Reed Counseling

What is emotional hygiene?

What is emotional hygiene? We have all heard of dental hygiene and personal hygiene. You were probably taught how to care for your teeth and shower and how to properly use deodorant when you were very young. But has anyone ever taught us about taking care of our mental and emotional health? Most of us know that we need proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep to stay healthy and feel our best. However, most of us were never taught that we also need to care for our mental health and wellbeing.

Many of us were not fortunate enough to grow up with parents or other adults who even knew what emotional hygiene is. Maybe you had emotionally resilient parents (lucky you, if so!). Some of us might have learned to be mentally resilient through life experiences. On the flip side of this lies the rest of us. Mental health professionals know that environment and biology both influence us physically and mentally. But what if we were taught about the significance of caring for ourselves emotionally? We would have more control over the effects of our nature-nurture experiences.

In life, we experience many joyful events and many distressing events. The joys are the easy part! Distressing events such as failures, rejection, and loneliness, all create psychological “injuries”, so to speak. But what do with these injuries? Do we ignore them until they become infected? Do we put a Band-aid on them, hoping they will heal on their own? Do we make the injury worse? While these life events are normal and a part of everyone’s life, this does not mean we cannot improve the way with which we handle them.

Loneliness. We know that loneliness can literally be deadly. Hard to believe, but I am sure you’ve heard of situations where a spouse dies and the other spouse follows shortly after, dying of a broken heart. Loneliness creates a deep psychological wound, and psychological wounds, if not properly handled, can wreak havoc on us physically. Loneliness distorts our perception, warps our reality, and can cause us to withdraw from others at a time when we need connection the most. When we are feeling lonely due to rejection or a loss, it is important to seek out others and stay connected, in some way. Sometimes this means seeking professional support through counseling. The worst thing we can do when we are lonely is to isolate ourselves even more.

Failure. We all fail! Why do you think all pencils come with an eraser attached at the other end? Mistakes are a part of life. Some are big some are small. The important thing about failures is not their size, but what we do with them-how we perceive them. Do we label ourselves as “no-good losers”? Do we beat ourselves up and quit, making the wound even bigger? Or do we remind ourselves that failing is a part of life? Do we remind ourselves that the most successful people in the world failed more than they succeeded? When we experience failure, do we become our own best friend or our worst enemy? Having compassion for ourselves is the antidote to failure. Our self-talk is key in these situations. Next time you experience a failure, pay close attention to the voice in your head. And if it is not being nice to you do not believe it! And furthermore, change it! We must learn to be our own best friend in all things, at all times.

Rejection. Many times when we experience rejection we begin to ruminate on the situation. We go over what happened in our mind, ad-nauseum. That critical voice comes back and tells us lies, it labels us as “worthless”. Again, ask yourself if this is what you need right now. Am I being compassionate to me?! If not, it is time to break this cycle of beating yourself up! Practice talking to yourself as you would a loved one or close friend. Do not make the wound worse.

Life is full of wonderful experiences and not so great ones. Building up our emotional resilience is how we stay mentally fit. By practicing positive self-talk, and being a compassionate friend to ourselves, we can strengthen our mental muscles. Regularly exercising those muscles is key! Taking care of ourselves physically is important, but our mental health is equally important, and both can greatly affect the other in positive and negative ways. They do not exist in a vacuum. Remember, it is ok to feel sad when we experience psychological injuries. It is not mentally healthy to dwell on them but is equally unhealthy to ignore them. Either way, if not handled properly, these injuries may become infected and wreak havoc on our lives, days, months, even years, down the road.

Julie Reed, LPC, NCC