Have you watched this Ted Talk from Guy Winch on emotional first aid? I highly recommend watching this with a pen and paper. Here is why.
We’ll go to the doctor when we feel flu-ish or a nagging pain. So why don’t we see a health professional when we feel emotional pain: guilt, loss, loneliness? Too many of us deal with common psychological-health issues on our own, says Guy Winch. But we don’t have to. He makes a compelling case to practice emotional hygiene — taking care of our emotions, our minds, with the same diligence we take care of our bodies.
Guy Winch explains that 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 and thrive. Let’s take these in turns.
Physical first aid vs emotional first aid
Why is it that our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health?
We sustain psychological injuries even more often than we do physical ones, injuries like failure or rejection or loneliness. And they can also get worse if we ignore them, and they can impact our lives in dramatic ways.
And yet, even though there are scientifically proven techniques we could use to treat these kinds of psychological injuries, we don’t. It doesn’t even occur to us that we should. “Oh, you’re feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it’s all in your head.” Can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg: “Oh, just walk it off; it’s all in your leg.”
It is time we closed the gap between our physical and our psychological health. It’s time we made them more equal.
Loneliness creates a deep psychological wound, one that distorts our perceptions and scrambles our thinking. It makes us believe that those around us care much less than they actually do. It make us really afraid to reach out, because why set yourself up for rejection and heartache when your heart is already aching more than you can stand?
Loneliness is defined purely subjectively. It depends solely on whether you feel emotionally or socially disconnected from those around you.
There is a lot of research on loneliness, and all of it is horrifying. Loneliness won’t just make you miserable; it will kill you. Chronic loneliness increases your likelihood of an early death by 14 percent.
Loneliness causes high blood pressure, high cholesterol. It even suppress the functioning of your immune system, making you vulnerable to all kinds of illnesses and diseases. In fact, scientists have concluded that taken together, chronic loneliness poses as significant a risk for your long-term health and longevity as cigarette smoking.
Now, cigarette packs come with warnings saying, “This could kill you.” But loneliness doesn’t. And that’s why it’s so important that we prioritise our psychological health, that we practice emotional hygiene. Because you can’t treat a psychological wound if you don’t even know you’re injured.
Click here for details on how to overcome loneliness.
Loneliness isn’t the only psychological wound that distorts our perceptions and misleads us. Failure does that as well.
Guy Winch once visited a day care center, where he saw three toddlers play with identical plastic toys. You had to slide the red button, and a cute doggie would pop out.
One little girl tried pulling the purple button, then pushing it, and then she just sat back and looked at the box with her lower lip trembling. The little boy next to her watched this happen, then turned to his box and burst into tears without even touching it. Meanwhile, another little girl tried everything she could think of until she slid the red button, the cute doggie popped out, and she squealed with delight.
So there were three toddlers with identical plastic toys, but with very different reactions to failure. The first two toddlers were perfectly capable of sliding a red button. The only thing that prevented them from succeeding was that their mind tricked them into believing they could not.
Now, adults get tricked this way as well, all the time. In fact, we all have a default set of feelings and beliefs that gets triggered whenever we encounter frustrations and setbacks.
Are you aware of how your mind reacts to failure? You need to be. Because if your mind tries to convince you you’re incapable of something, and you believe it, then like those two toddlers, you’ll begin to feel helpless and you’ll stop trying too soon, or you won’t even try at all.
And then you’ll be even more convinced you can’t succeed. You see, that’s why so many people function below their actual potential. Because somewhere along the way, sometimes a single failure convinced them that they couldn’t succeed, and they believed it.
Once we become convinced of something, it’s very difficult to change our mind.
Our mind is hard to change once we become convinced. So it might be very natural to feel demoralised and defeated after you fail. But you cannot allow yourself to become convinced you can’t succeed. You have to fight feelings of helplessness. You have to gain control over the situation. And you have to break this kind of negative cycle before it begins. This is what emotional first aid is.
Rejection is extremely painful. After a rejection, we all start thinking of all our faults and all our shortcomings, what we wish we were, what we wish we weren’t. We call ourselves names.
It’s interesting that we do, because our self-esteem is already hurting. Why would we want to go and damage it even further? We wouldn’t make a physical injury worse on purpose. You wouldn’t get a cut on your arm and decide, “Oh! I know, I’m going to take a knife and see how much deeper I can make it.”
But we do that with psychological injuries all the time. Why? Because of poor emotional hygiene. Because we don’t prioritize our psychological health.
We know from dozens of studies that when your self-esteem is lower, you are more vulnerable to stress and to anxiety; that failures and rejections hurt more, and it takes longer to recover from them.
Protect Your Self-Esteem
So when you get rejected, the first thing you should be doing is to revive your self-esteem, not join Fight Club and beat it into a pulp.
When you’re in emotional pain, treat yourself with the same compassion you would expect from a truly good friend.
Battle Negative Thinking
We have to catch our unhealthy psychological habits and change them. And one of unhealthiest and most common is called rumination.
To ruminate means to chew over. It’s when your boss yells at you or your professor makes you feel stupid in class, or you have big fight with a friend and you just can’t stop replaying the scene in your head for days, sometimes for weeks on end.
Now, ruminating about upsetting events in this way can easily become a habit, and it’s a very costly one, because by spending so much time focused on upsetting and negative thoughts, you are actually putting yourself at significant risk for developing clinical depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and even cardiovascular disease.
The problem is, the urge to ruminate can feel really strong and really important, so it’s a difficult habit to stop.
Studies tell us that even a two-minute distraction is sufficient to break the urge to ruminate in that moment. So each time you have a worrying, upsetting, negative thought, force yourself to concentrate on something else until the urge passes. Your whole outlook could change within one week.
Guy Winch on Emotional First Aid – key take aways
- emotional first aid is just as important as physical first aid
- watch out for loneliness – do not let yourself fall into its trap and reach out early
- do not let a single failure trick you into believing that you cannot succeed. Instead think of failures as learning experiences
- learn to handle rejection in a healthy way and show yourself some compassion. What would you say to your best friend if they were in your shoes?
- learn to recognise negative thoughts and address them on the spot. You can distract yourself like Guy Winch did or you can use my cancelling method: when you become aware of the thought, forgive yourself for it and consciously choose a more loving thought to say to yourself instead.
Try these simple hacks on emotional first aid and let me know how you get on
Did you watch the full Ted Talk? Have you tried any of Guy Winch’s or my suggestions? I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know in the comments.
More from Guy Winch directly
And remember, happiness is a choice, and you are in charge!