Why we all need to practice emotional first aid

Summary:

Psychologist Guy Winch teaches us the importance of emotional hygiene, which people rarely learn about, especially compared to physical hygiene.

Sparknotes:

  • We value our body much more than we do our mind. From our youth, we’re taught how to maintain our physical health, such as brushing our teeth or putting band-aids on cuts, but we’re never taught how to maintain our emotional health.
  • This imbalance doesn’t make sense, as we sustain psychological injuries like failure, rejection, or loneliness, even more often than we do physical ones.
  • Even though there are scientifically proven techniques we could use to treat these kinds of injuries, we don’t, because we never learned to do so. We often go about it the wrong way.
    • Example: “Oh you’re feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it’s all in your head.” Can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg? “Oh, just walk it off; it’s all in your leg.”

Loneliness

  • Loneliness creates a deep psychological wound, one that distorts our perceptions and scrambles our thinking.
    • It makes us believe that those around us care much less than they actually do.
    • It make us really afraid to reach out, because why set yourself up for rejection and heartache when your heart is already aching more than you can stand?
  • Chronic loneliness increases your likelihood of an early death by 14%, causes high blood pressure and cholesterol, and can even suppress the functioning of your immune system, making you vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses and diseases.
  • Scientists have concluded that chronic loneliness poses as significant a risk for your longterm health and longevity as cigarette smoking.
  • That’s why it’s so important that we prioritize our psychological health, that we practice emotional hygiene.

Failure

  • We all have a default set of feelings and beliefs that gets triggered whenever we encounter frustrations and setbacks.
    • Example: 3 toddlers play with identical plastic toys, where you must slide a red button to pop out a cute doggie. One girl tried pulling and pushing the button before giving up and looking at the box with her lower lip trembling. Another boy watched this happen, turned to his box and burst into tears without even touching it. The last toddler tried everything she could think of until she slid the red button, and squealed with delight when the doggie popped out. Three toddlers with identical plastic toys, but with very different reactions to failure.
  • If your mind tries to convince you you’re incapable of something and you believe it, then like the above two toddlers, you’ll begin to feel helpless and you’ll stop trying too soon or won’t even try at all. You’ll be convinced you can’t succeed.
  • This is why so many people function below their actual potential, because somwehere along the way, sometimes a single failure convinced them that they couldn’t succeed, and they believed it.
  • Our mind is hard to change once we become convinced. So it might be very natural to feel demoralized and defeated after you fail, but you cannot allow yourself to become convinced you can’t succeed.
  • Our minds and our feelings are not trustworthy friends. They are more like moody friends, who can be totally supportive one minute and really unpleasant the next.
  • After a rejection, we all tend to start thinking of our faults and shortcomings, what we wish we were and weren’t, and call ourselves names. It’s interesting we do this, because our self-esteem is already hurting. Why would we want to go and damage it even further? You certainly wouldn’t get a cut on your arm and decide to take a knife and see how much deeper you can make it.
  • We do this due to poor emotional hygienie. Dozens of studies show that when your self-esteem is lower, you are more vulnerable to stress and anxiety, and failures and rejections hurt more and take longer to recover from.

Rumination

  • One of the most unhealthiest response is rumination, meaning we can’t stop replaying emotionally negative scenes in our heads for days and sometimes weeks. Scenes such as your boss yelling at you, your professor making you feel stupid in class, or you having a big fight with a friend.
  • It is a difficult habit to stop, but the trick is to find distractions. Studies tell us even a 2 minute distraction is sufficient to break the urge to ruminate. Doing this will change your whole outlook to be more positive and hopeful after facing emotional injuries.

Conclusion

  • By taking action when you’re lonely, by changing your responses to failure, by protecting your self-esteem, by battling negative thinking, you won’t just heal your psychological wounds. You will build emotional resilience.

Action Items

  1. The next time you feel lonely, do your best to reach out for help. Talking to someone will help you feel better. Avoid bottling up your thoughts.
  2. Be aware of how your mind responds to failure and rejection. List the biggest failures and rejections you’ve had and how you dealt with them. If any of them lowered your self-esteem, take the time to see whether it’s valid, and whether the belief still exists in your mind today.
  3. The next time you fail or get rejected, don’t beat yourself up over it. When you’re in emotional pain, treat yourself with the same compassion you would expect from a truly good friend.
  4. Catch yourself whenever you ruminate. Count up how many times you’ve done it. Convince yourself that you need to find distractions to stop this negative habit.
  5. Be open to the idea that emotional health is just as important as physical health. Sometimes, you have to reach out for help, and it’s the best thing you can do.

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