Taking Care of Your Emotional Health
When listening to the news, which I keep to a minimum, I am always struck when a report of a person involved in an altercation or an accident concludes with “and nobody was hurt.” They mean that the person involved was not hurt physically suggesting that if the body is okay nothing else matters.
An emotional hurt is often much more distressing than anything that could happen physically. The physical body heals much more quickly than the psychological self.
Guy Winch, in a TED Talk entitled Practicing Emotional First Aid, makes this point well. He speaks of the favoritism that we have for the body over the mind. Winch points out that we are taught a great deal about what we need to do to take care of our bodies – brush our teeth twice daily, bathe regularly, sleep a certain number of hours, exercise vigorously, good nutrition, etc., and we are taught very little about how to take care of our emotional health. He makes the case that we are not taught how to deal with psychological wounds such as rejection, failure, conflict, or loneliness – to mention but a few. We are so afraid of these experiences that we avoid them like the plague and we never become skilled in how to handle them effectively.
In Canada, if you fall ill, the health care system takes care of you – from a broken leg to cancer. However, if you are chronically lonely, which affects your physical health as much as cigarette smoking does in terms of increasing your chances of premature death, the health care system does not provide you with much help. Mental illness is medicalized in order to be treated.
Winch points out that nobody tells you that your broken leg is “all in your leg – walk it off” but if you are depressed you often hear “it’s all in your head – get over it.”
There are scientifically proven techniques to treat psychological injuries. Unfortunately, for many people there continues to be stigma surrounding accessing this kind of treatment.
Take for example the psychological bad habits of self-deprecation and rumination which exacerbate the psychological wounds of rejection, failure, loneliness, depression, etc. These bad habits are not unlike other addictions. Breaking these negative patterns is difficult - particularly if you have not been taught to become aware of them or to recognize the damage they do. If you have not learned the strategies to overcome them, you can remain stuck for years.
Ruminating is about repeating a difficult exchange in your mind over and over and over again - reinforcing the negative story. Not only can this thinking pattern become an addiction but, as Winch points out, it can lead to alcoholism, eating disorders, heart disease, etc. This negative view is perpetuated when you believe that you “can’t stop thinking about it.” You can learn simple and effective techniques that will help you break the rumination habit, and you must, for your psychological health!
Many people say that they are their “own worst enemy.” Instead, how about working on being “your own best friend?”
If your mind tricks you into believing that you are helpless, you won’t even try to help yourself and by not trying you become even more convinced that you are a failure. It’s no wonder some people today are functioning below their potential.
You can learn to heal emotional wounds so you can grow into a more psychologically healthy and vibrant individual.
Anne Marie Hartford is the executive director of Family Enrichment and Michelle Pugh, co-author, completed her internship for the M.Ed. in Counselling program at Family Enrichment. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
First published in the Daily Gleaner on March 3, 2015