Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid

How to heal and grow from common heartaches


The following is based on a TEDTalk by psychologist Dr. Guy Winch called “Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid."

Corporate Wellness Philadelphia

We’re taught from a young age that if we get a cut, we need to keep it clean. If we want to keep our teeth, we have to brush them twice a day. We know that habits of physical hygiene are important for our health - but habits of emotional hygiene are equally as crucial.

As humans, we suffer both emotional and physical injuries. Unlike physical injuries,  we are often taught to suppress or “power through” emotional injuries. Butemotional pain from experiences of failure, rejection or loneliness doesn’t always heal on it’s own. 

It’s important to practice “emotional hygiene:” actionable, scientifically-supported tools for treating emotional wounds, healing them, and strengthening our emotional resilience. 


How do you react when you feel the sting of rejection, the ache of loneliness, or the pain of failure? We have all developed unique responses to painful emotions as a means of self-defense. Become aware of how you act when you are in emotional pain. From here, you can begin to take steps to heal.


Our thoughts can be our most supportive friend in one minute, and our greatest critic the next. When we experience emotional pain, our thoughts can turn negative fast. It’s important not just to pay attention to what that pain feels like, but to actively stop the process of negative rumination.


When you notice yourself ruminating (re-playing) negative thoughts in your head, take a 2-minute distraction-break to stop thecycle. This short distraction is all it takes to keep your brain from going down the rabbit hole of reinforcing negative emotions.


The urge to over-think can be powerful. Sometimes it can seem like the only option. No matter how strong the urgent gets, you have the ability to practice shifting your focus. This practice over time builds the habit of emotional hygiene.

Practicing these habits of emotional hygiene can change your perspective and quality of life in as little as a few days: pay attention, stop emotional bleeding, protect your self-esteem, and battle negative thoughts. 

Dr. Winch explains: “When you’re in emotional pain, treat yourself with the same emotional compassion you would expect from a good friend.”

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Anna Greenwald