The Art of Emotional First AidBy:
Every night, before bed, most of us brush our teeth, wash our face, perhaps apply some lotion to our hands. These simple acts of self care are meant to help our physical body stay healthy.
When we get a cut, we put a band aid on it to help it heal. Our mental health deserves the same level of care and attention, but we aren’t taught how to do that.
Just as a cut left untended would probably fester into an infection, psychological injuries are often ignored until they settle deep into us and create pathology. According to Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts, this is because we are not taught how to practice first aid on our emotional bodies.
Winch suggests that in the same way we sometimes get a cold, our mental health suffers dips. Recognizing these dips and attending to our emotional well being can help us recover more completely. Here are three ways to start:
- Pay attention to your self talk. Winch suggests noticing how you talk to yourself when you make a mistake or experience some kind of failure. Most of us are extremely critical of ourselves. He suggests pretending that you are talking to your closest friend. Be kind and compassionate. If you’ve made a mistake, instead of beating yourself up about it, act like a detective, being curious about what you might do differently in the future.
- Flip the switch on unhealthy thought patterns. Rumination, the constant, repetitive replaying of a certain event can be extremely detrimental to mental health. Studies show it can contribute to depression, alcoholism and even cardiovascular disease. Winch suggests that distraction can help break the habit of rumination. When you notice the mind going into that repetitive pattern, find a way to distract it: think of something else or get your brain involved in another task. Even two minutes of distraction can break the habit if repeated often enough.
- Change your response to stumbling blocks. Often, when we don’t succeed at something, we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking that we are to blame, that bad things always happen to us. Winch says that a more productive response would be to practice a kind of gratitude. Take some time to remember what you are good at and celebrate something you have accomplished in the past. When you look again at the stumbling block, use your mental energy to find ways around it instead of getting caught up in wondering why it’s there.
We may not have been shown how to care for our emotions in the same way we were shown how to care for our bodies, but with practice and attention, the psychological bumps and bruises of life can be treated. If we give ourselves a bit more compassion, and maybe a little extra time snuggled up with a cozy blanket and a cup of tea, we can emerge stronger and more confident of our capacity to heal.
Kalia Kelmenson founded Maui Mind and Body to support women's health. She is the creator of Core Strength Balance and Mind Body Booty Camp and enjoys moonlighting as the reviews editor at Spirituality & Health. Kalia explores the fascinating intersection of fitness and mind-body health. Find inspiration for your movement practice from research and stories that are emerging from this intriguing field.