By Oyen Hoffman, Behavioral Health Provider, MA, LMFT, LAC, MAC Clinical Specialist & Substance Abuse Program Supervisor
Brush your teeth, bathe often, wash your hands, eat healthy meals, and stay hydrated. All good advice, but where is the advice on mental health hygiene? Many of us have missed out on good mental health hygiene advice from our parents, teachers and doctors, or simply have not been told. I’ve put together a list as a resource so that we can better care for our own mental health needs.
1) Attitude of gratitude
There are many things in life for which we ought to be grateful. But too often, we take these things for granted and greedily expect them to be there without any effort on our part. When we are intentional in finding things to be grateful for, we can openly share that gratitude with others. Gratitude makes us feel better in just about any circumstance.
2) Take care of yourself first
Remember the flight attendant saying, “Place the oxygen mask on yourself and then help your child?” If you pass out, then your child will also not be able to breathe. As a therapist, I often find myself saying “Put yourself first” to my clients. I get weird looks, but it’s necessary for good mental health. The better you care for yourself and take care of your own needs, the better and healthier you are for others.
The first step in combating anxiety is breathing because that’s the first thing to be affected when we feel anxiety. We all have anxiety and anxiety is there to help keep us alive, but anxiety and panic attacks can be debilitating. Breathing up high in your chest is an anxious breath but breathing diaphragmatically (down in your belly) is a calming breath. Use guided meditations with phone apps like Headspace, Calm, and Breathe to help you learn more about your inner-world.
Taking care of your inner-child is important. Yes, I said it…inner-child. We sometimes adopt the messages of others, particularly their most critical messages and say things to ourselves like “You idiot” or “That was stupid,” when we do that we become our own bully, and say things to ourselves that we’d never say to a stranger. It is important that when treat ourselves the way all humans deserve to be treated, that is with acceptance, love and kindness, we feel better.
5) Let it go
It is human nature to attach to the negatives in life. Negatives have more power than positives. If a caveman looks out of his cave and sees a nice meal and sees a saber-toothed tiger, he will attach to the tiger and not the meal. Why waste your life away with fear, worry, and anger? Life can be much fuller and happier if we let these feelings go in favor of openness, forgiveness, and love. When we find ourselves clinging to destructive feelings as a crutch, we can find the courage to let it go so that we can freely move forward in our life. Check in with yourself regularly and make certain that you are not attracting or hanging on to negative feelings that weigh you down.
6) Nurture your relationships
A lack of close interpersonal relationships has the same effects as smoking a pack of cigarettes per day. Spending time with family and friends is exceedingly important. Spending time with other connections like the outdoors, nature, and pets also improves mood and maintains good mental health.
7) Write it down
Writing or journaling is a great elixir for anxiety, depression and stress. When we write down our thoughts, beliefs, and emotions they become more tangible and less scary. It is also an emotional release that helps us develop a broader perspective on what is happening in our lives. Write often and life will make more sense.
Oyen Hoffman, MA, LMFT, LAC, MAC, is the Substance Abuse Program Supervisor for Mountain Family Health Centers and a Clinical Specialist.