The Importance Of Mental Hygiene And How To Benefit From It
“I want to always be healthy” has been one of the most common wishes ever since our ancestors understood the word “health.” But what it means to most people, even now, is just physical health. Hardly anyone ever stops to think about their mental health.
For example, how often do we hear and say things like: “Oh, he’s/she’s just shy/nervous/etc”? That’s us ignoring the underlying cause, which is poor mental health. Or in this case, the lack of self-confidence.
Doesn’t sound all that important?
Now imagine someone saying “I’m just bleeding internally, no biggie.” That person would be immediately rushed to the hospital if anyone heard that.
The levels of importance we put into our mental health and physical health are leaps and bounds apart. Even though they should be treated equally.
We scrape our knees, they bleed, and the first thought is to do immediately treat the wound. But when something injures our minds, we let it fester and rot.
Isn’t that weird?
The truth of the matter is, poor mental health, the same as poor physical health, can have life-ending consequences.
If not, why would anyone want to commit suicide? That’s simply the point where mental health issues are at their worst.
When it happens to someone close to us, we only know how to grieve, never learning anything from it, which breaks my heart.
We could do so much more, and we could even make it better for everyone in the world. After all, we’ve already done it many times in the past…
The ignored method
What our ancestors learned over the course of many centuries is that by maintaining personal hygiene their physical health would improve considerably.
Not only were they less likely to get sick, but it also made illnesses much easier to beat, allowing them to enjoy longer lives as a result.
So most people could now easily live to at least 50 years of age, while in the past when they didn’t have personal hygiene, it was highly unlikely to live past 30.
And it only got better in terms of life expectancy, leading into the present day, where some outliers live to a 100 and above.
So what makes them different?
For the longest time, I wasn’t sure. It could’ve been genetics, luck, and all sorts of variables I had no idea about.
But then what Guy Winch said at a TED talk blew my mind. The key ingredient was “mental hygiene.”
The super old fogeys practice mental hygiene, knowingly or unknowingly. And the more I thought about it, the more I understood the importance of mental hygiene.
Like that story about the 90-year old grandma. She took a shot of whiskey each day most of her life, but somehow her physical health, blood pressure, cholesterol, and all, was perfect.
That single shot of whiskey was her mental hygiene technique. It’s what kept her happy, her mind clear, and her mental health intact, which also reflected on her physical condition, allowing her to live a long life.
It was a simple routine or a habit. Much like brushing your teeth or washing your hands after using the restroom.
That’s all it takes to live a long, but also a really enjoyable life,free of excessive worrying, anxiety, and depression.
Imagine if everyone in the world could do it, not just you or me. How much better would the world be?
It might sound like a utopia, but it’s actually possible. The sooner we start practicing mental hygiene, the sooner everyone’s mental health will improve, and the sooner the world will become a better place.
Now hold up, I’m not saying a shot of whiskey each day will make your mental health better. It could, but each person has something different that works for them.
What we’ll focus on for now are the universal techniques that will help everyone. So without further ado, here goes!
Mental hygiene technique 1 – morning rituals
In the morning, or whenever you wake up, are you happy to get up? Are you excited for the day ahead? Or do you drag yourself out of bed just because you have to?
When it’s the latter, it’s a sign your mental health is getting worse, signaling the first stage of an impending burnout.
A simple fix for this is to create a morning ritual. Don’t let the word “ritual” scare you though, it’s just a fancy name for habit or routine.
The most important difference, however, is that you need to do something you really enjoy before heading out to work. Like reading a book, playing a game, drawing a picture, or anything at all.
This is a psychological trick in a sense. You’re waking up to do that one thing you really enjoy instead of work. But if you can’t figure out what it is for you, here’s what you can do…
When you’re sitting all bored and unmotivated at work, what’s the first thing you can’t wait to do as soon as you get home? Include that in your morning ritual.
By doing it, you also give yourself a taste of what’s to come, remind yourself of the things that make life enjoyable for you.
It’s nothing grand or difficult, but if we can learn to brush our teeth each day to maintain our dental health, why can’t we do the same for our mental health with morning rituals?
Mental hygiene technique 2 – constantly re-adjust yourself
Something that I’ve always admired is how the best tennis players remain calm and focused even in the most intense situations. It’s the simple proof of great mental health and mental strength.
“How do they do it?” is what I kept asking myself for the longest time. Because let’s face it, no one is born with an indomitable will that allows them to maintain their mental health indefinitely…
But Guy Winch’s suggestion about mental hygiene revealed the answer to me. It was the small things the tennis players do between each serve, set, and game.
Like straightening their cap, adjusting their racquet’s strings, or just taking deep breaths. All of these simple things help them re-adjust themselves.
This lessens agitation, frustration, and anxiety, allowing them to keep their heads in the game. Because any kind of sport is as much a mental battle as it is a physical battle, but only the best realize that.
And the same thing can be said about work. While work usually doesn’t have the same level of intensity as sports, there are times when you have heart-pounding moments.
A mistake you noticed and have to fix in less than 5 minutes. Or maybe your boss, manager, or whoever takes out their stress on you.
At times like that, you also need to re-adjust yourself. Any simple action will do, like re-ordering the things on your table.
The goal is to distract yourself long enough so you can calm down and focus again, taking anywhere from 10 – 60 seconds, depending on the intensity of your emotions.
It’s a very simple but effective trick to increase your focus and overall mental health.
Mental hygiene technique 3 – develop the habit of stopping rumination before it even happens
Rumination, in psychology, is when we constantly think about what’s bothering us and the bad things that could happen to us, instead of devising a solution.
This can be regret, trauma, and bad experiences among other reasons. When we ruminate on things like that, it damages our mental health, leading into anxiety and even depression.
That’s why rumination is something that needs our attention the most when it comes to mental hygiene. But at the same time, rumination is one of the hardest things to avoid.
So what do we do exactly?
Guy Winch suggests distracting ourselves by doing something or by forcefully thinking about something else for 2 minutes. That’s how long it usually takes for the ruminating thoughts to disappear.
It won’t be easy at first, but that goes for any new habit we’re trying to develop. The trick is to keep at it. And about a week it is when we notice the first results.
We feel better, it’s easier to focus, and sleep is a lot more refreshing. All because you shift the tendency of your brain from rumination to concentration.
We use our brains to think about the things that we can actually impact, instead of worrying about what we can’t change anymore. That’s something that makes all the difference for your mental health.
Mental hygiene technique 4 – talk to someone every once in a while
The deadliest mental affliction is loneliness, which can leave anyone’s mental health in shambles, being responsible for about 14% of all deaths related to mental disorders.
The important thing to note, however, is that it’s less about being physically alone and more about being alone in your thoughts.
This is somewhat ironic in this day and age when with the help internet and social media we’re more connected now than ever before.
But somehow, in all those webs of connection, our deepest and most important thoughts and worries remain unsaid and unheard.
We’re social creatures by nature, so we want to be heard, we want to be understood, we want to belong, and we want to share the burden with someone else.
That’s how our minds are built to work and that’s how they work the best, so when we don’t have any of that, our mental health declines.
Because there’s nothing more frightening and damaging than believing you’re alone in this world.
So if you feel like that’s happening to you, try talking to someone. It can be your friends, your family, or even someone you don’t know online on places like Reddit.
Share your pain, share your worries, and tell your story because there will always be someone who’ll respond. You are not alone and all you have to do is reach out to realize that.
Mental hygiene technique 5 – remind yourself why life is worth living
The final mental hygiene technique is very similar to taking a shower, but the only difference is that you’re washing away your mind’s dirt and sweat.
It ties in with one of the most common problems many people face nowadays. It’s the fact that they’re simply too busy in their day to day lives.
Most of their time is taken up by work, commuting, and chores, so what little time they have left they spend on resting because they’re dead tired.
Unfortunately, this way of living is very draining, causing mental dirt to build up. Their productivity lowers, their happiness lowers, and eventually, life doesn’t seem worth living anymore.
To avoid that, make a conscious effort to do the things you love. Rekindle the passion for your hobbies.
Or maybe spend some more time with your friends and loved ones. Remind yourself of the many reasons why life is worth living.
And if you still can’t find any time for that, maybe a career change is in order. Like starting your own personal business, being your own boss, and getting complete control over your time.
Start scrubbing away the mental dirt!
Your mental health won’t get better by itself, so start by putting these five great mental techniques into practice!
All five of them are simple, effective, and guaranteed to improve your overall mental health, as long as you persist on using them.
Use the same mindset as you would when brushing your teeth. If you do it only once, you’ll still get cavities in the long run.
Additionally, there many more mental hygiene techniques out there you could be using, like meditation or exercise. If you look for them, you’ll find them!
That being said, I can recommend something else that has helped me a great deal with mental hygiene and mindfulness in general. It’s a mindfulness book called “Seven Minute Mindfulness” co-authored by Greg Thurston and Scott Mason. (click on the book below to find out more!)That’s all for this week’s blog post though! Let me know in the comments what you think and if you practice mental hygiene!
See you in the next blog post, live empowered!
Here’s Guy Winch’s enlightening TED talk on mental hygiene: