I am going to start by admitting that I am obsessed with TED Talks and no, I cannot apologize for that. : ) Recently I opened up the window and typed in “psychology” (well…because it is my passion) and I came across a talk by Guy Winch. He very eloquently addressed a topic I had been toying with for a while: the preference we have to look after our bodies over our minds.
He talks about ideas such as: “We spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds”, or my favourite “OHH you are feeling depressed…just shake it off it is all in your head. Can you imagine saying that to someone with a broken leg…oh just walk it off, it is all in your leg”. Yeah, it is kind of brilliant and of course for those of us that love analogies, it is simply perfect. Dr. Winch encourages us to close the gap between our psychological and physical health. But where do we start? Well it might sound like a cliché by now, but the answer is… we do that by creating AWARENESS of how we react to psychological ‘injuries’.
Experiences such as childhood trauma, emotion dismissing, betrayal and emotional neglect can scar us deeply, especially if we do not ‘stitch it up’ right away and instead allow these wounds to bleed for a long time. In other words if we get hurt and just ‘sweep it under the rug’ pretending that it never happened, that wound will eventually resurface and become exposed. Sigmund Freud said: “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” So do you know in which ways your wounds are surfacing?
A note (ok, a long note) on emotional pain and physical health:
We all know that many are uncomfortable with the idea of talking about emotions and feelings, and if that is you…have you asked yourself why?
My question here is: would you discard thinking and talking about your emotions if you knew the effects that some mental conditions (some of which have avoidance as a contributing factor) can have in your body? For example, chronic loneliness poses as much risk to your health as obesity and its pain feels as real as hunger or thirst. The combination of toxic effects that is produced in the brain can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory, and heart disease. “Loneliness creates a deep psychological wound that distorts our perception and scrambles our thinking” (Winch, 2012). The worst thing about loneliness is that it is very hard to reach out once you believe the world is shutting you down. Depression presents a similar situation.
Children that have experienced trauma for a period of time are more likely also to suffer from heart disease, brain development, immune system deficiencies, kidney problems and so much more.
People who are exposed to contempt and abuse are more likely to suffer from infections and other respiratory conditions.
In 2011 a study done by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health (both in the United States) found that as far as the brain is concerned physical pain and intense experiences of social rejection hurt in the same way.
How do we practice emotional first aid?
Do you have emotional Band-Aids?
“Someone hurt me really bad and I need to stop the bleeding.”- says no one… ever… unfortunately
- As mentioned above the first (and more powerful) step in creating that emotional first aid kit is to create AWARENESS of how we react, feel and behave when we are hurt, rejected or feeling shame. The goal is to identify your triggers and interpret the current situation from a ‘clean’ perspective. Here are some descriptors:
When I feel attacked or hurt I…
- lash out and try to make others feel as bad as I do, and then I regret it. (Move against)
- run away and hide. I lick my wounds on my own and make sure that no one knows about it. (Move away)
- play indifferent as if nothing happened or I change my responses to try to calm things down and try to please others (Move towards)
I know the tendency is to try to do whatever we can to make the pain go away, but instead, try to stay with the feeling for a bit and ask yourself…what is happening? What exactly is this feeling? It might also be valuable to ask yourself if you react the same way all the time or if you react certain way in some instances and differently in others. What are they? What is different between those? What are you gaining in each of those interactions?
2. Become your best friend and avoid rumination
Sometimes when we experience loneliness, rejection, failure or shame, we become the slaves of the little “gremlins” in our heads and they beat the pulp out of us. Challenge those gremlins and think of different strategies that can lead you to success. Reflect on what happened; learn from the mistake (if there was one) and be forgiving of yourself; you are your best friend, so treat yourself with the same kindness you would treat your friend after a defeat or a rejection.
3. Avoid rumination
Rumination is a psychologically damaging habit and it generally goes one of two ways: you either blame others for everything (play the victim) or you beat yourself up with a stick of “ I should” or “I shouldn’t”. If you catch yourself going down that path, ask yourself: what is the worse case scenario, or the worst that can happen? Can I handle it? Generally the answer is yes because we are resilient. If the thought persists find a distraction, sing out loud, or talk to someone, do some coloring (mandalas are a great therapeutic resource), do yoga, take a bath, go for a walk, or whatever else will get you to move on.
Psychological hygiene should be a part of the daily routine for those that are able to self-administer, just like an over the counter medication. For others it might require some outside assistance, someone who can offer a more effective solution to the problem (see decisions, decision, decisions for more details). Either way it is time that we all create our own emotional first aid kit.
What would yours have?
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Gotham Books.
Gupta, S. (2015, August 4). Why You Should Treat Loneliness as a Chronic Illness | Everyday Health. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/news/loneliness-can-really-hurt-you/
Winch, G. (2014). Guy Winch: Why we all need to practice emotional first aid | TED Talk | TED.com [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/guy_winch_the_case_for_emotional_hygiene#t-334268