Over the last few years, much progress has been made in understanding how to take care of ourselves physically–we see the value in exercising, eating healthy, and taking advantage of modern medicine. We believe in maintaining our physical hygiene and encourage our children to take care of themselves, too. But are you doing anything to take care of your minds?
Let’s change that!
Think about it. Once or twice a day we brush our teeth–even before there is a cavity. We exercise regularly and we try to eat a balanced diet because we know it is good for our heart health and our bodies in general. We wear sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. We eat vitamins to ensure we are getting the necessary nutrients. All this to maintain our physical health. But what are we doing for our mental hygiene?
Just like doctors who take care of us physically, psychologists and therapists are most certainly available when there is a mental health problem. Yes, therapists and psychologists are trained to understand mental illness and a certain level of dysfunction, but what can we preemptively do to take care of our mental health…before there is a problem necessitating a trained individual? In this blog post, I will first define mental hygiene, explain why it is necessary to maintain, and I will end by giving some ideas for how to stay on top of your mental health.
What is mental hygiene?
We need to take care of our minds just as much as we need to take care of our bodies! Mental hygiene is simple. Basically, it entails redirecting your thoughts to be more uplifting and positive, managing stress in a productive manner, and having a healthy inner dialogue. Allowing anything that is uplifting and good into your life is practicing mental hygiene. It is focusing on the good instead of lingering on the negative. You might find that this is best done for you through praying, meditating, getting out in nature, or maybe you are unsure. Keeping up on your mental hygiene will prepare you for and help prevent the roadblocks of failure, rejection, and disappointment that life will inevitably deliver. Read on for strategies on how to practice mental hygiene, which will help you recover from mental injuries as well as develop mental resilience.
Why practice mental hygiene?
Life is hard. There are certain experiences we all go through that may be roadblocks to positive mental health, but we can recover from them if we practice good mental hygiene. The first roadblock to positive mental health I would like to mention is failure. Our initial inclination is to make excuses, retreat, or give up. But if we are actively trying to practice healthy mental hygiene, we can instead recognize and remember that failure is an incredibly valuable teacher and we will all experience failure at some point. Then, we can evaluate why we failed and make a plan for success in the future. See the difference? By practicing healthy mental hygiene, we can have a healthy mindset around failure even before we fail and sets us up nicely to respond to failure in a healthy manner in the future (because we are sure to face it again!).
The second inevitable roadblock to positive mental health is rejection and judgement. Unfortunately, we all judge because it is part of our human nature. And sometimes that judgement is pointed at us. When other people judge or dislike us, it hurts. Our natural tendency is to get defensive or reflect those negative feelings onto others. What practicing good mental hygiene means here is that we will remember that other people’s opinions are the variable…not us! If someone does not like us, that absolutely does not mean we are not loveable! Instead of getting defensive and upset by what other people think about us, we will focus on positive emotions, take their criticisms constructively, and remember our self worth. Practicing good mental hygiene means that we will be able to separate our worth from what people think about us–which is hard and takes practice.
The final roadblock practicing good mental hygiene can prepare us for is disappointment. Whether this disappointment is unmet expectations or tragic news (like sickness, death, financial instability, infidelity, etc), it is bound to happen at some point or another. Our natural tendency is to respond poorly, possibly even shut down or shut others out. But if we are practicing healthy mental hygiene, we can respond in a positive way, manage our stress effectively, self-regulate or manage our emotions. It is impossible to prepare for this type of mental roadblock specifically, but we can prepare for how we will respond by taking care of our mental health. This means that we must know how we react in stressful situations, be able to practice gratitude during difficult times, ask for help, find an outlet, and many other possibilities.
How do I practice mental hygiene?
You might be feeling like you have no idea how to take care of your mental hygiene. I understand that mental hygiene might seem like a new idea even still, but there are so many things you might already be doing or want to be doing that will help you take care of your mental health. The following list of ideas will provide simple ideas on how you can start to improve your mental health today:
- Focus on the good things in your life.
- Track gratitude and achievement in a journal.
- Set up a getaway (check out this post from last week on how traveling will benefit your relationship!).
- Use your talents/strengths.
- Mindfully set some goals.
- Get creative! Try a new recipe, paint, pick up an instrument…
- Make someone else feel loved (cue Love Languages).
- Eat dark chocolate. Seriously, it boost brain power!
- Open up. Whether it is to your partner or a confidant, on social media, in a journal, or with a therapist, do not bottle up your emotions.
- Color. Yes, it may seem childish, but it will help clear your mind.
- Laugh. Comedic relief is real.
- Unplug. Try doing a digital detox or going off the grid to get some clarity.
- Dance. It truly reduces cortisol, the stress hormone!
- Take a warm bath.
- Do animal therapy. Fuzzy friends always make everything better.
- Tour your own town.
- Meal plan and prep. It will offer some control over your week!
- Practice forgiveness. The people who forgive have better mental health and report being more satisfied with their lives.
- Smile. It really helps!
- Send a thank you note.
- Exercise or get outside.
- Get some sun. Vitamin D is a mood elevator.
- Eat well, drink lots of H20, and avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Surround yourself with good people.
- Quiet your mind.
- Practice positive affirmations.
Does mental hygiene make a little more sense now? Another term for practicing mental hygiene is mindfulness. Taking care of our minds is something we need to do each and every day; all of the suggestions above can be carried out regularly and will not require much time or money to accomplish. When you find what works for you, try to incorporate that good habit into your life–make it a regular practice. I assure you that you will feel its effects in your life!
And as always, one of the best things you can do for your mental health is to get help. Even before there is an actual problem–or a mental illness. Get help. Trusting a licensed, experienced therapist can be one of the healthiest things you will ever do for your mental health. Contact me with questions or click here to schedule a session today.
Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.
- Cluff Counseling: “7 Reasons Traveling is Good for Your Relational Health”
- Cluff Counseling: “The Beauty of Journaling”
- Cluff Counseling: “The Best Form of Self-care: Forgiveness”
- Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
- Cluff Counseling: “Doing the Things You Enjoy Can Help Your Anxiety”
- Cluff Counseling: “Gifts of Gratitude”
- Cluff Counseling: “The Key to Slowing Down in a Fast-Paced World”
- Cluff Counseling: “Love Languages: Showing Love Through the Gift of Quality Time”
- Cluff Counseling: “Making 2018 Your Year: Resolutions”
- Cluff Counseling: “Outdoor Therapy: Nature’s Cure”
- Cluff Counseling: “The Positive Influence of Affirmations”
- Cluff Counseling: “Self-Esteem & Self-Worth: Two essential Components of the Self”
- Cluff Counseling: “Sleep…It Does a Body Good!”
- Huffington Post: “16 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health in 2016”
- Jody Moore, Bold New Mom Podcast: “Episode 118: Mental Hygiene”
- Mental Health America: “31 Tips to Boost Your Mental Health”
- Mental Health Foundation: “How to Look After Your Mental Health”
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): “Taking Care of Yourself”
- Psychology Today: “9 Ways You Can Improve Your Mental Health Today”
- University of Michigan: “Ten Things You Can Do for Your Mental Health”