Have You Brushed Today? The Importance of Mental Health Hygiene
There are many types of hygiene: physical hygiene such as showering, sleep hygiene such as getting to bed and waking up at the same time every day, and mental health hygiene which is akin to self-care. Mental health hygiene is like brushing your teeth in that if you don’t brush daily, your teeth will begin to decay. If you are not caring for yourself well each day, your mental health will begin to decay. You may begin to feel more irritable, exhausted, or apathetic, and if gone without check, not caring for yourself can have a negative impact on life.
I have become reminded of the importance of self-care this year. I am in the first year of transitioning to self-employment, four people in my life have died, and I am adjusting to the empty nest. 2018 has been a challenging year for me, and with challenges, deficits in mental health hygiene become apparent.
When times are stressful, self-care is so very important and yet, it may be the first thing to go. To avoid the uncomfortable feelings, one may defer to mini-addictions such as shopping, emotional eating, spending hours upon hours binge-watching Netflix and scrolling through Facebook, or even working too many hours. I’m here to remind you that this only adds to stress.
As I’ve been moving through the challenges this growth-filled year continues to bring, I have increased gratitude for the priority I place on integrating self-care into my daily life. Here are five ways you can care for yourself with intention:
Become your own best friend. One of the most important ways I have cared for myself is by increasing my self-compassion. Talking to myself kindly in the mirror. Refraining from self-judgment and accepting where I am in each moment. Asking myself, “What am I feeling?” and “What do I need?”
Get outside. Put down the remote and the phone and connect with nature. Meditate on the sounds of the birds, notice as the leaves begin to change their color. Being out in nature can help us feel more alive.
Dance like no one is watching. Move your body to release tension and stress, to express yourself in new and healthy ways. It’s fun… and it’s exercise.
Learn to say no when you want to say no. Remember, whenever you say yes to something, you are saying no to another. When you say yes and mean no, often you are saying no to yourself.
Share your appreciation. Rather than focusing on the negative, look for what brings you gratitude and share that appreciation with others. Pay it forward and give compliments and acknowledgments of a job well done.
We’ve all been there. Stress is high and everything seems to be happening at once. Practicing self-care is worth prioritizing each and every day, especially in times of stress and challenge. A Zen proverb says, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” I would venture to say the same is true for self-care!