Blog Post

What Is Mental Health Hygiene?

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What exactly is mental health hygiene?

We all have habits regarding our health that we perform daily, weekly, or monthly. Perhaps you focus on keeping up your fruit and vegetable intake, your fitness, or keeping alcohol intake in check. These behaviours come under the ‘health hygiene’ umbrella. Health hygiene is any practice or behaviour focused on managing your health. Some more basic physical health hygiene behaviours are things like brushing your teeth or showering daily.

There has traditionally been a focus on physical health hygiene in order to improve and manage physical health. After all, no one likes getting sick.

But what about our mental health? Mental health hygiene is often overlooked or simply forgotten. This is probably because the consequences of not managing your mental health are less obvious. We know that when we eat poorly and don’t exercise, we gain weight. It’s a relationship that is so direct that we can see the consequences. But more than that, we can directly see a benefit when we take care of ourselves. We see it whenever we look in the mirror.

The benefits and consequences of mental health are less obvious. But that doesn’t make them less important. In fact, good mental health hygiene has such an enormous impact on functioning and wellbeing that it should be getting promoted just as much as the physical stuff.

Lets look at the evidence:

People who are performing well mentally have more energy, more focus, are happier, have better relationships, better sex lives, are more productive and live longer.

People who are struggling to manage their minds are more susceptible to stress, mental illness, physical illness, absenteeism from work, social withdrawal, low energy and low motivation. The kicker is that these things directly impact people’s physical health!

The good news is that the focus on mental health is now moving into the limelight, with a growing body of science to back it up.

What are some mental health hygiene habits?

Be mindful:

Mindfulness is the practice of being consciously present in the moment, without judgment. Practicing mindfulness actually re-wires your brain and has been shown to improve sleep, mood, focus, and energy levels. Mindfulness is so powerful it is now commonly used as a therapeutic treatment for both physical and mental disorders. Just 10 minutes a day is enough to see a change.

Get a good night’s sleep

How? Try these four steps and see if you get some results

  1. Regular bedtime. The brain likes routine. Stick to the same time and you’ll find falling asleep much easier
  2. Cut out the booze. Alcohol reduces our ability to move into stage 4 sleep; the deepest and most restorative sleep stage. Ever have a few drinks and wake up feeling unrested? That’s why.
  3. No screens for an hour or so before bed. The blue-light emitted from phones, televisions and other screens stimulates the brain into thinking its time to be awake. Read a book or do something else relaxing instead.
  4. Mindful practice. Practicing mindfulness allows the brain to change tracks and be present. It’s difficult to fall asleep if you’re always thinking about what you need to do tomorrow.

Stress management

  • There are different approaches to managing stress. Problem-focused approaches are useful when the stressors are within your control. Research shows that scheduling tasks to specific time slots in order to accomplish necessary tasks is a helpful stress-management strategy.
  • When stressors are out of our control we need to focus more on how we respond to the stressor. Relaxation practices such as deep breathing or meditation can be helpful here.

Social relationships

  • Humans are social creatures. We thrive off social interaction. A network of friends and colleagues is important, so making time to catch up with friends is good mental health hygiene.

Exercise

  • Exercise is great for mental health for a range of reasons. If it’s achieved through team sports then it fosters multiple benefits. In addition, the effects on the cardiovascular system and increased blood flow to the brain have been shown to improve mood and job performance.

To sum up:

  1. Mental health hygiene is just as important as taking care of your physical self
  2. Good mental health hygiene is as simple as implementing regular practices that foster good mental health
  3. A few basics include: practice mindfulness, manage stress, sleep well, call a friend, and move regularly. You’ll be flourishing in no time J

Angela Montgomery

School of Psychology, Deakin University

wellteq is a corporate health platform offering a suite of health tech programs for employee engagement and HR data analytics. Their programs include both a series of holistic health and targeted mental health programs, they also now offer a lifestyle age HRA to complement their global well-tech programs.