Over the years, you’ve learned how to treat common physical issues in order to prevent them from turning into bigger health problems. You know that if you twist your ankle, you should stay off of it for the next few days; if you accidentally touch the stove when it’s hot, you should put a topical antibacterial on your burn; and if you put on a few pounds, you should probably start eating better and exercising more (you know, at some point.) You’ve learned to think preventatively about your physical health, but can you say the same when it comes to your emotional health?
We often don’t think to manage physical and psychological health in a similar fashion, but we should. If you’ve been feeling deeply depressed, angry, and/or anxious for a consistent and prolonged period of time, you should seek out professional help the same way you would seek out your general practitioner if you suspected you had an infection or experienced a seizure. It is important to address severe symptoms of any kind as soon as possible, but it’s also important to know how to deal with more common issues, including emotional ones, we all experience, so they too don’t escalate into larger, more difficult to treat problems.
We all need our own emotional equivalent of putting an ice pack on a hurt ankle or band-aid on a cut. Here are some ways you can manage five common emotional health issues.
1. Protecting your self-esteem.
Often times when our self esteem is feeling low, we do exactly what we shouldn’t: we get really self-critical. Would you put salt in a cut or walk through the rain without an umbrella when you’ve got a cold? Probably not. Next time your self-esteem feels like it’s taking a dive, you should practice self-compassion.
Try this: Imagine what you would say to a close friend who came to you with the same feelings you’re having. Once you have your answer, direct that compassion and advice back at yourself.
2. Dealing with failure.
When we fail we feel farther away from our goals, helpless, and unmotivated. It feels like we have no control. If you went to the doctors and they weren’t sure what your prognosis was yet, what would you do? You would probably focus on the things that are in your control (making all of your appointments, taking recommended tests, and following up with your doctor.) Next time you find yourself facing failure, focus on what you can control.
Try this: Make a list of all the factors in your control such as effort and preparation, then figure out a few ways you can improve on these pieces next time you get a similar opportunity. You’ll end up feeling more motivated and better prepared for future success.
3. Learning not to dwell.
Stewing over upsetting events doesn’t solve or prevent anything, it just makes you feel worse. Does thinking about your busted ankle help it heal any faster? No, it doesn’t. Sometimes we revisit negative thoughts or events so much that they become disruptive to our lives and negatively affect our mood. This kind of thinking is called rumination, and it’s not productive. There are a lot of ways to deal with unwanted thoughts, but one of the best tools psychologists have found is mindfulness.
Try this: Next time you notice yourself beginning to revisit a negative experience, stop yourself in your tracks. Mindfulness isn’t about censoring your brain or trying to actively NOT think about something (as soon as you tell yourself not to think about a pink elephant, you’re inevitably going to think of a pink elephant.) Instead, you’re going to acknowledge it, take a deep breath, and choose not to engage with it any further; let the thought float away. The goal is not to never think about negative events again; the goal is to have control over when you engage in them and how much you let them upset you.
4. Finding meaning after loss.
Loss is a natural, and inevitable, part of life. Just like losing your baby teeth before you grow in your adult teeth. It can be painful, but it can also create sometimes stronger. An important part of emotional recovery is finding meaning in difficult life events. Of course you should take the time you need to grieve, but one of the most helpful ways to eventually move on is to have that loss motivate greater life changes.
Try this: Once you’re ready to start healing, think of ways in which you might derive some good from the situation. Maybe you can appreciate the people around you more or maybe you can refocus your life on the things that truly matter to you. One of the best ways you can find meaning and honor what you’ve lost is to volunteer your time to something related to what you’re experiencing. Volunteering is a great way to find personal meaning in difficult times while creating a greater good for the world around you. Loss is never easy, but finding meaning will allow you to gain strength from your experiences, rather than feeling broken by them.
5. Recovering from rejection.
Rejection can spawn strong feelings of self doubt. The thing about rejection is, it’s more about the person doing the rejecting than it is about you. If you found out you had a genetic disease, you wouldn’t feel like it “chose” you to annoy, would you? Just because someone makes up their mind about you, doesn’t mean what they think is true. One person thinks you were wrong for the job, someone else might not have. One person doesn’t want to be in a romantic relationship with you, another person probably does. Self-worth comes from within, not from what others feel or do to you.
Try this: Make a list of attributes you feel you possess that are valuable in the sphere in which you were rejected (e.g. what makes you a great partner, friend, employee?) Choose one attribute, and expand on it. Go into detail and give examples that support this positive quality of yours. Reminding yourself of the great things you have to offer will help you rebound with much greater ease.
Once upon a time, you didn’t know what to do when you cut your finger or got a headache, but you learned through experience and through advice from others. The same goes for treating your emotional pains. Your mind deserves the same attention you’ve given your body; now it’s time to step up.