Emotional Hygiene - Taking Care Of Your Mind

We brush our teeth twice daily, shower regularly and take care of physical injuries when we sustain them. We're continually buying into dietary fads and changing up our exercise regimes; many of us commit to annual check-ups at the doctors and all of us spend money on over-the-counter remedies for aches and pains. Twists, breaks, scrapes, sprains, viruses and diseases are treated with care. But how many of us practice emotional hygiene?

Emotional hygiene you ask? Two words we rarely see together. Put differently, what daily activity do we do to take care of our minds?

We spruce, preen, groom, brush, sweat, spray and wash, spending so much time worrying about our physical health. But the neglect of our emotional hygiene is profound.

How is it that we spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds?

These are the questions psychologist Guy Winch puts forward in his thought-provoking TED Talk on what he describes as ‘emotional first aid.’

Emotional hygiene, as Winch explains, is as important as taking care of our bodies. In fact, we tend to sustain psychological wounds more often than we do physical ones. We experience failure, loneliness, rejection and dejection and yet rarely do we take steps to improve these conditions.

Winch points out that loneliness and other psychological injuries are often harmful to our physical health. Aside from scrambling our thinking, distorting reality and making us afraid to reach out, psychological wounds can also cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol and can even suppress the healthy function of our immune systems.

There are scientifically proven steps to improve a state of mental injury a emotional band-aids, if you will, to heal our psychological wounds.  

Becoming aware of our mental state is the first step to practising emotional first aid. After experiencing rejection or failure, often we will feel psychological pain for several days or more. Recognising this pain and acknowledging it as a wound, much like any physical injury, is the initial stage of improvement.

Now you have recognised your injury; the next step is to treat it using emotional first-aid techniques. Too often, an experience of failure or rejection can lead to a harmful cycle of negative self-talk. During this time, we focus on our shortcomings, brood over distressing events, insult ourselves and damage our self-esteem. Having an awareness of this destructive cycle and its consequences, and making an effort to battle negative thinking can put a stop to ‘emotional bleeding.’ When those thoughts do arise, do your best to cut them off immediately.

Just a few minutes of distraction in a moment of negative self-talk can speed up the healing of our emotional wounds immensely. Try listening to a podcast, heading out the house for a brisk walk, eating your favourite food or running a steamy bath.  Treat yourself like any compassionate friend would.

Boosting our self-esteem to increase what Winch calls our ‘emotional immune system,'  can lend us greater emotional resilience. Congratulate yourself when you achieve something worthy, no matter how big or small. After brushing your teeth in the morning tell yourself, ‘you've got this,' share your achievements with loved ones and celebrate when you hit milestones and complete goals. Consistent, positive actions and affirmations that bolster your self-esteem, even when you’re not feeling low, can help you heal faster next time you endure a psychological injury.

Most importantly, if at-home remedies are not resulting in any improvement, reach out to someone you can trust or seek medical help, much like you would with any physical illness.

We must stop favouring body over mind and learn to take charge of our psychological health – much like we learn to brush our teeth at a young age. After all, what’s more important, losing our teeth or losing our minds?

Winch lays out many of these techniques and more in his book titled Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts.