Emotional Hygiene :: The First Aid of Feeling

Our society has established an idea that as mothers we need to be perfect and fulfill a certain set of outrageous expectations. We put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves, and with the growth and rise of social media the expectancy to achieve a June Cleaver level of excellence is overwhelming. We are taught from a young age that physical health and hygiene is not only important, but crucial to our lifespan. We know to brush our teeth, wash our hands, and cover a cough before starting kindergarten. Yet we disregard the importance of emotional first aid and “feeling” our feelings, paying more attention to our thoughts than our emotions as we rush from task to task throughout each day. Feelings are complex but they are good for us, and they connect us to other people including our children. When I stopped hiding from these three feelings; and instead began taking time to acknowledge and experience them the shift I felt was monumental.

Stop Dwelling

 As a mom the majority of the time I feel like an internet browser window with about 3,651 tabs open at once. I am constantly multi tasking both physically and mentally. (In fact I remember a time I was nursing my daughter, cooking dinner, and quizzing my son on spelling words all at once.) Because of the constant chaos both inside my head while I try to remain one step ahead of whatever task I am currently on and the chaos in my house with two young children, I lose my patience frequently. And when I do then I spend what feels like another thirty minutes dwelling on the fact that I just “failed” them. This behavior of replaying the scene over and over in my head is a bad habit and studies have shown that when you spend time and focus on upsetting behaviors it puts you and your child at a heightened risk for developing a multitude of health issues like depression, alcoholism, cardiovascular disease etc. So instead of dwelling, own it. Acknowledge that you screwed up (in my case again) and move on. The children already have. Chances are, they are already on to dumping out every piece of a puzzle over a floor vent or some other crazy behavior and laughing or shrieking at each other again.

Avoid Loneliness

This one should feel like a no-brainer if you are lonely, organize more play dates, meet a friend for coffee, or join PTO at the school. When I fill up every single blank spot in my calendar I feel a sense of accomplishment, like I am really working towards something, like I am needed. And yet even with a day jam-packed with activities I enjoy like a coffee date with a girlfriend, I still feel lonely. A sense of belonging goes a long way in promoting mental and emotional health. With play dates, coffee dates, or PTO meetings there are always other people gathered but if we don’t feel like we are positively contributing towards the greater good, we won’t feel like we have done anything at all. To kick the loneliness, you have to be intentional with your focus, set down the devices and look the person across from you in the eye when you speak. Even this simple act of eye contact will help you to distinguish between the feeling of loneliness and the actual divide of isolation.

Know how you react to failure and rejection.

When I became aware that my instinctive reaction to failure and rejection was to start focusing on personal faults and shortcomings, I realized that this behavior made me feel defeated and helpless, and as a result I was functioning well below my potential. When I am rejected whether at work or home I instantly start thinking back and trying to recall any terrible thing about myself that might have caused the rejection. I heard an analogy once that we should treat personal rejection and failure like we do physical scrapes or cuts. If you cut your hand, you wouldn’t dig into it and make it worse. You would clean it out and then put a Band-Aid on it to protect it from further damage. We have to train our minds and our children’s minds to react compassionately to failure and rejection. We have to allow ourselves to feel our feelings and respond by supporting or protecting and soothing ourselves instead of digging into that emotional “cut” deeper and increasing the pain.

What areas do you struggle with when it comes to emotional hygiene? How do you plan on teaching your child to practice emotional hygiene? It is time we close the gap between the importance of our physical and psychological health.

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