The Importance Of Practicing Emotional Hygiene And First Aid With Guy Winch

Guy Winch is a psychologist, and so understandably has quite opinionated views on the world of mental health. He believes that our mental health is just as important as our physical health, but is often overlooked. We should, in short, practice emotional hygiene and first aid in exactly the same way as we do for our bodies.

Consider this in the context of overcoming an injury. Depending on the severity, you might have spent a long time in hospital. Plenty of attention is paid to making sure your body heals and adapts, using strategies such as operations and physiotherapy. But how much attention is paid to your mental condition? Little, if any.

What Is Emotional Hygiene?

Guy defines emotional hygiene as the practice of catching and dealing with negative emotional habits. These can include the more obvious ones like depression and anxiety, but also the often-overlooked ones like dealing with rejection and failure. The latter two are regularly disregarded as everyday experiences.

And, while they are, this doesn’t negate their importance or their impact on our experiences. Chronic loneliness has the potential to increase your chance of early death by 14 percent. It can be as big a risk for your long-term health as cigarette smoking. Now, we’re all well aware of the dangers of smoking, but the dangers of loneliness likely came as a surprise to you.

How Do We Practice Emotional Hygiene?

Simply put, we practice emotional hygiene by recognising negative emotions when they occur. We’re taught that our minds are our greatest tool. While this is true, it overlooks the fact that they can be our greatest enemy too. After all, negative thoughts start in your mind, even if you believe their origins are in an outside source.

One significant negative process is rumination, which originates in the idea of chewing over. Animals such as cows and sheep are known as ruminants; they chew the cud repeatedly. Rumination isn’t an inherently negative thing, but most of us spend time chewing over the bad more than the good.

However, forcing yourself to not ruminate is an incredible challenge. This is particularly true if you’re faced with a significant hardship, such as overcoming an injury. The prospect of focusing on the negative can seem all too appealing. 

Instead, focus on something good in your life. Protect your self-esteem and don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by negative thoughts and processes. These become a slippery slope into depression, and once you’re on that path it can be incredibly difficult to get off it.


But how does one practice emotional first aid and hygiene? The process might be difficult but the concept is easy: give your mental health as much time and attention as you do your physical health. Spend time becoming aware of negative processes and understand how to move on from them. It’s only once you can acknowledge them that you can learn how to deal with them.

You can watch Guy Winch’s full TedTalk here.