It’s winter in the northern hemisphere. Winter-the cold, dark, rainy, snowy, hibernation season. A season often associated with sadness and loneliness and isolation. UGH. Feelings—they are all in your head and how to make it better—are the focus of my Wednesday blogs this month. Because yeah, I have noticed a change in my moods and my partner’s moods. And because I have noticed some of you suffering from the same downswing in your moods.
(This is where I have to put a disclaimer in. I have a tiny bit of training in psychology but I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. If your feelings are so intense they interfere with your day-to-day life. If you have difficulty keeping a job, eating, sleeping, personal hygiene—you need to learn to help yourself from a professional. Nothing in this blog or on the internet will help you as much. Can’t afford professional help? Ask your county mental health department for suggestions about where you might find professional help at a price you can afford.)
When I started researching, I came upon the intriguing phrase, social isolation. Loneliness is a rising mental health concern. A quick google search yielded more than one hundred individual songs about loneliness. Here is a small sampling.
I’m so Lonesome I could Cry
Written and sung by Hank Williams in 1949. This is Randy Travis’ version.
Sung by Bobby Vinton in 1962
Sung by Kina Grannis in 2018
Songs on loneliness are available in every language. If feelings—they are all in your head—why are so many people, all over the world, singing about feelings? The list I referenced above doesn’t include songs about crying or tears or hurt…break up songs. Nor does it include any of hundreds of songs about rejection and sadness and feeling blue.
Then I came across this TED talk from 2014. It’s a little more than seventeen minutes long. If you have time, watch or read the transcript.
I had a lot of takeaways from that talk. Here are a few:
We learn to take care of our physical selves at a young age
By five years old most of us know how to brush our teeth and that a scratch heals better with a bandaid. We bring this knowledge and more into adulthood. Yet, how many of us learn how to take care of our emotional health? How many of us are told—get over it? We’re told your feelings—they are all in your head.
Pay attention to your emotional pain
Yikes. This is a hard one. Often we prefer to deny that we’re feeling anything but the chipper emotions, even in dire circumstances. No—I’m fine, we say. And we’re not only lying to them, but we’re also lying through our teeth to ourselves as well.
Change your response to failure
We all have a default set of feelings and beliefs as reactions to failure. Those responses often linked to a belief that if you’ve failed once you’ll always fail. We need to turn that into a more positive response.
Protect your self-esteem
We ruminate (chew or re-live) emotionally painful events. We all do it and in so doing we make the psychological injury worse. Why? Because we don’t recognize or prioritize our emotional health. (Most of us wouldn’t dream of making a physical injury worse.)
When Dr. Winch said that your self-talk and your feelings are like a moody friend—supportive one moment and hypercritical the next, I’m thinking, brother, you don’t know the half of it.
He said the urge to ruminate is difficult to stop but even a two-minute distraction is enough to break the urge at that moment. Breaking the habit can change your life. I can’t say I’ve completely broken that habit, but I recognize it when it comes calling and I know what to do to take care of myself.
Finally, he said that one hundred years ago personal hygiene raised human life expectancy dramatically. He asked us to imagine what it would be like if we could do the same for the psychological or emotional health.
Mental Health First Aid
That last bit got to me. So over the next month or so, this blog will explore basic self-care and first aid for our emotional well being.
(ETA) You may wish to read the other posts in this series: “Big Brain-Little Brain: the Mental Health Connection” and “You Have the Right to Feel Good About Yourself.”
If you are willing to share some of the ways you take care of your emotional health, I’d be honored to hear about them. But remember, I’m not a professional. See a professional for the best ways you can help yourself. Because Feelings—they are all in your head isn’t the answer.