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4 min read

Emotional Fitness: Where to Start

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Discover the evolution of "emotional fitness" from its recognition in 1949 to today’s innovative approaches. We’ve transcended traditional methods like journaling, and instead are embracing the "Tuesday" app, which pairs with wearable technology for real-time emotional insights. This app helps you build resilience and manage your emotional health effectively, allowing you to thrive in our complex world.

In 1949, the world was teetering on the brink of profound changes: Harry S. Truman was elected president of the United States, the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, and the Chinese Communist Party consolidated power and established the People’s Republic of China. During these transformative global events, American students performed "duck and cover" drills in preparation for nuclear war – a stark indicator of the era’s pervasive anxiety and fear.  

A surge in mental health disorders was triggered by these world events. Recognizing this issue, the nonprofit National Association for Mental Health (now Mental Health America) launched the first annual Mental Health Awareness Month in May of 1949. This event has been held every year since then and is focused on promoting improved treatment and support for those suffering from mental health disorders. Today, in the US alone, an estimated 60 million people battle mental health issues. Mental Health Awareness Month is a stark reminder that mental health and emotional well-being are just as important as physical health.

The theme for 2024's Mental Health Awareness Month is "Where to Start,” which resonates deeply with our team, inviting us to consider the foundational steps for nurturing mental and emotional well-being. At Immersion, we believe the answer lies in cultivating "emotional fitness" – because, just like physical fitness requires dedication and training, people can build their emotional fitness and resilience. In order to improve emotional fitness, one has to measure emotional fitness – but how do we measure and build an invisible strength?

Traditionally, journaling has been touted as a method for gauging one’s emotional state. Write down how you felt today, what went right and what went well. By documenting feelings, successes, and challenges, individuals can engage in a form of self-reflection. There is nothing wrong with keeping a journal; however, this is a primarily reactive tool, often adopted in times of distress rather than used as a proactive strategy for cultivating emotional fitness. This practice relies on a person’s ability to interpret and articulate their feelings, which, as noted by Clifford Whittingham Beers, the founder of Mental Health America, does not always equate to understanding one's deeper emotional processes.

Actually, it’s worse than that.

The father of modern psychology, William James, differentiated between an emotion – a physical sensation in the body, and feeling – one's conscious appraisal of a physiologic response. Scholars since James have confirmed this distinction and it means that journaling reports one's feelings, not actual emotions. Emotions are formed in evolutionarily old parts of the brain, automatically and well outside of conscious awareness, functioning in the background to help us survive and thrive. Our feelings are merely our conscious brain’s ‘best guess’ at interpreting these physical sensations – and they are context-dependent. In fact, emotion researcher Dr. Lisa Feldman-Barrett recounts a surprising story about misinterpreting early physical signals of the flu – flushed face, stomach butterflies – as attraction while on a coffee date!

Think about a time when you felt a sudden surge of adrenaline and your heart began to race. Perhaps you were walking alone in a dark alley at night and heard a shuffle and the hairs on the back of your neck stood up. This evolutionarily ancient response tells you that what you're doing is a bad idea and you should turn around. You don’t need to understand the “why” – your body simply reacts.

Here's another personal example: I'm outdoors a lot, and one morning while hiking next to a stream with my dog, suddenly, I found myself standing in the water. It took me about a second to figure out why; a rattlesnake was perfectly camouflaged by the rocks next to the stream and I was about to step on it. It rattled and coiled up to strike me and preconsciously I jumped out of the way. That's an emotional response. In fact, there was no conscious feeling of fear, it all happened too fast.

This is the challenge – emotions work at the speed of the brain, in milliseconds. This is far too fast for our conscious brain to process and then document through something like journaling. And even when feelings and emotions align, who can journal continuously? Further, it is difficult to consciously know which feelings are meaningful, and which are actually contributing most to our emotional fitness.

To address this gap between traditional emotion tracking methods and the need for more immediate and unconscious emotional insights, our team at Immersion – in collaboration with my academic lab – has developed a new approach. We have shown that our measure of neurologic “Immersion” is an accurate predictor of whether people are happy or sad, and whether they have high energy or low energy. In subsequent research, we also identified when emotional responses meaningfully influence mood and well-being.

The outcome of this work is encapsulated in the Tuesday app – an innovative new mobile application that pairs with a smartwatch or fitness sensor and continuously measures meaningful changes in brain states. This app helps users identify the experiences and relationships that fulfill them most vs least and offers daily objectives that are tailored to help users develop resilience and manage emotional responses more effectively. Simply put, we give them a tool to measure and increase emotional fitness.

So, this is Where to Start: Download the Tuesday app for FREE and begin your journey towards improved emotional fitness for Mental Health Awareness Month. Doing so is more than just a personal investment – it is a commitment to fostering better relationships, achieving greater job satisfaction, and leading a happier, more fulfilled life.

Mental Health Awareness Month is the perfect time to focus on the future of emotional fitness. Now we have better tools and deeper understanding of what brings true satisfaction to our lives. By integrating advanced technology and neuroscience into our daily lives through the Tuesday app, you can take proactive steps towards achieving and maintaining emotional fitness, just as Clifford Whittingham Beers envisioned in his seminal work, A Mind That Found Itself. Let this month be the start of a lifelong journey toward not just surviving, but thriving.

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