By Dr. Dionne Bates
Licensed Professional Counselor
June is Employee Wellness Month. This observance – which was started in 2009 by the Virgin Group, in collaboration with Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance, Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD), and Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) among others – aims to highlight the systemic responsibility of workplaces in helping to “create healthier, happier employees.”
Wellbeing, or wellness, is holistic. It is not one-dimensional and requires sustenance of one’s physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial and other relationships with self. Most importantly, how we sustain our emotional livelihood can have a significant impact on our overall wellness. As a therapist, I typically start each session with, “How are you feeling emotionally today?” While my returning clients are accustomed to this question (and have admitted, “I knew you were going to ask this question, so I made sure to think about it on the drive here.”), initial clients are often perplexed when, after responding, “good,” “OK,” “alright,” “not bad,” “so-so,” “normal,” or “pretty good,” I tell them that those words are not emotions. My employees are also periodically susceptible to this question.
We have the capacity to feel numerous different emotions, including happiness, sadness, fear, boredom, anger, serenity, love, grief, remorse, excitement, apprehension and annoyance to name a few. Emotions can be experienced in varying degrees. Sometimes, multiple emotions can be experienced simultaneously and in varying degrees. The answer to this question, “How are you feeling emotionally?” provides me with information that I need to better support clients in the moment. More importantly, the answer provides the client with three very distinct benefits that promote overall wellness:
- Acknowledgement: Often times, our emotions just want to be acknowledged. They want to be given a “voice.” Though acknowledging emotions alone will not resolve any emotional stressors we may experience, by acknowledging them, we demonstrate that we are aware of the feelings. Thus, we give ourselves permission to experience the feelings and give the feeling permission to exist outside of us.
- Awareness: The American Medical Association (AMA), British Medical Journal (BMJ), and PFCD agree that optimal emotional health can positively impact the body’s immune system, as do certain wellness behaviors, such as exercising, eating nutritious foods and fostering positive relationships. Persistent unfavorable emotional health, however, can be detrimental. With acknowledgement comes awareness – awareness of how emotions manifest in day-to-day behaviors. This is information you need to develop insight regarding how you proactively or reactively cope with various emotions. For example, food in many cultures is used to celebrate milestones and accomplishments, grieve losses and when hosting guests. While it is perfectly acceptable to indulge during these times, emotional awareness leads to cognition about whether we reactively address our emotions with food – by overeating or under eating – or proactively cope with emotions through a healthy and moderate balance of food and sleep hygiene as well as fostering healthy personal interests, support systems and relationship with self.
- Affirming Self: To affirm self is to uphold the validity of what is true for self. When we acknowledge and are aware of our emotions, we give validity to them. Not only do they want and need a voice, but they also want to be validated.
As a business owner who is in the “emotions business,” it is critical that my employees’ overall wellbeing is healthy. Most importantly, safeguarding their emotional wellbeing in the office is in alignment with the overall mission of my business, which is to help my clients sustain and maintain optimal mental and emotional health. After all, this mission is an “inside job.” How are your employees feeling emotionally today?
Dr. Dionne Bates is the author of the Self-SOULstice self-affirmation model. She is a member of the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of Georgia and is a Certified Professional Counselor Supervisor. Her practice is located in Marietta, Georgia.