Emotional hygiene: 5 ways to keep your mind clean and healthy

You are reading the Original Version (CLB5+) Read Simple Version (CLB3-4)

Skip to:

How can we keep our mind “clean and healthy”? We can’t brush it like our teeth or wash it with soap like our bodies. But like our teeth and bodies, our minds can get cluttered. Emotions can weigh us down if we don’t take care of our mental health properly.

What is emotional hygiene?

Emotional hygiene means being aware of our mental health and taking care of our emotional wounds when we get them. Many of us don’t know how to do this. Dr. Guy Winch said in his TED Talk that we focus more on our physical health than our mental health. For example, when we get a physical wound, we know we need to clean and treat it so it can heal. We don’t agitate the wound or expose it to the elements. But when we have an emotional wound, like a failure for example, we tend to feel sorry for ourselves or blame ourselves over and over again, which makes us feel even worse. When we don’t treat emotional wounds, our self-esteem goes down. When that happens, we keep getting into the same trouble again and again. Mental health problems can also develop. Some get depression or suicidal thoughts.

“When we get a wound, we know that we must disinfect it and treat it so that it will heal. Nobody would poke or cut the wound deeper! But when we face an emotional wound, let’s say a failure, many of us wallow in self-pity or blame ourselves over and over again for failing, making ourselves feel worse.”

Besides failure, there are other emotional wounds we might experience, like trauma (losing someone we love, experiencing abuse or violence, getting into a major accident, etc.), rejection (social or professional), or feeling abandoned and alone. Newcomers face these emotional wounds as we begin to settle and integrate into our new lives. Some of us may have even experienced trauma before coming here. Many of us carry the pain with us for years. This can affect us mentally (causing stress, anxiety, or depression) and physically (giving us headaches, high blood pressure, and other illnesses). In fact, experts have found that feeling lonely and disconnected from others increases the chances of dying early by 14%.

This is why emotional hygiene is important. When we take care of our emotional wounds and work on building emotional strength every day, our quality of life gets better.

Best ways to practice emotional hygiene

Dr. Winch calls it “Emotional First-Aid.” Here’s what you should do right after you get hurt emotionally:

  1. Recognize when you’re in emotional pain

    Don’t ignore it when you feel emotionally unwell. Deal with it sooner rather than later. For example, if you feel lonely, talk to a friend. If you’re heartbroken, seek advice from someone. If you’re feeling sad because of winter (SAD or winter blues), see a doctor. If you can’t figure it out or don’t have the energy to ease the pain, ask for help from a counselor, advisor, or doctor.

  2. Building social connections, haveTHATtalk.ca (note: The 211 helpline is in Ottawa. Please check Community Resources below for Manitoba helplines).

  3. Be gentle and compassionate with yourself

    Blaming ourselves when things go wrong doesn’t help. It’s important to maintain our self-esteem. Protect your self-esteem by being compassionate to yourself and practicing the following:

    • Relax. Sip some tea. Take deep breaths (meditate if you can).
    • Recognize that it is impossible that everything is your fault. There are many factors that go into any situation.
    • Don’t compare yourself to others.
    • Know that the situation may be bad today but things will get better.
    • Look at the situation as a learning experience.

    This is important: Being gentle with yourself doesn’t mean lying to yourself. Try to see the situation objectively. Take responsibility if you’ve made a mistake. This prevents us from committing the same mistake again. But don’t beat yourself up. Resolve to do better and move on.

  4. Don’t ruminate

    Avoid replaying bad experiences in your mind. This can become a habit and overcome your mind with negativity. Distract yourself when you notice that you’re starting to ruminate. Solve a puzzle, take a walk, or exercise. A few minutes of distraction can help reduce negative thoughts.

  5. Change your response to failure

    Change how you respond to failure. Dwelling on failure makes you feel helpless. Instead, focus on what you can do and learn from the experience. Make a list of lessons learned and set new goals. Keep trying, persistence pays off.

These steps require changing your mindset in order to start taking up healthy mental habits. It will not be easy. But like anything that is worth doing, it will require effort and discipline. Do your best to practice these on a regular basis. In the end, you will benefit immensely for having a clean, healthy and resilient mind!
Sources: 5 steps to better emotional hygiene, Guy Winch Ph. D., Psychology Today; 7 ways to practice emotional first-aid, Guy Winch Ph.D., Ideas.Ted.Com; and Emotional First-Aid, Nicholette Leanza, Med, LPCC-S, Psych Central. Accessed September 18, 2019.

Back to top

Community Resources

Get the updated Mental Health resource guide on the Canadian Mental Health Association page.

Back to top

We'd love to hear from you!

Please login to tell us what you think.

Related Learning Activities

Health Workshops

A health care worker holding the hand of a patient

This is a series of workshops related to health. Workshops 1 is geared towards CLB 3-4. Workshop 2 is geared… Read more »

Back to top

CC BY-NC-SAText of this page is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA, unless otherwise marked. Please attribute to English Online Inc. and link back to this page where possible. For images and videos, check the source for licensing information.