A Three-Step Roadmap to Practical Mental Hygiene
There seems to be an endless ebb and flow of panels, discussions, roundtables, campaigns, and events of varying kinds focused on “self-care” and ensuring we are committed to spending time looking after our mental health. The conversations are evolving and multiplying, and yet through all the noise it can be easy to lose track of what steps we can take in order to actually begin to establishing any semblance of real balance or calm in our day-to-day lives.
So what will self-care and balance look like? How can we ensure we’re existing in the sweetspot between throwing ourselves into our work lives and maximizing the value and energy we derive from our social lives? We can’t hope to do this without making the upkeep of our mental health habitual.
There are droves of articles that will present you with specific examples of activities and exercises that you can look to in order to fuel up. Instead, we’re going to be looking at the general rules, long-term commitments, and broader stroke philosophies that can help propel you towards establishing your own brand of equilibrium that will be uniquely yours, and that you can progressively foster over time.
Developing a mental hygiene regimen
One of the prevailing sentiments that mental health advocates have successfully embedded into our collective social consciousness is the idea that we have both physical and mental health. It’s been an important first step that will hopefully lay the groundwork for the ultimate goal of absolute stigma smashing, where folks who are struggling feel it more accessible and normalized to speak openly about what they are going through.
There is another angle, however, from which to view the relationship between how we approach our physical and mental health that can help us master our emotions and our self-care.
Think for a moment about how you care for your body. Likely, each and every day, there are various things that make up your hygiene routine. You take a bath or a shower, brush your teeth and your hair, keep your nails trimmed, wash your face, and you ensure that you maintain a baseline daily level of cleanliness and freshness. What happens if you let your physical hygiene go? Well, things can get pretty stinky, pretty quickly.
We have to start taking the same daily care with our minds, hearts, and souls, facilitated by micro-tasks that become equally as doable and regular. Developing a mental hygiene regimen can be as simple as checking in a few times a day to see how you’re feeling, and maybe spending a few moments determining whether there is anything you might need to do to address any stresses or anxieties you detect. In other words, taking stock of what needs cleaning to ensure things don’t get too stinky.
This isn’t something we can afford to only do when we have heart-to-hearts with friends or family, or when we are speaking with our therapist, or when things become overwhelming and we are forced to confront what has us feeling stifled. It has to be a part of getting up in the morning and preparing to face the world that awaits you. And hey, the more you do it, the more seamless it’ll feel as part of your routine.
Facilitating growth of your emotional intelligence
Do you ever get told that you spend too much time “zoned-out” or in your own head? Well, perhaps it isn’t the most polite thing in the world if you're visibly invested in something, someone, or somewhere far away from the folks you are currently with, but there is actually tremendous value that we can mine out of the shafts deep within our brains, which can only happen if we spend time in our heads looking around.
Your emotions are what make you human. The way you feel and react to the stimuli in your life are unique to you, and seeking to better understand how your processes work can unlock some super powers you didn’t know you had. And trust me when I tell you that you are resilient, strong, and a possessor of many supernatural abilities.
So, as part of your mental hygiene regimen, it’s important that you make specific note of what emotions are foregrounded in your head and to try to identify patterns, in the hope of ultimately establishing some blueprint of causality in your life. In simpler words, it can be wildly beneficial to make sure to make mental notes of how you feel after particular activities, spending time with different people, or carrying out different tasks, to see how the different facets of your life contribute to, or take away from, your overall feeling of calm and wellness.
This process of consistent reflection will also likely help you develop a deeper understanding for, and appreciation of, just how dynamic and impactful human emotions can be. Developing your emotional intelligence and accounting for how your words and actions might make other people feel is how we grow and nurture our empathy bones. I can think of very few things more worthwhile to nurture in this life.
Becoming your own best friend
When something really wonderful happens, we often will want our friends and family close by to hug, high-five, and share the joy with. We want our cheerleaders to help boost those accomplishments and maximize the fuel they can provide, and there are few things more wholesome and pure than unbridled happiness and joy shared with friends!
When things are particularly tough, we also often will rely on our people for validation, compassion, and support. We might seek their shoulders to cry on, their wisdom to lean on, or their arms to seek refuge in. Healing in isolation is more daunting than healing through community.
That said, we are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to experience the ultimate validation from the ultimate best friend source; from the only person who is literally always there when life happens… ourselves, of course!
When we succeed in something grand that we’ve been working hard towards, we can train ourselves to be our own cheerleaders, and to have an internal celebration that is unrivalled by any support we could get elsewhere. When something causes us hardship and leaves us feeling low or small, we can give ourselves the same unrelenting, unconditional validation and compassion that we readily give our friends when they need us.
Breaking down the double-standard between how we treat the people in our lives that we care about (typically with endless patience, radical kindness, and boundless compassion) is the key to truly unlocking what “self-love” can look like each and every moment in your daily life. We can learn to be our own best friend, and thus feel even marginally less alone when we could use some loving company. And the best part? This is best done in addition to, and not in the absence of the communities of support that we should continue to build our lives around. This is not an invitation to shut-out your friends, but is rather encouragement to minimize the time you spend feeling alone and lost.
So, there you have it: three subtle changes to the philosophy of life that can make immeasurable impacts on how you feel!
Now, keep in mind that these are lifelong processes that can never truly reach a point of “completion.” They are commitments to prioritize important parts of staying afloat, and shouldn’t be sought after as one-time quick fixes that will solve any and all of our problems. It’s important to stay patient and to focus on honing your craft in order to grow, just as you would when learning or cultivating any new skill or language elsewhere in your life. It takes time and practice, but holy heck do I believe you’ve got it in you.
Stay the course, prioritize your health in its entirety, and enjoy the fruits of your labour in the form of your own incredible compassion, patience, and love.