Are You Making Emotional Hygiene a Health Priority?
Most of us were taught from an early age how to maintain our physical hygiene.
From the time we were kids, we were taught to bathe daily, brush our teeth, get regular check-ups and do whatever else we needed to stay healthy.
But what about emotional hygiene?
Mind’s Effects Over Body
Did you ever receive guidance in your lifetime on how to recognize unhealthy patterns, manage your emotions, or ways to stay positive, even during tough times?
Our emotional and psychological health has a significant effect on our physical well-being. One can’t operate without the other and successfully get through life, especially at the level of stress that we’ve come to expect in today’s world.
The world has certainly changed a great deal. Think about it. It was well over a hundred years ago that we discovered man’s potential for flight. A whole new world has been created since then, and along with the social changes, we’re dealing with a new set of stresses and environmental challenges too.
And yet, we are woefully behind in incorporating standards that ensure we are taking the kind of hygiene care of our emotions and thoughts as we are of our bodies.
A New Mindset
Psychologist Guy Winch did a Ted Talk on the subject and he used an interesting example to illustrate this point. If a child fell and cut himself while playing, he wouldn’t think twice about going to ask his Mom for a bandaid.
He goes on to say “if we injure our leg, we address it. If we injure our mind, we’re told, “it’s all in your mind, shake it off”.
But, we’re just beginning to acknowledge the long-term effects of psychological trauma. PTSD is now recognized by most mental health organizations that treat those with significant emotional and psychological injury.
It can be sourced from traumatic war experiences, severe abuse, or, even more recently, the emotional effects of the COVID pandemic.
One of the side effects of psychological injuries is loneliness. Chronic loneliness is frequently brushed off as “just something a person needs to get over”.
But the reality is loneliness is a serious form of psychological and emotional injury. In fact, it can kill you.
Did you know that studies have shown that it can increase our chances of death by as much as 14%? It’s so significant that it’s considered by many in the health community to be as bad for your health as long-term smoking.
Other Psychological Injuries
Other serious psychological injuries that Dr. Winch mentions are failure and rejection. These are topics that researchers are just starting to focus on, but we are a very long way away from teaching a consistent and proactive emotional hygiene message to the world.
So, how does your mind react to experiencing failure, rejection, or loneliness?
Do you have specific processes in place to recognize and address negative thought patterns or do you just try to push them aside and “deal”?
So often we believe what our mind is telling us. It tells us that if we’re suffering, it’s because we created it. We’re just not up to whatever challenge is in front of us.
Other people can handle it better, but we don’t have what it takes. Then we just accept it instead of looking for relief, or more importantly, the truth.
4 Things To Watch For
Dr. Winch suggests that there are four things to pay attention to if you feel you can’t manage psychological or emotional injury.
1. Pay attention to the pain.
Instead of ignoring your emotional or psychological pain, acknowledge it, just like you would if you had a broken arm or another physical injury.
Ignoring negative self-talk can lead to feelings of helplessness or depression.
Untreated, it can affect your physical health by raising blood pressure, reducing the ability of your immune system to fight dangerous viruses like COVID, and creating sleep issues.
2. Stop the emotional “bleeding”.
Mental and emotional trauma can “bleed” into other aspects of your psyche and affect important emotions critical to your overall health like feelings of confidence and self-esteem.
Think of it like having a bad cut. If you don’t stop the source of the bleeding, your body can go into shock and vital organs can be compromised.
So, it’s important to stop the negative thoughts that reinforce or perpetuate the trauma and focus on positive or encouraging thoughts that allow you to step toward healing.
3. Protect your self-esteem.
Our self-esteem is the foundation of a happy, healthy life. If our self-esteem is in jeopardy, it gets even harder to deal with difficult or painful experiences.
Think of the things we have gotten used to doing to maintain and protect our heart health. We exercise, eat right (well, most of the time), take appropriate medications if necessary, and more.
It requires proactive attention and effort every day for our emotional health too. Otherwise, we fall prey to getting stuck in our injury and extending our pain far longer than it needs to.
Rumination, says Dr. Winch, is a primary risk factor. Rumination is where we re-play our injury story over and over in our minds. By re-playing it, we’re also re-experiencing the negative emotional pain and transmitting that stress to our physical body. Our body then has to work overtime to compensate, become calmer, so we can get back to solid footing.
4. Battle negative thinking.
Sometimes when we’ve been in the trenches of negative thinking and emotions for so long, we don’t even recognize how unhealthy our thought habits have become.
We build up an emotional resilience to negative emotions like self-blame, guilt, anger, or shame to the point that we can’t see how detrimental they are to our overall mental health.
This sense of denial can lead us into serious territory like alcoholism, aggression within relationships, and other life choices that just perpetuate the emotional trauma that started it all in the first place.
Dr. Winch suggests that creating short, but positive distractions throughout the day can break the fixation we have on negative thoughts. When I say short, he says even a two-minute break can kick the brain out of its downward spiral and allow some breathing space.
By adding emotional hygiene to your daily health regime, you can substantially improve the quality of, not only your mental health but your relationships, your outlook on life, and your ability to cope with stress.
These days, with the amount of stress we’ve been inundated with, I’d say that is worth its weight in gold!
So, until next time, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!
P.S. If you're facing emotional challenges in your life and just feel stuck, schedule a free 20-minute coaching consult with me to see if there's a way I can help! Just click here to schedule!