“We all know how to maintain our physical health and how to practice dental hygiene, right? We’ve known it since we were five years old. But what do we know about maintaining our psychological health? Well, nothing. What do we teach our children about emotional hygiene? Nothing. How is it that we spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds? Why is it that our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health?”
This is an excerpt from psychologist Dr. Guy Winch’s TED Talk titled, “Why We All Need to Practice Emotional Aid First.” This TED talk hones in on a topic that we don’t talk about enough: the importance of taking care of our mental health. Studies show that the way our brains process emotional pain isn’t that different from that of physical pain. Research indicates that the same ares of the brain are responsible for response to both types of pain. In other words, pain is pain. But, in our modern day society, we certainly don’t treat both types of pain equally and with the same urgency.
If we cut our finger and it starts to bleed, our instinct is to stop what we are doing and stop the bleeding. However, when we experience some kind of emotional injury, we don’t just stop what we are doing to deal with it. We tell ourselves that we need to be strong in the face of adversity, to continue with whatever we are in the middle of, and often times just ignore the issue (hoping it will stop becoming an issue).
What this tells us is the necessity to acknowledge the existence of pain when it shows up and proactively deal with it. Don’t let wounds fester and build up over time into something much worse. Take responsibility for your emotional, mental, and physical health; no one will take care of you like you will.
One thing we forget is that pain, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing (even if it hurts). Pain lets us know something is wrong, which in turn helps us to survive. Can you imagine if a car ran over your leg and you didn’t feel any pain? You might not even notice that something is terribly wrong even though your entire leg is messed up. Because of the pain you feel, you know to call 911 and go to the hospital to prevent long-term damage.
Pain also helps us understand that life happens on a spectrum. You can appreciate and enjoy the good parts because you’ve experienced the bad parts. You recognize how great it is to date someone who makes you happy and encourages you to be the best because you dated that deadbeat who criticized everything.
Life’s triumphs feel that much more glorious when they weren’t just handed to us but are the result of hard work, persistence, and pain.
The term “growing pains” refers to both the physical and emotional pains of change. Judith Hanson Lasater asks, “Which do you want: the pain of staying where you are, or the pain of growth?” Pain is inevitable; you will experience it whether you choose to stay exactly as you are or whether you choose to grow.
Choose spiritual growth and self-evolution into a better version of you. A version of you that accepts that there will be hard days in the journey to brighter days. A version of you that recognizes that pain is necessary and that pain is pain, that dealing with emotional pain is just as important as that of physical pain. A version of you that embraces that life is better because we have experienced both bad and good. Choose to take care of your body, mind, and spirit as you walk to your destination.
Featured image by Silvia Falcomer