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Opinion: Practicing Emotional First Aid

Mental health is often discussed, yet rarely understood. But, it’s just as important as physical health.

Mental health is often discussed, yet rarely understood. Society often praises and commercializes such issues, having groups appear to care about these problems, yet somehow, in too many cases, managing to worsen them. The 21st century has its challenges. Youths and teenagers alike have trouble managing their emotions. Guy Winch, a psychologist, author, and speaker has an important perspective to offer. In his speech ‘Practicing Emotional First Aid’, he explains the many toxic habits humans practice every day, putting their mental health at serious risk.

It is worth considering that today’s culture puts a strong emphasis on taking care of one’s physical body. It often seems like humans “Value the body more than our own minds”. For example, brushing our teeth every day, creating diet plans, and committing to habits of exercising. In addition, when our physical bodies get injured, we are quick to take action. Families have their own first aid kits at home and children as young as five know to put on a band-aid when getting a cut or scrape. Classes to save people such as CPR, and First Aid, are also offered to anyone 12 and over, yet we “know nothing about maintaining our psychological health”. Mental health must be viewed as just as important as physical health.

When it comes to emotional hygiene, we somewhat don’t have an idea of what that looks like. In addition, it is hard to realize when our mental health is “injured”. Guy Winch mentions that “We sustain psychological injuries more often than we may even notice”. These injuries sustain many names. For example, failure, rejection, loneliness and rumination.

To begin with, all people find themselves in a situation or a time in their lives where they experience failure at one point or another. It is during these times that the way people answer such setbacks becomes crucially important. For instance, if a person is convinced that they can’t move forward, then they may just so happen to believe it. “Our mind is hard to change once we are convinced”. Failure creates negative feelings. For example, one may feel “demoralized” or “defeated”. However, people should not allow themselves to be convinced they can’t succeed. Gaining control of the situation may be difficult but gaining control again of one’s mind and thoughts can be significant.

Another physiological injury is rejection. It is, without a doubt, never not an extremely painful experience. This injury can be linked to heartbreak, being turned down from a new job, getting excluded from a social group, and other experiences. Supporting these claims, there are brain scans that have linked heartbreak to actual physical pain. This is because the part of the brain that receives the physical pain signal is also affected during heartbreak. When dealing with rejection a person may start thinking of their shortcomings—they might criticize themselves, further hurting their own self-esteem even more than what it already is. Focusing on protecting their own self-esteem is their best option to treat rejection.

“Loneliness creates deep psychological wounds.” People may not have a keen sense of recognizing when they are lonely. However, it is important to realize that loneliness can make a person believe that those around them might care much less than they really do in actuality, even if the said person may be surrounded by people. Loneliness is subjective.

There is even such thing as chronic loneliness which increases early death by 14%. It can cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and suppresses the immune system. It poses the same risks as cigarettes. The key difference in this case, however, is that cigarettes come with warning labels, loneliness doesn’t.

Lastly, rumination is toxic to mental health. When a person rethinks a situation multiple times, it will cause a deeper psychological injury. To think of it metaphorically, a person gets a cut. They then continue to touch and deepen the cut. Rumination puts people at risk for depression, alcoholism, cardiovascular diseases, and eating disorders. There is lightening news, though. It’s said that even just a two-minute distraction is sufficient to break rumination.

People must start paying more careful attention to emotional pain like they do their physical. It can get worse and worse, ultimately negatively impacting the suffering person’s daily life. Neuroscience has proven that psychological injuries can be as fatal as physical ones. Telling someone to “just shake it off, it’s all in your head” regarding a psychological ailment is just like telling a person who has broken an arm to ‘walk it off’ or ‘rub some dirt on it’. It’s sad that a society that boasts progress doesn’t push to practice maintaining emotional hygiene. “100 years ago, people began practicing personal hygiene. There was a 50% rise in life expectancy [thereafter]”. It is imperative for our society to understand that the worldwide quality of life would be significantly better if people practiced emotional hygiene.

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