Some Forms of Anxiety May Point to Emotional Health

Understanding the interplay between mental health and emotional health.

Posted Dec 12, 2020

Mental health is defined as psychological, emotional, and social well-being. Many people assume the absence of anxiety and depression equates to strong mental health. This may not necessarily be true. Anxiety may be a side effect of emotional health in several specific areas.  

Emotional health is similar to emotional intelligence and is often defined as an individual’s ability to appropriately express feelings and cope with different emotional situations. The concept of emotional intelligence was actually developed as a mechanism to evaluate and illuminate the importance of emotional health.

The ability to recognize, identify, and verbalize feeling states translates to self-awareness and emotional regulation, two important components of emotional intelligence. A person who is in touch with emotions, especially the uncomfortable ones, possesses insight. When a person understands what he or she is feeling, the feelings frequently become easier to manage. Moreover, a person who is able to recognize, identify, and verbalize emotions usually does not act them out because they are conscious. Acting on feelings inappropriately instead of verbally expressing them may signify a person is unconsciously defending against uncomfortable emotions. He or she is pushing blame outwards instead of looking inward. 

For example, a routinely aggressive child at school may not realize she is angry until after she hits a friend. Her anger escalates from one to sixty in a millisecond. Yet, children who recognize they are angry and verbalize the anger, typically do not hit a friend because they express the feeling with words. “I’m so mad at you.” The anger is recognized, identified and verbalized. It is expressed. Alternatively, the child who physically expresses anger by hitting may not be aware of what she is experiencing until after she has acted it out. This child is less able to recognize the feeling state, so it is discharged in a primal way.

Emotionally healthy people are typically painfully aware of their emotions and desperately try to make sense of what they feel. The opposite of non-emotional, the analysis of intense emotion eventually helps a person understand and regulate. Also, because emotionally healthy people are in tune with their emotions, they easily resonate with another’s experience. Emotional attunement and empathy, also integral elements of emotional intelligence, allow a person to be conscientious of others. Unfortunately, in some situations a person’s experience of empathy and remorse may negatively impact his or her mental health, yet, accessing support and processing the experience may assist a person in quickly recovering. A deeply empathic heart is a gift and although empathy is taxing, it is one of a human being's most emotionally sophisticated and healing capacities.

For example, Sally’s closest friend Taylor decides to return to a cheating partner, Brooklyn. After hearing the news, Sally has a nightmare about Brooklyn. While talking with Taylor, Sally jokes about the bizarre and crazy dream. When Taylor asks Sally for her interpretation of the dream, Sally states, “Well, I think Brooklyn is a disgusting sociopath, so I think that explains the dream.” Just then, the call drops because Sally’s phone is not charged. Sally attempts to reach Taylor again that evening but Taylor does not answer. Although Sally is busy and pre-occupied that evening, she reflects on her comments. She is confused, conflicted, and anxious about her behavior. On one hand, she has a right to her opinion. Yet, she was harsh and abrasive. She puts herself in Taylor’s position and imagines how she would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. Sally feels intense remorse and anxiety for possibly hurting Taylor. She calls Taylor to apologize about the harshness of her words. Taylor is touched by Sally’s apology and accepts. The two continue to be close friends and cherish the friendship.

People who are aware of how they feel, especially the difficult “feels” which inspire insight, introspection, and accountability are usually less defensive than a person who aggressively projects and deflects to protect his or her ego. For an emotionally available person, the emotions which ding his or her self-esteem “get in” and take effect. Empathy and remorse cause discomfort but allow a person to understand how actions impact others. These feeling states may cause anxiety, but help a person realize a mistake, truly understand others, and own and mend a selfish moment in a relationship. These are the qualities that contribute to emotional intelligence and help a person maintain close and loving relationships. Feeling close to others enhances mental health. 

Also, a person who experiences a wide breadth and intense depth of feeling and who is able to grapple with difficult emotions is usually a person who “walks with an open heart.” The “catch 22” is that they may be vulnerable to a person who is rigidly defensive and routinely projects, deflects, and plays the victim. The emotionally healthy person’s empathy, conscience, and tendency to self-reflect are actively exploited by an individual who is ultra-defensive and manipulative. The experience may cause massive anxiety and deterioration in an emotionally healthy person’s mental health.

Although a person’s mental health may ebb and flow based on the quality of current relationships, past and present trauma, stress, grief and loss, and access to therapeutic resources, a person’s emotional intelligence may be less fluid. Emotional intelligence is positively correlated with a secure attachment style, which is an internalized model for regulating affect and emotional availability in relationships. Internalized and, thus, rooted in character, the emotional capacities such as self-awareness, empathy, conscientiousness, and insight are usually enduring. They may be impacted by a change in mental health, but the abilities remain. For example, a person’s capacity for empathy may lessen when he or she is experiencing a personal trauma, yet it does not vanish. When the trauma subsides and the person recovers, his or her empathy amps up again.

It is critical for a person who possesses the deeper emotional capacities to understand that some of these attributes may temporarily impact his or her mental health. For example, remorse, introspection, and empathy cause some anxiety. Yet, a person who regularly experiences these states may find relief knowing these qualities usually lead to closeness with others, emotional intelligence, and emotional health. Spending time in nature, participating in yoga or tai-chi, and finding a good therapist may help a person cope with the anxieties that accompany self-reflective and introspective tendencies.