Practice Emotional Hygiene
Lisa Mitchell-Bennett www.brownsvilleherald.com
So often we focus on our physical, not emotional health. As a parent I am made to feel that teaching my children dental hygiene is much more important than helping them build emotional resilience.
In fact we provide our kids with knowledge about band aids, seatbelts, stranger danger and the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, but it is rare that we teach them how to be emotionally healthy. In fact most of us adults don’t even know what that means and we take our emotional health for granted until we face a crisis.
Everyone wants to wear pink to support those battling cancer, but there continues to be stigma around mental health issues. I have heard many judgmental comments about people who are depressed or having emotional problems, like it is a weakness of character. Yet there is a scientifically proven connection between emotional and physical health.
For example, chronic loneliness can cause high blood pressure, high cholesterol, suppress your immune system and can increase your likelihood of early death by 14 percent. That’s about the same risk as smoking, yet cigarettes come with all manner of warnings.
Dr. Guy Winch is a clinical psychologist who focuses on helping people become emotionally resilient, and has coined the phrase “emotional hygiene”. He says that loneliness, negative thoughts and failure can do as much or more damage to the human mind and body as illness and injury. Just as hygiene, hand washing and clean water revolutionized our health outcomes a century ago, he believes emotional hygiene can change our world for the better. He has written books and speaks around the world about the need to focus on our psychological health as we do our physical health, and the clear connection between the two.
So how do we do this? We are not taught this in school. I was never taught by my parents. They were good parents and perhaps modeled some features of emotional wellness, but we never once had a conversation about how to remain emotionally healthy. This doesn’t come up naturally in our culture, and definitely not among men and older folks.
When I talk to my friends and family about taking my kids to a pediatrician for an illness or even for preventive exams, there is no shock at all. But when I mention that I have sought the help of a licensed counselor, for myself and my children, the reaction is shock or a quick change of subject. I’m not sure why the difference, when it is just as important to me that my kids grow up to be independent, well-adjusted, and emotionally healthy, as it is that they are physically healthy.
Just as we have to learn and work hard to make lifestyle changes to be physically healthy, it does take some intentional effort and skill, and sometimes consultation with professionals, to maintain emotional health. This applies to all of us, children and adults. The American Psychological Association recommends some tips for parents summarized below:
Make connections—Teach your child empathy, the importance of friendship, build a strong family network, social support and spiritual connection through a place of worship or in other supportive environments.
Help your child by having him or her help others—Provide kids with opportunities for volunteer work, helping family members and classmates. This is very empowering.
Maintain a daily routine—structure can be comforting and help build a sense of security.
Take a break—Build in unstructured play time, particularly outside, to your schedule every day.
Teach your child self-care –Make yourself a good example, and teach your child the importance of making time to eat well, exercise and rest. Balance will help them better deal with stressful times.
Move toward your goals –Teach your child to set reasonable goals, break them into small steps, and then to move toward them one step at a time.
Nurture a positive self-view—Talk about hard times and how your child has overcome a hardship or survived a hard circumstance. Celebrate successes, and their hard work.
Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook –Talk about the future and hopeful, positive goals and events, don’t just focus on the past.
Accept that change is part of living—Talk with your child about changes, and reflect on past changes and how they got through what might have seemed scary at the time.
Winch summarizes these steps well in a quote from a recent Ted Talk: “By taking action when you’re lonely, by changing your responses to failure, by protecting your self-esteem, by battling negative thinking, you won’t just heal your psychological wounds, you will build emotional resilience; you will thrive.”
It’s not always instinctual given the environmental pressures around us, just as eating healthy and exercising isn’t easy. But it’s worth the effort as parents, and as human beings, to care about our minds as much as we do the rest of our bodies, because Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!).
Photo credit: <ahref=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/55839512@N08/9879501213″>September 22, 2013 at 10:46AM</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Geetu is the Founding Director of Ei World Limited, one of Europe’s thought leaders in the application of emotional resilience and emotional intelligence in business. She is Author of Emotional Resilience: Know what it takes to be agile, adaptable and perform at your best (published by Pearson Education, 2015 with audiobook recorded by Ei World, 2015).