…And practise it every single day.
Following my recent article on cancer prevention, I have been reflecting on the many ways we might practise self-care. Then I came across this great Ted talk by psychologist Guy Winch (catch it if you have 18 minutes to spare), which inspired me to highlight psychological self-care — or what Winch refers to as emotional hygiene.
Now, what on earth is emotional hygiene?
According to Winch, it is
“being mindful of our psychological health and adopting brief daily habits to monitor and address psychological wounds when we sustain them”.
Granted, emotional hygiene is not exactly a sexy sounding phrase, but it drives home an important point: If we go to great lengths to maintain our physical well-being, then why not our emotional health too?
When we injure our bodies, we usually know what to do and how to help ourselves heal. But when it comes to emotional hurts, we often ignore or even mistreat them. This, says Winch, is due to poor emotional hygiene.
What I took away from his Ted talk is the need to work on two r’s: rejection and rumination.
In the face of rejection, we are often our own worst critics. Yet, we would never say the same harsh things to a loved one caught in a similar situation, would we? It’s so important to show ourselves more kindness when we’re down so that we can bounce back, and not sink lower.
The other R-word rumination is overthinking, in layman terms. Psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema defined rumination as the tendency to repetitively think about the meanings, causes, and consequences of one’s negative emotional experience, rather than actively seek a solution. Her research shows that rumination puts people at risk of developing not only depression, but also anxiety, substance abuse and eating disorders. In as early as 1987, Nolen-Hoeksama argued that women are twice as likely as men to become depressed because they are more prone to passively dwell on problems.
Perhaps you’ve already noticed this – the more you think about how and why you feel bad, the deeper you’ll spiral into negativity. Finding a distraction is an effective way to stop overthinking, as Nolen-Hoesksema and Winch suggest, but not just any distraction will do. You’ll need to find an activity you actually enjoy, says psychologist Edward Selby. Otherwise, you might get bored and find your thoughts veering back to that dark place. And as with all bad habits, it takes time and effort to break unhealthy thinking patterns.
I find it rather helpful to think of psychological self-care in terms of emotional hygiene. It really puts things in perspective! Just as it’s important to wash our hands, brush our teeth and disinfect wounds, so too is attending to our emotional needs.
(PS. There’s more to psychological self-care than the two r’s, of course. Check out the links above, and you’ll also find other good reads in Winch’s web column The Squeaky Wheel.)