Practicing “emotional fitness”

Like physical fitness, it can take time, practice and an ongoing commitment to achieve and maintain emotional health. Here are some simple pointers that might not resolve problems but can help you practice “emotional fitness”:

  • Visualize — Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a peaceful place: a forest, beach or green field. Breathe slowly and deeply. Feel the sensation of peace and tranquility in your body. Or close your eyes and imagine yourself succeeding at a task. Think about the satisfaction you feel. Savour it.
  • “Collect” positive emotional moments — Recall the times when you have felt pleasure, comfort, tenderness, confidence or other positive emotions
  • Learn how to cope with negative thoughts — Try to interrupt insistent negative thoughts as they come into your mind by distracting or comforting yourself if you can’t solve the problem right away.
  • Forgive yourself and others — You may blame yourself for having HIV, or blame the person you think “gave” it to you. Forgiveness can help us live in the present. Through forgiveness, you stop letting the past haunt you and can focus instead on the person you are now.
  • Concentrate on one thing at a time — For example, when you are out for a walk, turn off your cell phone and focus instead on the sights, sounds and smells you encounter.
“Though I tend to become quite depressed in the winter, I won’t miss my Friday morning [painting] class—it gets me out of the house and…the creative and supportive atmosphere allows me the freedom to completely relax physically and mentally and enjoy the process without distractions or fear.”
  • Exercise — Regular physical activity improves not just your physical but also your emotional health and can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Joining an exercise group, dance class or gym can also reduce loneliness by connecting you with a community of people.
  • Enjoy hobbies and pets — Taking up a hobby can bring balance to your life by allowing you to do something creative and enjoyable simply because you want to do it. Owning a pet can provide a sense of companionship and help you to get outside and exercise.
  • Set realistic personal goals — These goals should be doable. You might decide to finish the book you started, take a walk around the block every day or call a family member or friend weekly. Reaching your goals will build confidence and a sense of satisfaction.
  • Talk it out or keep a journal — Expressing yourself after a stressful day can help you gain perspective and release tension.
  • Volunteer — Volunteering can make you feel useful, widen your social network and provide you with new learning experiences.
  • Treat yourself well — Cook yourself a tasty, healthy meal, have a bubble bath, see a movie, sing, dance. Whatever it is, do it just for you.
(Adapted from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Fitness Tips)

In the same way that physical fitness can help us recover from an illness or surgery, “emotional fitness” can make it easier for us to regain our emotional balance and our ability to enjoy life again after a difficult period.