In times of heightened fear and stress such as now as the world faces the COVID 19 pandemic physical hygiene is focused on and mental hygiene left behind but with more and more people facing social distancing and South Africa being on lock down for the next three weeks our mental health might take a deep for the worst. Mental hygiene is a term used to describe self-help techniques that can be used to improve mental health wellness. Mental hygiene is meant for everyone focusing on the more day to day skills that people can adopt to help them cope and hopefully feel better. Here are a few self-help techniques that can be added to your toolkit to help you cope better and improve your mental health.
Mindfulness is not limited to formal mediation practices though meditation can prove to be very beneficial to a lot of people, mindfulness focuses on being aware and present in the moment with kindness and no judgment. Professor emeritus Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre, demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can bring positive changes in health, attitudes and behaviours.
This has become something that is spoken about a lot so it can be easily dismissed but there are real benefits to doing it as it helps calm anxiety. There are numerous variations on how to go about it but the basic principle is the same. Taking a breath in for a number of seconds lets say 5, then holding the breath for about 3 seconds then breathing out for about 7 seconds, then repeating this a few times. This has worked for me with during anxious moments as I could feel the calm setting in after a few repetitions.
Accepting your emotions rather then hiding them or denying them is the focus here. By accepting that we feel a certain way, letting ourselves feel the emotion then taking action to reduce the unhealthy feeling means we can recognise our emotional state and take control to alleviate the distress we are facing.
Radical acceptance is “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind,” according to Marsha Linehan (creator of dialectal behaviour therapy). It means you are acknowledging what has happened or is happening. The misconception often is that you approve, like or are OK with what has happened or is happening, that is not true. For example, the COVID 19 Pandemic. It is spreading world wide, fact and we cannot just simply wish it away but we can accept the fact that its here. We can then act and keep ourselves safe by doing what is recommended we do such as washing our hands and practicing social distancing. This applies to mental health. If you are someone who has metal health difficulty you cannot just wish it away. Accept yourself, then take the necessary steps to take care of yourself.
This skill takes time and practice to get right as it involves changing the way you think, taking an emotion or stressor and flipping it so you think about it differently. Using the lock down as an example, sure you can think life is horrible, I'm going to be stuck indoors for three weeks and this can lead to feelings of frustration and anger, or you can reframe it by thinking OK the lock down is happening there is nothing I can do to stop it. Let me learn a new skills or take up a hobby or read all those books I’ve been meaning to read.
There have been countless studies on the benefits of exercise not only to your physical health but also to your mental health. It has been demonstrated that exercises can help relieve stress and improves sleep which is good for your mental wellbeing.
Improved mental health is good for us all as it means we can be in a better position to assist those around us in their journey to mental wellness as well. I have used these techniques in my personal life during times of distress and I'm taking them with me in my toolkit as we face this lockdown. I'm not saying that these techniques are easy and it may take a few times practicing before feeling the benefits but they can help you feel better emotionally and mentally. Give it a go and see how you feel.
**Mental hygiene is not meant to replace therapy or medication, it is meant to empower individuals along side whatever intervention if they are using any to increase their state of mental wellness.