If you’re being honest with yourself, how many times have you given notice to a physical injury over a mental health issue? Waved away the prospect of anxiety or depression being just as harmful as a headache, or as serious as a cut on your arm? If you’re actually being honest, you’ll realise just how often we all are guilty of valuing the body over the mind.
The fact of the matter is that we all know exactly what to do when experiencing a headache or a cut on the arm – be it taking a pill, or putting on a band-aid. How do we know how to practice physical care and hygiene? We’ve been taught the same since we were children, after all! But what do we know about maintaining psychological, or emotional health? We don’t teach our children about the practice of emotional hygiene.
The problem comes in when one finally realises that we tend to experience injuries of the psychological kind, much more often than we sustain those of the physical kind. These include the smallest of things, such as failure, rejection, loneliness, etc. Just like physical ones, if ignored, these injuries can also fester and become worse as time goes on, resulting in serious impairment of daily functioning.
We know that psychology is a scientifically proven field – it has several medical branches as well, so why don’t we treat depression the same way we do a broken leg? You can’t just “unbreak your leg” because “it’s not real”, similar to how one expects someone to just “not be sad” because “it’s all in your head”. Which is exactly why the gap between physical and psychological health needs to be bridged.
Let’s take loneliness as an example. Scientifically speaking, it has been proven to be just as harmful as smoking, possibly affecting your immune system, blood pressure and cholesterol. But it doesn’t come with a warning, or signal showing you’re experiencing it. How do we treat it if we don’t even know it’s happening to us?
Taking failure as another example, adults tend to think of their probable failure before even performing the task. Being this way, adults also have a default set of emotions and beliefs that are brought to the forefront upon experiencing setbacks. What does this tell us about our mind? If your mind tries to convince you that you’re incapable, and you start believing it, then you begin to feel helpless and frustrated, eventually giving up – so there’s no chance of you succeeding anyway. It’s not a coincidence that thousands of humans regularly perform below their capabilities – because somewhere along the way, they convinced themselves that they couldn’t; and it’s very hard to change that mindset once you’re convinced about it, so it becomes a natural cycle to feel demoralised and hopeless after the first failure.
But this is where your psychological aid comes in – you cannot allow yourself to become a part of that vicious cycle; you do not allow yourself to believe that you can’t succeed, that you’re helpless. You have to take control of the situation before it spins out of control. One cannot trust their own mind and feelings all the time! Notice your thoughts after a bad experience – it’s something everyone does, especially after a rejection. You may start to think of your flaws, call yourself things you aren’t, what you wish you could be, which is intriguing, considering we’re kicking yourself when we’re already down. In comparison, we wouldn’t cut our arm deeper just to see how deep it can go. But it’s all too common with psychological injuries. Why? Because of poor emotional hygiene. We don’t prioritize it.
This comes after the knowledge that low self-esteem gives way to stress and anxiety, and it takes much longer to recover from failures and rejections. But we don’t treat ourself the way we would a friend, with compassion. Spending time going over such negative thoughts makes one more vulnerable to depression, alcoholism, even cardiovascular disease. It’s costly to your physical health as well. So, catch yourself having unhealthy thoughts and work to change them! The urge to do so can be overpowering, but even a two-minute distraction to make the thought pass is sufficient to help break the habit.
Take action when you’re lonely, protect your own self-esteem, battle negative thinking, and change your natural responses to failure – teach yourself how to heal, how to recover and recuperate, how to thrive. The quality of one’s life can exponentially change for the better if one practices emotional hygiene.