How to Improve Mental Hygiene

Three Methods:Building a Positive AttitudeLearning to Manage EmotionsFighting Stress

When you think of the word ‘hygiene’, brushing your teeth and maintaining your appearance may come to mind. That’s physical hygiene. Mental hygiene, on the other hand, is the process of maintaining your psychological health and well-being. In fact, scientists frequently argue that, due to the mind/body connection, good mental health is a necessary component of excellent physical health.[1] So, if you’re hoping for overall health and well-being, you need to incorporate a few strategies that improve your mental hygiene.

Method 1
Building a Positive Attitude

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    Challenge negative thought patterns. The way you perceive the situations that happen in your life can greatly determine your mood and outlook. Thinking about your problems over and over without actually coming up with a solution is called rumination. This process can promote feelings of depression and even lead to cardiovascular disease.[2]
    • Challenge your negative thought patterns by questioning the validity or certainty of your thought.[3] For example, you turned in an assignment late and think to yourself “Now, my professor hates me.”
    • Ask yourself whether the situation is as bad as you are making it out to be. Does turning in a paper late really call for such a strong word as hate? Consider that your teacher may be disappointed, but it is highly unlikely that he hates you because of it.
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    Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparison diminishes the unique talents and gifts of yourself or others in an attempt to size up achievements or personal traits. The thing is, it is a lose-lose no matter how you look at it.[4]
    • If you are pumping yourself up by comparing yourself to someone who is worse off than you in some area, then you are giving you are giving yourself a false sense of satisfaction. Comparing your own abilities to someone else who is better than you causes you to depreciate your strengths.
    • Everyone is on a different journey. What’s more, everyone has areas where they are talented and areas of weakness. Comparing takes away from individuality. The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday.
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    Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. One of the greatest protective factors against negative life events is your ability to swap self-pity for thankfulness. Positive aspects exist in most life ordeals if you only just look for them. Research shows that gratitude combats toxic emotions, increases empathy, promotes better sleep, enables the development of positive relationships, and boosts physical health.[5]
    • You can cultivate gratitude in a number of ways.[6] Let people who are dear to you know how important they are in your life. At the end of each day, think about 2 to 3 things that you are thankful for. Or, start a gratitude journal.
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    Boost your self-esteem with positive affirmations. People don’t always have an ever-flowing stream of self-esteem. Sometimes, particularly after a failure or setback, you have to search for positive things to say about yourself. But, that’s okay. In addition to changing self-talk, you also want to change what you say about yourself when you look in the mirror (and other parts of your day). Use these affirmations daily.[7]
    • I love who I am.
    • I believe in myself.
    • I am a valuable person who is worthy of respect.
    • My success is determined by how warm and loving I am to myself.
    • I count my blessings.
    • I am a work in progress.
    • My opinions match who I am.
    • I recognize my strengths.

Method 2
Learning to Manage Emotions

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    Acknowledge when you’re not feeling great. Emotional awareness is the process of recognizing and acknowledging your feelings. Having emotional awareness can equip you to properly manage and improve your mental hygiene. When humans feel a certain emotion, generally, there is a physical or mental reaction that accompanies it. Paying attention to your own physical and mental cues can help you identify when you are experiencing specific emotions.
    • For example, you are sitting in a restaurant. A friend is meeting you for lunch. She is already 10 minutes late. You think “Geez, she always has me waiting.” And, you notice yourself tapping your straw repeatedly against your water glass. Both the resulting thought and action help you realize that you are feeling impatient.[8]
    • Choose a span of time to observe your thoughts and actions. How do they clue you in to your emotional state? Record these observations in a journal as a first step towards greater emotional awareness.
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    Express your emotions in a healthy way. After you have learned to spot the mental and physical cues of your emotions, you can then find positive ways of expressing them. Emotional expression is necessary as withholding or suppressing your emotions can lead to unhealthy outcomes like depression or anxiety. There are many ways you can express your feelings in an adaptive way.[9]
    • Talking to others is one of the best methods to getting your feelings out.[10] Just be sure that whoever you are sharing with is supportive and non-judgmental. Consider a best friend, a sibling, or a counselor.
    • Writing about your feelings is also helpful. Jot down your thoughts into a journal. Over time, you can look back on these entries to see if any patterns emerge. Journal writing is naturally good for mental health, especially when it is used not just for venting, but for problem-solving, too.
    • Cry if you need to. When people feel sad, they may withhold this emotion out of guilt or shame. Other times, you may feel sadness, but be unable to cry. Watch a movie, read literature, or listen to music that speaks to your emotional state to help you shed those tears.
    • Release the tension. Anger can be one of the most difficult emotions to express because what you do when you are angry may not be socially acceptable. For example, it may not be a good idea to shout at your loved ones, break things, or punch walls. Instead, you can use some of the same stress management techniques to conquer anger. Try completing a vigorous workout or screaming into a pillow.
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    Understand that both negative and positive emotions are essential. Humans like to express joy, excitement, and love. But, it may seem like the right thing to push away negative emotions. You may have been raised on the idea that showing anger, shame, or frustration was a no-no, so you push away these feelings. Suppressing your emotions can actually worsen how you feel to mounting anxiety, phobias or depression.[11]
    • Remember to always counteract your temptation to hide or withhold negative emotions. Negative emotions like sadness or anger are as equally significant to your mental health as are positive feelings.[12]

Method 3
Fighting Stress

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    Exercise regularly to manage stress. One of your biggest weapons against stress is in your ability to move your body. Staying physically active offers tons of meaningful benefits such as greater resistance to disease, weight loss, and an immunity boost. However, regular exercise also helps reduce tension, lift your mood, improve self-esteem, and help you sleep.[13]
    • Find an enjoyable activity that increases your heart rate and challenges you physically. Some ideas can be swimming, hiking, weight-lifting, yoga, and even walking your dog.
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    Eat a well-balanced diet. What you eat can help you fend off stress, too. Certain foods and beverages can actually exacerbate or cause stress like fast food, certain cheeses, some kinds of nuts, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. On the other hand, some foods can help your body fight stress. These include fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, yogurt, and drinking plenty of water.[14]
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    Get an appropriate amount of sleep. When it comes to stress and sleep, you can easily get confused as to which came first. Do problems with sleep cause stress? Or, does stress cause sleep disruption? Scientists believe both are highly probable. Americans get far less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours each night and when they do sleep, the quality is poor due to stress.[15] To improve your sleep habits, try the following.[16]
    • Go to sleep at the same time each night, and rise at the same time each morning.
    • Create a “winding down” period each night in which you turn off all electronics, stop working, and engage in relaxing activities such as reading or taking a warm bath.
    • Make sure that your sleeping environment is dark enough and comfortable. Save the bedroom for bedroom activities only. Refrain from watching TV or doing work in bed.
    • Stop caffeine intake 4 to 6 hours before bed. Refrain from smoking cigarettes or drinking excessive alcohol too close to bedtime. [17]
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    Prepare a stress-relief toolbox. You can successfully do all the things to prevent stress, but you will still be faced with stressful situations at times. During troubling periods in your life, turn to your stress-relief toolbox to help you ease anxiety and improve your mood. There are a variety of activities you can do to manage your stress.
    • Practice deep breathing. In the moment, a deep breathing exercise can relieve tension and promote calm. Try the 4-7-8 method.[18] Inhale through the mouth for 4 counts, hold the breath for 7 counts, and then exhale for 8 counts. Repeat as needed.
    • Try meditation. This is a practice of focused attention that enables you to be in the moment and bring greater awareness to your focus (e.g. your breathing, your body, your environment, etc.). There are many types of meditation that are useful for various conditions. Find one that works for you by trying out several variations.[19]
    • Take care of yourself. Regularly take out the time to do things you enjoy, whether that is getting a manicure, taking a long walk or cuddling up with your partner to watch Netflix.
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    Develop a strong support system. The people you spend the most time with are as critical to your health and well-being as other factors like diet and exercise. Psychologists often prescribe strong social support for getting over mental illnesses like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.[20] Even if you are not dealing with a serious mental disorder, you can still gain the positive benefits of social support.
    • Research has shown that a positive network of friends, family and peers can help you develop a sense of security, increased self-worth, and belongingness.[21]
    • Get out more to enhance your support system. Try to meet new people by joining a gym or social club, volunteering, approaching peers at school or work, or by initiating connections online. You will also want to show continued dedication to any existing positive relationships as well.

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Categories: Emotional Conditions | Managing Negative Feelings