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CMHA Mental Health Week In Canada (May 3-9, 2021)

Good mental health isn’t about being happy all the time. In fact, a mentally healthy life includes the full range of human emotions—even the uncomfortable ones like sadness, fear and anger

  • Feeling sad, angry and anxious at times is part of being human.
  • Even if we try to push our difficult feelings down, they don’t go away.
  • Focusing on intense emotions doesn’t make them worse. In fact, one of the best ways to quiet our emotions is to give them a voice.1
  • Bottling up our emotions can make them grow or come out in other ways—not reacting to something negative that happens at work could end up making you more likely to yell at your children later, for example.2
  • If your emotions are overwhelming, persistent and/or are interfering with your daily functioning, it’s important to seek mental health support.

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Week is understanding our emotions.

Recognizing, labeling and accepting our feelings are all part of protecting and promoting good mental health for everyone.

  • Regardless of whether or not we have a mental illness, our mental health is something we can protect and nurture.
  • Everyone deserves to feel well, and understanding our emotions is a part of feeling well.
  • Emotional well-being includes recognizing what influences our emotions, discovering how our emotions affect the way we think or act, taking action when our emotional response isn’t helpful and learning to accept them.3
  • Emotional self-regulation, or the ability to label and shape your emotions, is a protective factor for good mental health.4

About The Basics Of Emotions

  • Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize how we feel, understand our feelings, label them and express them.
  • When we are emotionally literate, we are better able to manage our emotions, or “regulate” them.
  • Although we “feel” our emotions in the body and may recognize they are there, sometimes our emotions can be hard to put into words.2.1
  • An event can trigger emotions very quickly, automatically, and even unconsciously.
  • Emotional events can trigger changes in our facial expressions, muscle tone, and voice tone, in our autonomic nervous system that regulates our heart and respiratory rate, digestion, perspiration, and in our endocrine system, which involves our hormones.3.1

About Putting Emotions Into Words

  • Scientists call the act of putting feelings into words to affect labeling.
  • Saying “I feel sad” or writing about what’s upsetting me are both examples of affect labeling.4.1
  • When we put our feelings into words, we are actually constructing and making meaning of our emotions. Without words for emotions, our feelings might seem unclear to us.5
  • Affect labelling has been compared to the effect of hitting the brakes on when driving a car. When you put feelings into words, you are putting the brakes on your emotional responses.6

How Affect Labeling Works

  • When people put their feelings and thoughts about upsetting experiences into language, their physical and mental health often improve. Writing about our feelings can reduce physician visits and positively influence our immune function. Writing can also reduce cortisol (stress) levels and negative mood states.7
  • Giving attention to our feelings can help ease anxiety and decrease rumination (or obsessive thinking).
  • Naming, talking and writing about our emotions helps to regulate them by decreasing our anger or fear response.
  • Naming our emotions lowers amygdala activity – the part of the brain involved in the fear response – and activates the prefrontal region of the brain thought to be involved in inhibiting behavior and processing emotions.8
  • Affect labeling can reduce the anxiety response in our bodies; for instance, talking about your feelings before giving a speech can help reduce your physiological stress response and anxiety.9

About Uncomfortable Emotions

  • Although negative emotional states like sadness are not usually considered desirable in Western society, these emotions can actually help us adapt.
  • The experience of “negative” emotions has traditionally been linked to physical illness and decline. However, research shows that our health is based on a complex interplay of positive and negative emotions and that good physical health is promoted when we feel both “the good with the bad.”10
  • Expressing so-called negative emotions can have a positive impact on our relationships.
  • Expressing “negative” emotions – such as anxiety, fear and sadness – increases support from others, builds trust in new relationships and deepens intimacy.11

From May 3-9, 2021, #Getreal About How You Feel And Celebrate Cmha’s 70th Annual Mental Health Week Across Canada

Relying on others and sharing our very normal feelings of sadness, fear and worry is hugely important during this unusual time of stress, uncertainty and loss.

Every May, people in Canadian communities, schools, workplaces and legislatures rally around CMHA Mental Health Week.

First marked by CMHA in 1951, 2021 marks the 70th anniversary of the annual Mental Health Week.

The objective of Mental Health Awareness Week is to shift societal beliefs and perceptions about mental health. It helps promote behaviors and attitudes that foster well-being, support good mental health and create a culture of understanding and acceptance.

Mental Health Week is generously supported by Major Partner Shoppers Drug Mart as well as Westland Insurance, Leith Wheeler, Rogers TV and CMHA’s Not Myself Today program.

Canadian Residents If you or someone you love is struggling, there is hope and help:

  • Please contact your local CMHA
  • Visit www.cmha.ca/bounceback
  • Visit the Government of Canada’s Wellness Together portal.
  • Thinking of suicide? Please call 1-833-456-4566 toll free in Canada (1-866-277- 3553 in Quebec)

Relying on others and sharing our very normal feelings of sadness, fear and worry is hugely important during this unusual time of stress, uncertainty and loss.


1 https://www.jstor.org/stable/40064633?seq=1

2 https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110323105202.htm

3 https://cmha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/MH-for-Life-NTNL-brochure-2014-web.pdf

4 https://eerlab.berkeley.edu/pdf/papers/2011_Troy_Resilience_in_the_face_of_stress.pdf2


2.1 Zajonc, R.B. Feeling and Thinking: Preferences need no inferences. American Psychologist 35 (1980): 157-93.

3.1 Levenson, Robert W. Blood, Sweat, and Fears: The Autonomic Architecture of Emotion.

4.1 Torre, Jared B. and Matthew D. Lieberman, Putting Feeling into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation,” Emotion Review 10.2 (2018): 116-124.

5 Lindquist

6 University of California – Los Angeles. “Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 June 2007. .

7 Expressive Writing: Connections to Physical and Mental Health James W. Pennebaker and Cindy K. Chung The Oxford Handbook of Health Psychology Edited by Howard S. Friedman

8 Torre, Jared B. and Matthew D. Lieberman, Putting Feeling into Words: Affect Labeling as Implicit Emotion Regulation,” Emotion Review 10.2 (2018): 116-124.

9 Niles, A. N., Craske, M. G., Lieberman, M. D., & Hur, C. (2015). Affect labeling enhances exposure effectiveness for public speaking anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 68, 27–36. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2015.03.004

10 Herschfield, Hal E., Susanne Scheibe, Tamara L. Sims, and Laura L. Carstensen, “When Feeling Bad Can be Good: Mixed Emotions Benefit Physical Health Across Adulthood,” Society for Personality and Social Psychology 4.1 (2013): 54-61.

11 Graham, S. M., Huang, J. Y., Clark, M. S., & Helgeson, V. S. (2008). The Positives of Negative Emotions: Willingness to Express Negative Emotions Promotes Relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(3), 394–406.

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