Mental Health, You brush your teeth twice a day to prevent plaque buildup and visit the dentist on a regular basis for additional maintenance. It’s simply good hygiene.
But how frequently do you practise mental hygiene?
Taking about 15 minutes each morning to maintain your mental health, whether you have a specific concern or are just trying to get through your day a little better, is something everyone could benefit from, according to Broderick Sawyer, a clinical psychologist in Louisville, Kentucky.
“It’s the mental equivalent of brushing your teeth before you need a root canal,” he says.
The hygiene comes in the form of lowering cortisol levels, the primary stress hormone. An intentional daily stress-relief practise not only makes you feel better today, but studies show it may improve your well-being later in life.
According to 2020 research, elevated cortisol levels can lead to a variety of physical health complications. In addition, a 2016 study discovered that emotional regulation improves health resilience in the elderly.
Sawyer has devised a method for maintaining mental health hygiene. He explained why it should be part of your routine and how you can incorporate it into your daily life.
You do have 15 minutes.
If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, setting aside 15 minutes in the morning for relaxation may seem like just another task to cross off your list. That addition, however, will make the rest of the list easier to complete, according to Sawyer.
“It’s not because I don’t have time; you have time for a lot of things,” he explained. “If we can (practise mindfulness) throughout the day, our mental health will require less of our energy and juice.”
Taking the time to reset your mental space at the start of the day ensures that the stresses of the day do not pile on top of an already overburdened system.
And if you start the day stressed, that is often the baseline you return to throughout the day, according to Sawyer. You have a calm reference point to which you can return when you begin with a clear, relaxed mind.
“Having a mental health hygiene practise is like cleaning your mirror and looking into it, and you look in it and know what is and is not you,” Sawyer explained.
Understanding what a relaxed baseline feels like and what causes you to stray from it can help you have compassion for yourself and others who may also experience anxiety or upset, he added.
“We essentially ‘practise feeling happy’ when we do these things every day,” Sawyer explained. “This, in turn, can make us feel more confident when faced with stressful life situations — because we do a good job of nourishing ourselves.”
Here’s how to incorporate it into your daily routine.
- Experiment with new activities
The first step in improving your mental health hygiene, according to Sawyer, is to try new things. “Anything that brings calm and lowers cortisol is a good start.”
“It’s just a matter of learning to treat and cultivate that inner space with awareness,” he added.
To begin, set aside 15 minutes every morning to slow down and intentionally focus on your inner well-being. The activities you engage in during that time could be ones you do every day but make more relaxing, such as drinking your morning coffee slowly with some deep breaths or swapping talk radio for music you enjoy on your commute, according to Sawyer.
However, he added that changing things up, such as sitting outside, going for a walk, or stretching, could be beneficial.
The important thing is to keep trying new things until you find something that works for you — and don’t give up if it takes some time to see results.
- Keep track of how you feel as a result of it.
Journaling is an important part of the experimentation, according to Sawyer.
Making a note of how you felt after trying a new activity in your 15 minutes can help you determine what kinds of things work best for you.
Are you more relaxed throughout the day? Feeling more energised? Better able to deal with stress? The feeling you seek may change, but the goal is to cultivate a baseline feeling that will help you feel better throughout the day.
Journaling can also help you maintain a positive attitude if you don’t immediately see the results you want from your practise, he says.
“You just sort of stumble upon those things as a result of your own practise of intuitively trying things out. If they don’t work, that’s fine; just write it down “Sawyer stated.
- Pay attention to what you require at various times.
Sawyer asserted that no single action will always be effective. Keeping an eye on what you need in different situations can make a big difference.
“So, if I have a busy workday ahead of me, I might need to be a little more upbeat and buoyant. Perhaps I should be more laser-focused because it is a busy writing day. Those are two distinct energies “Sawyer stated.
That could mean ending your 15-minute session with a shot of espresso one day and doing a concentration meditation the next, he explained.
- Continue to add throughout the day as needed.
That 15 minutes in the morning might not seem like such a chore after all. In fact, you may begin to crave mental health check-ins at more frequent intervals throughout the day.
Sawyer suggested adding in some low-impact physical activity, such as walking, biking, or yoga, at any time that feels good, but at least three days a week.
It’s also a good idea to schedule some time to unwind at the end of the day, turning off work notifications, stepping away from screens, and taking time to decompress, he says.
“Once we find that tool or set of tools for ourselves, we get to master how well we use it,” Sawyer explained.