We all shower, wash hands, brush teeth, exercise and eat every single day without fail. After all, these practices are essential to maintaining our physical health and hygiene. But our mental health too comes with its own set of hygiene practices, knowledge of which isn’t widely accessible. We aren’t taught these in school. Most people only realize the importance of mental health hygiene when they have to visit the psychologist.
Mental health hygiene involves regular practices that foster good mental health. These include things like sleeping well, managing stress, and more. If you’re struggling with sleep, lack of energy and a general feeling of being under the weather, it’s time to prioritize your mental health.
Here are seven ways you can improve your mental health, right now:
Get 7-8 Hours of Sleep Every Night
Sleep accounts for about a third of our lives. Research shows that brain activity during sleep has profound effects on various neurocognitive processes including emotional regulation! Many longitudinal studies have also identified insomnia as an independent risk factor for the development of emerging or recurrent depression among adults. If you’re struggling with either insomnia or hypersomnia, the first thing you should do is fix your sleep. Also review any other symptoms that might be pointing towards depression or anxiety.
Eat Brain-Enriching Foods Aplenty
The gut is called our second brain for a reason. According to Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo, our immunity is linked to levels of depression and anxiety; and studies also show a link to insomnia, dementia and beyond. There are certain food that can help with different conditions: for instance, walnuts, bananas and pumpkin seeds can help with insomnia while adding a teaspoon or two of curcumin to your daily diet can help with depression. To learn more about specific dietary changes you can make for specific mental health problems, pick up Dr Naidoo’s book, “This Is Your Brain on Food.”
Manage Your Stress
Stress is a killer, and it can cause people to become anxious, worried, depressed, or frustrated. But there are practices that can help. Dr Savitha Elam-Kootil, medical advisor at MyYogaTeacher.com, suggests things like yoga, yogic breathwork and meditation are highly effective means to calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety when practiced twice a day. Apart from these, it is worthwhile to explore what relationships and events in your life might be impacting your stress levels, and resolve them either by moving things around, reducing the load on your schedule or reassessing your relationships for your well-being.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
It can be transformative to note all the things in life that one is grateful for. This exercise is widely recommended not just because it feels good, but also because the science supports it. Several studies show that gratitude list interventions result in a significant improvement in perceived stress and depression. So as a practice, incorporate gratitude journaling once every night before you go to bed. Journaling in itself is a practice that can promote creativity and insight in your life. If you’re looking for a place to start, purchase the Five Minute Journal and start today.
Breathwork is a powerful technique to combat stress and anxiety in daily life. Research shows that yogic breathwork such as pranayama and the Sudarshan Kriya (which you can learn from the Art of Living foundation) can alleviate anxiety, depression, everyday stress, post-traumatic stress, and stress-related medical illnesses. If you want to implement breathwork into your daily routine, sign up for a pranayama or yoga class near you.
Maintain Social Interactions, Friendships, Relationships
According to Dan Buettner, who conceptualized the Blue Zones diet, there are a few things that contribute to the longevity of people who live in five parts of the world called “Blue Zones.” One factor has nothing to do with food at all: it has to do with a close-knit network of friends, family and community. Research shows that an active and socially integrated lifestyle in late life might even protect against dementia. So, take out time to connect with friends and family. It’s amazing for your brain health.
That endorphin rush you get from working out at the gym isn’t just a lovely byproduct of pushing your limits–it’s also dousing your brain in healthy feel-good chemicals that can help you manage mood disorders. In one study, researchers found that those who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop depression or an anxiety disorder over the next five years. It’s a great way to boost your mood without the side-effects of medication.
All the tips mentioned in this article can go a long way in improving your mental health, whether you have an illness or not. But this is not a substitute for the advice of a psychiatrist or a psychologist who have assessed your mental health. If you feel that something is wrong, make that trip to the doctor a priority and then implement what you’ve learned.