We spend a lot of time, energy and money focusing on our physical health and needs. We try to eat right, exercise, go to the doctors and dentists, the physiotherapists, chiropractors, and personal trainers. We pay attention to our aches and pains, to the injuries and wounds. So why is it such a challenge to pay the same amount of time and energy to our emotional wellbeing?
Guy Winch, PhD., is the author of ì7 Habits of Emotionally Healthy Peopleî (Psychology Today, Dec 2013). He identified the following ways we can be more proactive about protecting our mental wellbeing. The following is my interpretation and summary of his ideas:
1. Fail successfully: this is really about learning from your mistakes rather than beating yourself up. The goal is to reflect on the failure in a way that helps you to improve.
2. Find meaning in loss: when we experience loss (and we all do) we have the opportunity to reflect on more than the void in our lives. We can also focus on what we gained and develop a new appreciation for the people and things we once had and could have again. This helps us to remember that we are always in transition.
3. Stop brooding: ruminating and continual pre-occupation on distressing events only makes the emotional wound grow. Distracting yourself with tasks that require concentration like puzzles, housework, exercise, helping a friend, playing, etc. can help to disrupt the brooding long enough to change your focus.
4. Nurture self esteem: we can often be our own worse enemies. Our self-talk can be critical and demeaning at a time when we often need compassion and encouragement. Changing our self-talk from critical to supportive takes a conscious effort. You can practice by writing yourself a letter as though you were your own best friend. Read this letter when you need a boost to remind yourself how awesome you really are!
5. Revive self-worth: we all try to find a reason or meaning when we are rejected and this can lead to finding fault in ourselves. Although it can be helpful to reflect and learn from our experiences, this can sometimes lead to beating ourselves up unnecessarily. “The best way to ease emotional pain and revive self worth after a rejection is to affirm the aspects of yourself that you value, qualities you possess that you find meaningful…” (Winch, 2013)
6. Combat loneliness: sometimes we unconsciously engage in behaviours that minimize the risk we could get hurt or rejected. We avoid taking risks or reaching out to others by making excuses, rationalizing or predicting negative outcomes. Taking risks each day to connect to others is part of the challenge we all face to maintain a mentally healthy life. Call people you’ve wanted to hear from, send invitations to see people you like, and attend events and meet someone new. It may sound exhausting or stressful but this is just another excuse to avoid getting rejected.
7. Absolve yourself: when we have hurt someone and feel guilt, we have the opportunity to convey truthful and heartfelt empathy. This requires a genuine appreciation for how the other person was affected and the ability to humbly acknowledge our part in that hurt. When we do this, we no longer carry around the guilt we feel, we also have the chance to connect with that person in a deeper, more meaningful way. Even if this doesn’t result in forgiveness, we can move forward knowing we’ve taken responsibility for our actions while accepting our humanness for making mistakes.
These are just a few of the ways I believe we can learn to take care of our emotional lives. These are often the basis of many mental health concerns that people come to counselling and therapy for. Creating and maintaining our mental health takes commitment, time, practice and patience.