8 absolute necessities for mental health hygiene

Hygiene is defined as a “condition or practice that is conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease.” While I do not subscribe to disease or illness in mental health, I do believe that there are challenges that can be tough to overcome if we do not maintain adequate, regular hygiene to protect our mental health.

Just like daily brushing of teeth and bathing are necessary for good physical health, so are the following 10 practices for keeping yourself in tip-top emotional health.**

Sleep: I cannot say enough about the importance of getting an adequate amount and quality of sleep per day. A recent study found that insomnia in the adolescent population accounted for a large amount of mental health problems. And that improving sleep quality improved mental health functioning by 60%. Try to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day and night. Keep the bed for sleeping (and cuddles!) only. Spritz the sheets and pillowcases with essential oils (lavender is a good choice!). Try a sleep meditation with binaural beats (lots of great meditations here).

Exercise: Ugh, believe me, I understand the constant struggle with exercise. When I am in the routine to do it I love it! But when I fall out of the routine, the hardest step is putting on exercise clothes and getting myself out of the house. I f’n hate being sweaty and wearing a sports bra. Can I get an “amen”? So, don’t beat yourself up about this. Start slow and start small. Walk on the stupid treadmill in wedges if you have to. Just take one small step toward motivation.

Light: Do you notice that you feel more depressed and gloomy during cold, gray, or rainy days? I don’t know about you but during the fall and winter months, I lack energy, want to sleep, crave comfort foods, have trouble focusing, and just turn into a giant slug. Too many days like this and my mental health begins to head south with the birds. If this is you, try to switch up your routine and find some sunlight. If it’s too cold outside, sit by a large window. Get a light box (something like this). For me, the best solution has been the occasional tanning session. Do what works for you.

Music: I remember one time when I was going through a serious bout of depression a friend walked into the room and saw that I was crying and wearing earphones. She walked up to me and said, “Listening to your ‘cry out’ music?” And I was! I had been listening to the saddest music on my playlist because being down in my pit of self-pity felt SO good. It was a good wake-up call. Sad music only makes matters worse. It’s okay to listen to it sometimes but does it help your mental wellness overall? Try to listen to some upbeat music with a good, strong drum beat. I now have a “badass” playlist for my low, low times. It’s not music of sunshine and rainbows. It’s intense, fist-pump, I-can-take-on-the-world kind of music. What’s your favorite song for those times? This is my current favorite!

Diet: Ugh. Again. Think about the foods you turn to when you are having a stressful day. For most of us, it’s something sweet, salty, or greasy. Really gross for our bodies but de-lish-ious for our sad feelings. Now, the occasional junk food binge isn’t so bad. But it needs to be balanced with some healthy stuff for mental health wellness. Don’t like salads? Try a smoothie. Take multivitamins. Give your brain a wellness boost.

Creativity: My new mental health obsession is creating tiny furniture for dollhouses. Those who know me well know that this is absolutely ridiculous and hilarious. I’m not exactly the dollhouse kind of gal (unless it’s a haunted dollhouse). But for some reason, putting these tiny figurines together allows my brain to de-stress from the day and gives me the chance to express my creative, artistic side. (And to be perfectly honest, I’m always listening to a true crime or horror podcast so it’s a win-win!) What encourages your creative side? Is it baking? Art? Music? Writing? Solving math problems? There are no limits to what makes you feel creatively free.

Mindfulness: There’s a lot of noise out there about mindfulness right now but here’s the bottom line: Mindfulness is about being present in the moment. That’s it. I tried this one time while I was driving. I decided to try to be fully aware of what I was feeling (emotions, the feeling of hands on the steering wheel, my feet on the pedals), what I was seeing (cars next to me, birds in the air, sunlight reflecting on street signs), hearing (no music- just the rumble of the engine, cars going by, an ambulance in the distance), etc. Guess how long this lasted? About 20 seconds. Immediately, I got lost in my own thoughts…started thinking about my day…my plans for the weekend…how stupid the guy in the car next to me looked. Mindfulness is extremely simple and extremely hard. So, it’s the simple practice of trying to keep your mind in the present moment regardless of what you are doing. You could do this while meditating or while eating or while driving down the road. Our brains are like toddlers–constantly trying to run off to the next intriguing thing. A healthy, adult brain is in control–is aware.

Relaxation and Self-Care: This is one of the first things I ask of a new client. What do you do to take care of YOU. Do you need to spend time alone? Get a regular massage? Walk in nature? Read? Go to a religious service? Spend time with friends and family? Take a warm bath? Wrestle the dog? Write a old-timey letter? What are 3 things that you might try to implement this week?

**My position is that recovery is possible for most individuals with mental health challenges. There are, as always, some exceptions. If you are concerned about your own mental health, contact your local crisis center.