This year most people have made resolutions to hit the gym, some for fitness and others for those body goals. There are many obvious benefits to being physically fit. Movement and exercise are good for the human body and an active lifestyle is commonly recognized as a healthy goal. A body is one’s vehicle that they use to move through the world and it makes a lot of sense to have your vehicle in good shape. This does not mean that there will not be any challenging roadways in life, but a well-maintained vehicle will better equip you to handle the twists and turns along the way. However, as well as physical fitness, emotional fitness is just as important to one’s life satisfaction.
According to psychologist, Shaun Whittaker, emotional fitness is when people are well aware of their emotions and they use those emotions to guide them. This involves how people relate to themselves and to others. He explains that emotional fitness is fairly close to the concept of emotional intelligence and it is about allowing emotions to guide people unconsciously in terms of relationships and social situations.
Why emotional fitness?
Whittaker believes that emotions are very important to people considering how the human brain functions. “We first have an emotional response to something before we have a cognitive response. Our emotions react before our intellect and so obviously our emotions will bias us, which influences us significantly in situations, not plainly in terms of our relationship with ourselves but also our relationships with people around us especially loved ones, friends, family, colleagues and so on,” he says.
Whittaker also notes that it is crucial that people become aware of their emotions and understand themselves if they are going to be really wise and concentrate on the way they relate to other people. “Our emotions make up a crucial part of who we are as human beings. We are born with four basic emotions and they are there from the start that is why we should be very conscious of them in terms of how they affect us,” explains Whittaker.
When you are emotionally weak…
“On the one extreme, we have people who are not in touch with their own emotions and they come across as very cold and very impersonal. That is the one extreme where you have these people who are emotionally detached from others. They are simply cold, detached and it is a recipe for disaster because these people who often have anger outbursts and aggressive,” says Whittaker.
He says that ultimately one cannot suppress their emotions forever. At some point emotions will find their own way out and if it comes out in an explosive way, they become a danger to other people around them. Another example will be people who have severe mood swings for example, one moment they might be extreme elated and the next moment they might be extremely down. Their moods are said to change like coastal weathers.
There are also people who are short tempered, people who get angry quickly and have a short fuse literally every little thing can set them off. Whittaker says that emotions can really play havoc with people’s lives and with their relationships. “And, of course, we know that these people who do not manage their emotions well can easily eliminate other people who want to be around them.
Become emotionally fit
According to Whittaker, anger is a complicated emotion firstly, because it is such a powerful emotion that can be very destructive. “Anger stays in the head; anger cuts off the brain from thinking straight but other emotions don’t really do that. Emotions such as sadness, happiness and nervousness they don’t have the same power that anger has.”
As such, he notes that it is one emotion that everyone needs to manage well in the sense that people can express it in a very effective and healthy way without suppressing it. “Of course a big part of that is to understand where the anger comes from, what is the source of the anger and not to keep it in. Anger like any other emotion can also generate a lot of negative energy and it can become self-destructive, people can start drinking severely, people can drive very fast, people can commit suicide,” explains Whittaker.
“Sadness is an emotional reality for you and, of course, you need to understand what that sadness is all about. It is just a reality that you are going to be sad now and then. Say to people, you are going to be sad 25% of the time, nervous 25 percent of the time, happy 25 percent of the time or angry 25 percent of the time. It’s just to show that it is okay to be sad, nervous or happy sometimes because that is how humans are.”
Whittaker, however, advises that if one feels that they cannot handle their situation any longer and there is no one else that they can speak to, perhaps no family member or a close friend that they can speak to about a particular emotional matter and they are feeling really overwhelmed they should see a psychologist.
“Overseas it is completely acceptable to see a psychologist but unfortunately in Namibia, we still have stigma attached to it,” he says.
He also encourages people to understand the other importance of emotions and if they are going to have a fulfilling life or fulfilling relationship they need to be aware of how these emotions impact on them. “I think especially the men in terms of the male gender role that is so unhealthy that they are told that they shouldn’t cry, they should be strong and not express emotions – it is actually a profound unhealthy idea. Teach boys from a tender age that it is okay to have emotions and its okay to cry and teach them to handle anger in a healthy.”
Just as a good physical work out may be uncomfortable and exhausting at times, a good psychological workout can be emotionally satisfying. You will feel better, you will have more energy and you move with more ease through the world. Increased emotional awareness results in a better ability to navigate the complex terrain of personal relationships and self-knowledge.