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Emotional Health and Society

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CEOs are doing it. Athletes are doing it. Moms and dads are doing it. Everywhere you look, people are doing it-identifying, processing and expressing their emotions. For the first time in history, the concept of emotional health has finally hit the mainstream.

CEOs are doing it. Athletes are doing it. Moms and dads are doing it. Everywhere you look, people are doing it identifying, processing and expressing their emotions. For the first time in history, the concept of emotional health has finally hit the mainstream.

While many people helped make it possible, much of the credit for the breakthrough goes to one person: Daniel Goleman. His best-selling Emotional Intelligence (Bantam, 1995) was by far, in my opinion, the most groundbreaking work ever done on emotional health. The book wasn't necessarily revolutionary or pioneering, but it presented the concept in such a clear, powerful way that many people who hadn't given it a second thought before were forced to sit up and take notice.

Not everyone welcomes bringing emotions out into the light of day. Raised to believe that any display of feelings is a sign of weakness, these holdouts wouldn't touch Goleman's book with a ten-foot pole. But unless they withdraw from the world completely, it will be increasingly tough for them to avoid a concept that continues to permeate society faster than any other in recent memory.

The business world has embraced emotional health as the number-one initiative to bolster the bottom line. A recent survey of Fortune 500 companies asked managers and directors what they saw as the best way to increase market share. The majority said, "Improving emotional health in the workplace." Emotional health in the workplace equates to smoother relations between management, workers and clientele, better teamwork and communication among staff, sharper decision-making skills and considerably less stress.

The concept has also taken off in sports. Many of today's top teams and athletes work with sports psychologists whose main function is to help them become emotionally centered. For these fiercely competitive individuals, improved emotional health means putting things into perspective (one poor play isn't the end of the world) and finding positive motivation.

The biggest shift of all has occurred in society's base unit, the family. As a result of our new understanding of emotional health, it's no longer just girls who get to reveal feelings: boys are also being encouraged to express emotions. Rarely, if ever, do you hear the old chestnut that "big boys don't cry even if some fathers still find it hard to toe that line themselves.

Slowly but surely, the concept of emotional health is also changing the way we approach the broader subject of health. An increasing number of people now know of the profound effects that emotions can have physiologically that stress can be just as bad for the heart as poor diet or lack of physical activity, for example. They know they have to take a long, hard look at how they deal with emotions if they really want to improve their health, just as they must with the way they eat or exercise.

And as people begin to put the principles of emotional health into practice, they're starting to demand the same of those who treat them. Cold, dispassionate doctors who prefer to work under emotional anaesthetic just don't cut it anymore. Today, all health professionals must be expected to understand the integral importance of emotional health and to incorporate emotional intelligence into their work. Anything less, in this era of emotional awareness, is a step back to the dark ages.

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