Oct 1, 2002 Table of Contents

Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education Web site.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Mental Health: Keeping Your Emotional Health

Am Fam Physician. 2002 Oct 1;66(7):1287-1288.

What is good emotional health?

People with good emotional health are in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They feel good about themselves and have good relationships. They can keep problems in perspective.

It's important to remember that people with good emotional health sometimes have emotional problems or mental illness. Mental illness often has a physical cause, such as a chemical imbalance in the brain. Stress and problems with family, work, or school can sometimes trigger mental illness or make it worse. However, people with good emotional health have learned to cope with stress and problems. They know when they need to get help from a doctor or a counselor.

What about anger?

People are sometimes not aware of what causes their anger, how much anger they are holding inside, or how to express anger. Certain events or actions by other people can make you angry. Also, many little things can build up to make you feel that life is treating you unfairly.

If you find yourself becoming increasingly irritable or taking unhealthy risks (like drinking too much alcohol or abusing drugs), it may be because you have a problem dealing with anger. It's important to talk with your doctor or a counselor about getting help.

What can I do to avoid problems?

First, try to recognize your emotions and understand why you are having them. Learning how to sort out the causes of sadness, frustration, and anger in your life can help you better manage your emotional health. The box below gives some other helpful tips.

Tips on dealing with your emotions

  • Learn to express your feelings in appropriate ways. Keeping feelings of sadness or anger inside takes extra energy and can cause problems in your relationships and at work or school. It's important to let people close to you know when something is bothering you.

  • Think before you act. Emotions can be powerful. Before you get carried away by your emotions and say or do something you might regret, consider the possible positive and negative consequences.

  • Strive for balance in your life. Don't obsess about problems at work, school, or home. Focus on positive things in your life. Make time for things you enjoy.

  • Take care of your physical health. Physical and mental health are two sides of the same coin. Take care of your body by exercising regularly, eating healthy meals, and getting enough sleep. Don't abuse drugs or alcohol.

How does stress affect my emotions?

Stress can come from situations such as having personal or work problems, having too much to do or too many responsibilities, or working too hard and being exhausted.

Your body responds to stress by making stress hormones. These hormones help your body respond to situations of extreme need. But when your body makes too many of these hormones for a long time, the hormones wear down your body—and your emotions. People under stress are often too emotional, anxious, irritable, and even depressed.

If possible, try to change the situation that is causing your stress. Relaxation methods, such as deep breathing, meditation, and exercise are useful ways to cope with stress.

Can emotional problems be treated?

Yes. Counseling, support groups, and medicines can help people who have emotional problems or mental illness. If you have an ongoing emotional problem, talk to your family doctor. He or she can help you find the right type of treatment.

Who can I contact for more information?

Your doctor.

National Institute of Mental Health

Telephone: 800-421-4211

Web Address: www.nimh.nih.gov

American Psychiatric Association

Telephone: 888-35-PSYCH (888-357-7924)

Web Address: www.psych.org

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

Telephone: 800-950-NAMI (800-950-6264)

Web Address: www.nami.org

National Mental Health Association

Telephone: 800-969-NMHA (800-969-6642)

Web Address: www.nmha.org


This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at http://familydoctor.org.

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.

Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact afpserv@aafp.org for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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