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Use Daily Mental Hygiene to Improve Your Mental Health

By Natasha Tracy B.Sc  •   March 7, 2022

Use Daily Mental Hygiene to Improve Your Mental Health

Mental hygiene isn’t something many people have heard of and so many don’t know how beneficial it can be on a daily basis. But just like dental hygiene is about avoiding health problems in your mouth down the line, daily mental hygiene is about avoiding mental health problems down the line. And considering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one in five people will have a diagnosable mental illness in any give year, we should be doing all we can do make our mental health as resilient as possible. What’s more, daily mental hygiene has benefits in the short and long term.

What Is Mental Hygiene? How Does Mental Hygiene Help Mental Health

Definitions of mental hygiene vary, but according to Dictionary.com, mental hygiene is defined as:

“The branch of psychiatry that deals with the science and practice of maintaining and restoring mental health, and of preventing mental disorder through education, early treatment, and public health measures.”

Essentially, mental hygiene is about the positive habits you can practice that will improve your mental health over time. This means that your mental health will be more resilient as you face the stressors and challenges in daily life, and when your mental health is harmed, you’ll be able to bounce back more quickly. Mental hygiene is about encouraging personal wellbeing.

Mental hygiene is just like other forms of hygiene such as dental hygiene and sleep hygiene. For example, making a habit of daily brushing and flossing is important to prevent more serious issues like cavities and the need for a root canal or worse. Similarly, sleep hygiene is about habits that will improve your sleep over time.

What Mental Hygiene Is Not

While mental hygiene can benefit everyone – including those with mental illness – it is not considered a frontline treatment for serious mental concerns. This is just like for other forms of hygiene. If you are experiencing severe tooth pain, all the brushing and flossing in the world won’t help, you need a dentist and possibly an extraction. However, once your tooth is pulled, good dental hygiene may prevent similar issues from happening in the future.

For example, if a person is experiencing suicidality or psychosis (the presence of delusions and/or hallucinations), it’s inappropriate to think mental hygiene can turn those symptoms around. People in those situations need psychiatric care immediately. This care may dictate the prescription of medications like an antidepressant or antipsychotic. That said, while being medically treated, mental hygiene practices can be considered beneficial add-ons to treatment.

Most Common Practices for Mental Hygiene for Positive Mental Health

In 2019, the Canadian government listed the following practices for promoting positive mental health in everyday life:

• Helping people to feel included in your community

• Participating in physical activities (such as exercise or other activities that require physical exertion) and encouraging the participation of others

• Taking ownership of your life experiences and not blaming your situation on events beyond your control (i.e., taking personal responsibility for your life)

• Eating well (The United States dietary guidelines can be found here.)

• Being accepting of changes in your environment (such as when you get a new job, go through a divorce, experience the death of a loved on, etc.)

• Identifying and realizing your goals

Each of the above is a mental hygiene technique that promotes positive mental health. It’s worth noting that two of the above six items also include encouraging connections with others indicating this, too, can improve one’s mental health.

And while incorporating these practices into your daily life is part of mental hygiene, researchers suggest there are other important mental hygiene techniques that have shown usefulness in studies.

Daily Mental Hygiene: Meditation

Meditation can be a challenging mental hygiene practice to study and even talk about because there are many different kinds. That said, according to the research article “Mental Hygiene: What It Is, Implications, and Future Directions” by Tremblay et al., meditation has been shown to:

• Produce small to moderate reductions in multiple kinds of psychological stress

• Produce positive changes to the default mode network (a group of neural regions in the brain that has to do with reported levels of wellbeing)

• Decrease negative, self-focused rumination

Mindfulness meditation is often the type of meditation used for mental hygiene. Mindfulness meditation is a form of mental training that involves “focusing attention on the present-moment experience in a nonjudgmental way.”

This produces an ability to watch the content of one’s own mind dispassionately. This, in turn, creates a sense of self-awareness. All of this creates more positive mental health.

Daily Mental Hygiene: Positive Psychological Interventions (PPIs)

Other forms of mental training also have benefits on one’s wellness, and positive psychological interventions (PPIs) are examples of this type of training. According to Tremblay et al., PPIs are defined as:

“intentional cognitive activities that help cultivate positive feelings, positive behaviors, and positive cognitions”

Positive psychological interventions are comprised of a myriad of techniques. Some PPIs include:

• Practicing gratitude – by counting things for which to be thankful

• Writing about positive experiences

• Rehearsal of positive statements

• Doing “best possible self” exercises – various exercises wherein you visualize your life in the future when you are your best possible self

• Positive journaling

While the above techniques vary, the commonality is positivity. These practices are a deliberate and intentional way of fostering cognitive patterns that facilitate wellbeing. Not only have these techniques shown benefit in scientific study, but they seem to offer significant value in people’s real lives.

Daily Mental Hygiene: Self-Directed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT

According to the Canadian Association of Mental Health (CAMH), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a practical, short-term form of psychotherapy that helps people to develop skills and strategies for becoming and staying healthy.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is:

• Structured

• Only about 6-20 sessions

• Problem-focused and goal-oriented

• Based on a proactive, shared therapeutic relationship between therapist and client

And while CBT is often conducted in a group setting with a professional psychologist facilitating, self-directed CBT has been shown to be effective in increasing subjective wellbeing as well. According to Tremblay et al., this is because CBT can:

“measurably alter brain patterns by modifying dysfunctional neural activity related to various anxiety disorders.”

Self-directed CBT may be conducted as a series of exercises such as writing down thought records or by following a digital program. A digital program may, for example, be comprised of six, 20-minute computer sessions over 12 weeks.

Daily Mental Hygiene: Prayer

Of course, for some, the idea of prayer as a mental hygiene practice may be controversial. And while secularism is on the rise, particularly in Western nations, 84 percent of the world’s population still identify as religious.

While being religious itself may not increase wellbeing, according to Tremblay et al., there have been several findings suggest that the regular practice of prayer is correlated with increased mental wellbeing. It seems that the frequency of prayer is what correlates to better mental health.

They note:

“The vital component in improving well-being is not religiosity per se but rather the intentional, regular, and deliberate mental training that takes place in the form of religious prayer.”

Prayers that have shown benefit to one’s wellbeing include things like gratitude, giving thanks, and those with prosocial themes (such as praying for another), whereas prayer that is obligatory or supplicatory (asking for things) has not shown a benefit.

It’s important to note that while prayer may be a positive mental hygiene practice for many, just like every other technique, it’s not necessarily right for everyone.

Daily Mental Hygiene: Nature Exposure

Many people enjoy a walk in the woods or a stroll on the beach and while, anecdotally, people will say this makes them feel good, few people know there is actual evidence that a practice of nature exposure can actually increase your wellbeing. For example, Tremblay et al. notes a study in which:

“a 50-min walk in a natural setting helped reduce anxiety and rumination, as well as increase working memory performance, when compared with controls who also did a 50-min walk, but in an urban environment.”

It’s even the case that mental wellbeing is increased in urban-living individuals when more greenspace is available.

While nature exposure hasn’t been studied specifically in regard to a daily mental hygiene practice, the literature that is available on it suggests that a regular habit of nature exposure may decrease anxiety, decrease rumination, and increase mental wellbeing.

How to Make Time for Daily Mental Hygiene

All the above can seem overwhelming. How can one find time to meditate, pray, get outside, exercise, eat well, be goal-focused, and more every single day?

There are two parts to the answer. One is that it’s important to remember how critical mental health is to one’s overall wellbeing. And the second part of the answer is that you can’t.

The World Health Organization (WHO) makes it clear that mental health is an integral part of a person’s wellbeing. They state,

“There is no health without mental health.”

Understanding the reality of these words means understanding that working on one’s mental health every day is just as important as working on other forms of health every day. In other words, it’s worth the daily effort for a better quality of life.

But the second part of the answer is very important too: you must understand that you can’t do it all. As outlined above, there are many ways to practice mental hygiene and while they may all have benefits, not all of them will necessarily be right for you and you can’t possibly do them all at once anyway.

The best tack is to pick one form of mental hygiene and try to incorporate it, slowly, into your daily life. Try different practices. See what works for your mental health. The most important thing is to do something, not necessarily to do everything.

And just making that effort and increasing your understanding of mental hygiene and mental health can improve your overall wellbeing’s outlook.

Sources

Canadian Association of Mental Health, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Accessed February 17, 2022.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), About Mental Health. Reviewed June 28, 2021.

Dictionary.com, Mental Hygiene. Accessed February 17, 2022.

Government of Canada, Promoting Positive Mental Health. November 25, 2019.

Tremblay, G. et al., “Mental Hygiene: What It Is, Implications, and Future Directions.” Journal of Prevention and Health Promotion, April 15, 2021.

World Health Organization (WHO), Mental Health. Accessed February 17, 2022.

Disclaimer:

The purpose of the above content is to raise awareness only and does not advocate treatment or diagnosis. This information should not be substituted for your physician's consultation and it should not indicate that use of the drug is safe and suitable for you or your (pet). Seek professional medical advice and treatment if you have any questions or concerns.