the layers within them is an important means of discovering our best selves, to live a life that is as fulfilling as possible. Read on to learn more about mental and emotional health, the differences between them, and how to use this knowledge to help you thrive. 

What Is Mental Health?

According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” Ultimately, it’s the roadmap to how we think, feel, and behave

A key component of mental health involves one’s cognitive thinking patterns, how we process and store information, and how we perceive ourselves and our external world. These cognitive processes include attention, memory, and decision-making. There is a functional, biological basis for our mental health that involves what is happening inside the human brain, including our hormones and neurotransmitters, and essentially, how our brain communicates with the rest of our body and keeps us functioning healthily. It is for this reason that chemical and other imbalances ー whether they’re genetic or caused by physical factors such as a poor diet or the use of harmful substances ー can have such a large impact on our mental health.

The Biopsychosocial Model of Mental Health

Rather than one single factor, mental health tends to be influenced by a wide range of internal and external factors. In 1977, Dr. George Enge ー an American psychiatrist at the University of Rochester Medical Center ー designed a framework to constitute what comprises mental health, called the Biopsychosocial Model.  In it, he suggested that there are three categories of factors that can affect one’s mental health, either positively or negatively:

  • Biological Factors: These are internal factors that happen inside the body. Common biological factors include genetics, brain chemistry (such as hormones and neurotransmitters), physiological reactions, and the nervous system.
  • Psychological Factors: These are the internal factors that mostly happen in the brain, such as mental processes, thoughts, beliefs, perception of the self, and cognitive functions such as decision-making and memory ability. 
  • Social Factors: These are the external factors, or things related to that which is outside the body, such as our interactions with others, sources of social support, exposure to stressors, and cultural factors, like whether you feel “fit in” with your culture.  
Biopsychosocial Model

Biopsychosocial Model

Why Is Mental Health Important?

Looking after our mental health is very important to one’s overall well-being because poor mental health increases the risk of developing mental health issues. People with poor mental health can become vulnerable to issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Not only mental health issues can further damage one’s mental health, but these issues also tend to affect many aspects of a person’s life, such as the sense of self-worth, self-confidence, ability to work, and ability to maintain healthy relationships with others.

Our mental health can be easily influenced by many things around us. One common trigger is stress. When someone is constantly under pressure, it can trigger negative thoughts such as “I am not good enough” and “I can’t deal with it.” These negative thoughts can contribute to poor mental health, making it very difficult for people to see the world through a positive lens again. Our mental health state is chiefly based on what we think and complex processes in the brain.

What Is Emotional Health?

Unlike mental health, which tends to focus more on cognitive processing, emotional health emphasizes feelings and how one processes emotions. Emotional health is about how we think and feel. It is the ability to identify, process, and act upon feelings in certain situations over the course of time. It involves how one expresses their feelings and emotions. If someone is emotionally unhealthy, it is likely that they often suppress and hide their true feelings from others, afraid to accept how they feel in certain situations. 

To be emotionally healthy, we must recognize our feelings, know how they may affect us, accept them, and learn from them. Emotional health comprises two components: emotional intelligence - the awareness of emotional states about oneself and others, and emotional resilience - whether one can adjust and adapt to difficult situations and move on from negative feelings and emotional setbacks. If someone is emotionally healthy, they tend to have high emotional intelligence and emotional resilience. Being emotionally healthy does not imply that someone feels incredibly happy all the time, but rather, it’s about firmly believing that one has the power to identify their emotions, deal with life’s challenges, and handle difficult situations. 

Why Is Emotional Health Important?

Emotional health is critical as it contributes significantly to our overall well-being. It is believed that emotionally healthy people tend to better recognize their feelings and have a higher awareness of negative emotions. When someone with good emotional health experiences low mood states, they are more likely to proactively manage their feelings and recover from these negative feelings. For example, when they feel down, they’re able to recognize this and actively pursue things that they know can lift their mood and make them feel happier again, whether that’s listening to certain music or doing specific leisure activities that they enjoy. Being emotionally unhealthy can make people feel stuck in the same situation. Oftentimes, people with poor emotional health may intentionally avoid and suppress their feelings, which can lead to other problems such as having low self-esteem

After all, emotional health, just like mental health, can affect the way we react to many different aspects of life. Establishing good emotional health can result in many benefits, such as making you feel more energized with a clearer mind. Individuals with good emotional health tend to be better at appropriately communicating with or expressing their feelings to others, leading to stronger and more rewarding relationships. Emotionally healthy individuals also tend to allow themselves more time to experience their feelings, processing their emotions, and letting them pass, leading to higher self-awareness, healthier boundaries, and better self-care habits. They also tend to be better at refocusing their attention on the present and getting back on track in their lives after a setback, enabling them to live more mindfully and achieve more confidence and success.

Connecting the Dots Between Mental And Emotional Health

When it comes to overall well-being, the relationship between mental and emotional health might be closer than you think. It can be very rare to see people who are mentally healthy but emotionally unhealthy, or even the other way around: mentally unhealthy but emotionally healthy. These two aspects of health are vital to our overall well-being, and the determining factors behind them tend to be very similar. The way we react to various things happening in life ー our habits, lifestyle, diet, and whether you exercise or not, for instance ー can contribute to your mental and emotional health. And the key is in the word “react” ー for better mental and emotional health, we need to understand and accept ourselves enough to be able to react to situations and events in a way that allows for a happier and more hopeful existence. They influence your ability to deal with stress, stay resilient when coping with life challenges, and how quickly you can bounce back from a setback, without allowing it to affect your sense of self-worth. The two are intertwined: both can contribute significantly to our well-being, and they should never be neglected.

5 Ways To Be Mentally And Emotionally Healthy

Mental and emotional health is something that we might not always be able to physically see ー although the issues that can arise from poor mental and emotional health can lead to physical symptoms in more extreme situations ー but they are both important in our everyday lives. So how does one go about creating good mental and emotional health? Below are some behavioral and lifestyle strategies that can help you to build and maintain this.

1. Practice Positive Thinking

Did you know that how you talk to yourself can affect how you view the world? One way to establish healthy mental and emotional health is to train your brain to think positively. By changing your beliefs, you can have the power to change a negative situation and transform yourself into the kind of person that you want to become. One common way to establish a positive thinking pattern includes using positive affirmations. To do this, you can keep a journal and encourage yourself to write at least one positive affirmation or write down at least one thing you’re grateful for each day. Another helpful journaling method is to write down your thoughts and feelings, particularly when you’ve encountered a negative situation or feeling, to help you recognize how you react to certain things, and find any patterns or triggers there.  Another great way to build a more positive life is by developing learned hopefulness, through the seven habits of high-hope people. Mindfulness and meditation can also help to boost optimistic thinking, as these practices allow you to stop worrying about the future and things that are out of your control, and focus more on the present and the facts in the here and now. In this way, you can train your mind to think more positively and gradually establish better mental and emotional health.

2. Surround Yourself With Positive People

Socializing with others can be a good way to improve mental and emotional health. As you talk about what frustrates, excites, or scares you, for instance, you can identify and process your feelings, recognizing how you feel about certain situations. However, it’s important to note that for this to happen, people in your social circle need to be supportive and accepting of your ability to do so, and essentially hold space for you to feel comfortable talking about how you feel. If they’re not, it can backfire and actually have a negative effect on your mental and emotional health. When your relationships with your friends and family and others around you aren't positive ones, you’re more likely to be influenced by their negativity, which can lead to a harmful impact on your mental and emotional health. If someone in your life constantly makes you feel negative about yourself, it might be time to work on those relationships and try to turn them into positive ones. If you experience negative social situations such as gaslighting and bullying, limit your contact with the people causing them. Setting healthy boundaries can go a long way in establishing healthier, more positive, and more supportive relationships. 

3. Maintain a Healthy and Balanced Diet

If you’re wondering what nutrition has to do with your psychological health, here’s a fun fact: the food and drink that you consume can influence what type of neurotransmitters are being sent to your nervous system一and these tiny yet powerful brain chemicals are in large part produced and released from the gut. This is called the gut-brain connection, and that’s why the stomach is sometimes called the “second brain.” The chemicals that are being produced in your gut can depend significantly on what you consume, and as a result, what you eat and drink matters not only for your physical health but also for your mental and emotional health.

4. Get Enough Sleep and Rest 

Not getting enough sleep can take a toll on your emotional health. When you are tired, you are more likely to experience adrenal fatigue and burnout, as you can be over-sensitive to your surroundings. Sleep deprivation can also damage your mental and emotional health. During sleep, our brain cells form connections with each other so that our bodies can detoxify any waste stored in the body. Skipping sleep means skipping the detoxifying process, and as a result, sacrificing sleep will catch up to you in the long term. If you’re experiencing a sleep deficit, think about why that is: if your lack of sleep is down to choice or how busy you are, then try to prioritize your tasks so that your schedule is more conducive to getting enough shut-eye. If it’s something that feels like it’s mostly out of your control, such as insomnia or poor quality sleep, then try to establish healthier sleep habits. Your body requires various different types of rest beyond just the physical, and they can all have an effect on your mental and emotional health.

5. Move It or Lose It

Exercise is a natural booster of mental and emotional health. When you move your body, your brain will generate various brain chemicals, including endorphins, endocannabinoids, and dopamine. These hormones and neurotransmitters can help build mental and emotional health because they help reduce levels of stress-related hormones ー namely, cortisol and adrenaline. Exercising also benefits your overall emotional health as regular physical activity tends to be related to positive emotions and a lower chance of engaging in negative thought patterns. If you already have an exercise routine in your schedule, that’s great! But if you don’t, then remember that it’s ok to start small, even if that means just going for a short walk on a regular basis. Small steps can add up towards bigger goals, and making step-by-step progress can be very impactful towards establishing better long-term habits that become an integral part of your life. 

There is no true health without mental and emotional health, and if you’re seeking a truly healthy lifestyle, these two aspects are just as important to our overall well-being as physical health.

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All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals and other resources that influenced this article: Mental Health: Strengthening Our Response; What Is Mental Health?; The Need for a New Medical Model: A Challenge for Biomedicine; The Biopsychosocial Model 45 Years Later; Worry Changes Decision Making: The Effect of Negative Thoughts on Cognitive Processing; The Dynamic Brain: Neuroplasticity and Mental Health; What Is Emotional Health?; A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of the Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Health; Why Emotional Resilience Is a Trait You Can Develop; Perceived Emotion Suppression and Culture: Effects on Psychological Well-Being; How to Build Good Emotional Health; The Effect of Detoxification on Sleep: How Does Sleep Quality Change during Qualified Detoxification Treatment?; The Gut–Brain Connection: Triggering of Brain Autoimmune Disease by Commensal Gut Bacteria; Voluntary Exercise Enables Stress Resistance in Females; The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review; Exercise and the Brain: The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise.

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