Do you brush your teeth every day? How about showering? Wash your hands after going to the bathroom? I’m sure you do, because you know the detrimental effects of letting these rituals slide. We have had the importance of healthy hygiene routines drummed into us since we were children; but what about daily routines that keep us mentally and emotionally healthy?
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health and looking after our minds can help ward off dis-ease just as effectively as looking after your teeth. Just as skipping brushing or failing to floss can cause tooth decay over time, a poor mental health hygiene routine can make us susceptible to low-self esteem, depression and stress.
So what is the ideal mental health hygiene routine? It will differ from person to person and most people have an idea of what keeps them mentally well, what needs to be avoided and what makes them feel good. There are some standard practices that have been scientifically proven to keep us mentally healthy, such as good REM sleep, exercise and spending time with other people; but it’s also good to have a personal routine, which fits your particular needs.
You may already know yourself well enough to have some of these in place, or heard other people talking about theirs: “running really clears my head before work” “yoga just chills me out in the evening”, or “ If I didn’t have coffee with my neighbour every morning I’d feel really isolated.” If you’re not sure what yours are, this is an excellent place to start the self-enquiry process. Like personal hygiene some things need to be done daily to keep you feeling good and to stave off anxiety and the blues. My own personal daily hygiene routine comprises the following.
• Some form of exercise (at least walking the dog and/or yoga)
• Reading for at least 30 minutes (to keep me mentally stimulated)
• 10 minutes sitting in meditation (to keep my mind calm and focused)
• Writing a daily list of things that need to be done (so I don’t get overwhelmed with work and projects)
• Quality interaction with someone (even if it’s just calling my mum for a chat)
This is going to be different for each person. You might be a runner rather than a yogi; you might draw or paint rather than be a bookworm. Writing a check list of things that you can do daily (perhaps sticking a list on the mirror) is an excellent way to start your hygiene routine. Keep the list short and make sure they are small and achievable tasks; otherwise you set yourself up to fail. If you can’t realistically spend an hour in the gym every single day, then don’t put it on your daily list. Perhaps put it on your weekly or monthly list instead.
Similarly to health hygiene there are things to be done more sporadically. You probably go to the dentist once or twice a year; you might put a face pack on once a week, or give your hair a good blow dry. As a therapist I need to make sure my mental health is in tip-top condition and so I have additional routines in place to help me out. I regularly see a therapist to facilitates my own self-reflection and enquiry. I also like to treat myself to a massage or reflexology once a month to help me relax; and aim to go to a yoga/meditation class once or twice a week.
Again, it may be useful to see what your own needs are, how you can get them met, and how often. Perhaps there is a person in your life withwhom you can meet up with on a regular basis for a coffee and a chat. If you’re a parent, maybe you need to make sure you have a couple of hours off a week doing something just for yourself, like a class or a group activity. Taking a little time to map out some regular activities to keep you feeling relaxed and fulfilled can make a dramatic difference to your mental well being.
And finally, it is useful to have a back up plan if you do find yourself with symptoms of emotional dis-ease. If you get a cavity you go to the dentist; so it is logical that if you’re struggling with your mental and emotional wellbeing you should seek some help there as well. A good therapist will not only be able to get you back on track, but can help you with that all important self-enquiry; and help you come up with the right mental health hygiene regime that is tailor made to keep you emotionally healthy.
Devising a daily mental hygiene regime, doing regular activities to keep you emotionally well, and having a good therapist on hand if things need fine tuning is an excellent way to make sure you keep emotionally and mentally well for a lifetime.