The New IQ: Why emotional hygiene is just as vital as physical hygiene

Managing through the current public health challenge, I’m overwhelmed with many things (altering my work routine and homeschooling, to name a couple), like most of us. As we try to bring meaning to this dynamic new scenario, I would like to share a few thoughts with you. Whether you’re in a leadership position at a large organization or you’ve taken on new teaching responsibilities at home with your children, consider applying these ideas in both your home and work environment.

Recognize the Emotional Component

The current health crisis has made us more conscious about our physical hygiene due to possible infection. As a result, all of us are following the best practices in hand washing and finding creative ways to teach our kids the same. That’s great, but what about managing the new and mixed emotions we’re experiencing every day as a result of the crisis?

This question got me thinking that as much as we protect ourselves physically from germs, we should also get proactive about managing the contagions that attack our minds and emotions during this challenging period. Why? Except for those who’ve experienced World Wars or the Great Depression, most of us have never been in this situation of withdrawing into our homes and living with constant anxiety. Our minds are processing information that they’ve never received or absorbed – at a personal level.

Understand the Role of Cognitive Distortion

A year ago, I learned about the mechanism of how thoughts and emotions affect each other as part of a leadership course (thanks to Professor Wadhwa at Columbia). One of the key concepts is cognitive distortion. Cognitive distortions are habitual ways of thinking that are often inaccurate and negatively biased. There are at least ten common distorted thinking patterns that have been identified by researchers as the sources of not-so-positive thoughts and their resulting emotions.

As I went through mixed feelings these past few weeks, I noticed how often they originated from cognitive distortions such as overgeneralization or magnification, triggered by a constant stream of news and changes in the social environment (work, home and community). We may experience varying levels of stress and not-so-positive thoughts based on the level of impact of this crisis. As a society, this article from the New York Times – in which a Philadelphia ER doctor requests that her community stop shooting to save beds for COVID patients as her city reports increased rates of shootings (though overall crime rates have fallen) – might demonstrate the impact of cognitive distortion on a larger scale. And this analysis by the Scientific American takes a close look at how the crisis impacts distinctive groups in society.

Practice Good Emotional Hygiene

I don’t have the solution at the societal level, but I believe in the changes at an individual level. If we believe that social distancing and washing hands (at a personal level) can slow down the infection rate, we should practice emotional hygiene and manage our thoughts and emotions proactively. As we know, our immunity is the product of many factors, both physical and mental. As an engineer, I can’t resist an equation.

Immunity Quotient = Physical Hygiene x Emotional Hygiene

In other words, IQ = PH x EH. I wish that the CDC would increase awareness around emotional hygiene as we go through this crisis. (Here’s an expert’s advice on emotional hygiene, for curious ‘TED’ fans.)

Immunity Quotient Graphic

In the meantime, what can we do (and teach our kids and/or encourage among our workforce) every day to manage emotional hygiene? There are many proven techniques to direct our thoughts and emotions proactively, and here are a few I’ve committed to practice (as easy as A-B-C!). 😊

  • Accept: Consciously acknowledge new reality (homeschooling, new work routine, resulting in interruptions and inefficiencies) and resulting outcomes once every day.
  • Breathe: Breathe consciously and slowly for two minutes every two hours (a kind of de-tox for our mind from anxious thoughts), or your not-so-positive thoughts will build up through the day.
  • Consume less: Go on a news diet. (It’s essential to be current, but we can set a few boundaries such as not reading the news for more than three minutes at a time.)

As leaders, we are required to coach and guide our family, organization, and community now more than ever. Without self-awareness, we can’t manage ourselves, much less our family, work and community – especially in the current crisis.

How are you managing your emotional hygiene during this crisis? Share your techniques below and help others.



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