Ouch, that hurt! We wouldn't think twice about grabbing a bandage for a burned finger or getting a cast for our teen's arm due to his epic skateboarding mishap. So why don't we use first aid for our mental health?
Anyone who's struggled with a painful heartbreak or the death of a loved one knows that emotional injuries can be just as crippling as physical ones. Psychologist Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid, recommends some ways to practice this special kind of First Aid:
- Recognize when you're in emotional pain. Physical pain is the body's way of telling us that something is wrong, and this goes for emotional pain as well. If you experienced a rejection, failure or some other life tribulation that you just can't get over, then you need to pay attention to that emotional injury. Believe it or not, it won't go away if you simply ignore it. Psychological wounds often manifest themselves into physical symptoms like headaches and illnesses. Reach out to others for support and find additional ways to relieve this pain like journaling to help get out all those nasty feelings.
- Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Thoughts like 'I'm so stupid' or 'I just can't get anything right' drag down your self esteem and makes it more difficult to be emotionally resilient. Show yourself some compassion! You wouldn't let your loved ones or friends beat themselves up while they were down, so don't do it to yourself. Change what you tell yourself by substituting a negative remark with a positive. Try writing or texting yourself supportive things to help build your self compassion.
- Distract yourself from ruminating over your problems. Replaying distressing events over and over in your mind is not a helpful way to heal from emotional wounds. The best way to disrupt unhealthy rumination is to distract yourself by doing something positive. One thing you can do is to engage in something that requires concentration, like completing a crossword or playing a game on your phone or other electronic device. Physical exercise is another way to distract yourself from ruminating, so take a walk or run to help clear out that cluttered mind. Even just a few minutes of distraction will reduce your negative focus.
- Re-define your view of failure. Failing to reach a desired goal or whatever else you may deem as failure compels you to focus on what you can't do instead of what you can do. Don't dwell on your shortcomings because this only perpetuates your self criticism. Learn to ignore that negative voice of helplessness and make a list of what you can control and change if you were to try again. This will reduce your feelings of powerlessness and improve your chances of future success. Persistence is the key to overcoming failure. Henry Ford said it best: "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."
- Find meaning in loss. Loss is often seen as the passing away of a loved one, but it can also be a loss of something else significant to us such as a job or a relationship. Loss can leave deep scars and keep us from moving forward in our lives. One of the most important things you can do to ease this pain is to find meaning in the loss and reframe your thinking about it. Think about what you've gained from the experience and what you could change to add more purpose and meaning to your life. Supporting and helping others who may have experienced a similar loss may also lessen this pain.
In essence, pay attention to your psychological health on a regular basis especially after a difficult, stressful or emotionally painful situation. Make it a habit to use the healing tools of Emotional First Aid and it will help you gain a more healthy and positive outlook on your life.