Mental hygiene: how to take continuous care of your mental health?
Updated: Jul 5
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us to be more conscientious about our physical health and prevention efforts than ever before. It also appears to be fairly normal for us to brush our teeth every day and to visit the dentist on a regular basis - these are maintenance activities that we perform to prevent oral health problems. But did you ever think about what do we do to prevent our mental health issues?
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But first – what is health?
According to WHO1, health is defined as a condition of complete physical, mental and social well-being, rather than only the absence of sickness or impairment. This not only demonstrates that mental health is an integral component of overall health, but it also confirms that mental health, too, is more than just the absence of mental health disorders or disabilities.
Mental health is, in fact, a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. 
As a result, a good mental health is essential to our ability to think, emote, interact with others, learn, earn a living, and enjoy life on a collective and individual level.
The importance of mental hygiene
Nevertheless, millions of people around the world are now experiencing psychological stress as a result of the fight against COVID-19. In general, people are experiencing various anxiety or depression symptoms that are connected to the social isolation, the fear of becoming infected, the economic situation, or the loss of loved ones. These psychological repercussions of the COVID-19 health emergency have highlighted the importance of maintaining mental well-being on a continuous basis.
In these trying times, mental hygiene is critical to protecting society's most vulnerable members. Just as physical hygiene keeps our bodies in top shape to move and function, mental hygiene keeps our inner processes ready for different psychological challenges.
The idea of maintaining mental hygiene, initiated by the American psychiatrist Clifford Whittingham Beers back in 1909, defines the set of practices that help a person to maintain mental health and to be in harmony with their socio-cultural surroundings. It addresses different behaviors that are intended to provide emotional stability and improve quality of life. 
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How to maintain mental hygiene?
Mental hygiene will slightly differ for every person, so it is important that everyone takes time to explore their own individual needs and habits for emotional self-care. Nevertheless, when taking time to focus on your mental health, don't forget to check the following:
Your basic needs
The first thing we usually need to do is to meet our basic needs, such as eating or sleeping properly. These are key to psychological well-being and should not be overlooked. Some questions you can ask yourself are:
Am I thirsty or hungry? What kind of food and beverages am I consuming lately? Am I feeling uncomfortable, sweaty, or dirty? Am I sleeping well? Did I take all my medicine? Did I spend time with other people lately? Did I work out lately? Did I leave my home in the last 24 hours?
If you can, you should make sure that all of these needs are met as soon as possible. Firstly, because if they not met, they might be the cause of unpleasant emotions or experiences one might have, but it is also usually difficult to focus on more complex inner processes until these needs have been met.
After you've taken care of your basic needs, it is time to…
Check your emotions
Try to identify the emotions you are feeling or the reasons you are feeling that way. Emotional self-regulation is all about recognizing the emotions we feel, interpreting them, as well as controlling their intensity, in order to react sensibly.
Some questions you can ask yourself are:
Do I know what emotions am I feeling, or why am I not feeling well? Is there something that is bothering me?
If you have trouble trying to name your feelings, this wheel of emotions might be helpful. Being able to name your emotions is an important way of understanding your inner processes and gaining control over your emotions.
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After you've named your emotions, try to think of different activities that might help you cope with them.
Create your weekly mental hygiene routine
After you've met your basic needs and discovered your inner processes, it is time to develop your own mental hygiene routine, based on the things you've found out and that you already know about yourself.
For example, if you've recently experienced some stressful events, your mental hygiene routine might include activities that will help you relax, and if you are feeling down, you might want to get yourself more energized. Try to remember what has helped you in similar situations in the past and include these activities in your weekly mental hygiene plan. Some self-care activities may be calming, such as meditation or mindfulness, expressive, such as writing a journal or drawing, social, such as spending time with other people, or physical, in which we try to get rid of unpleasant emotions through our bodies, with a dynamic workout or stretching exercises.
If you feel you might still need some help, we recommend starting with an interactive self-care guide.
Remember – there are no rules, just choose the activities that you feel might do you good, schedule them every day for at least 20 minutes, and then do them. That is how mental hygiene is maintained – by taking some time for yourself every day.
What if mental hygiene doesn't help me with my mental health state?
You've tried maintaining mental hygiene routine and you've explored many different activities, but nothing seems to work? Maybe it is time to consult a mental health professional. Research reliable and professional mental health counselors near you and explore which kind of psychological support would you prefer.
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Remember – mental health issues are not a matter of a person doing something wrong – they might happen to anyone. You are not at fault for experiencing mental health issues and you deserve help and support to start your recovery. The sooner you seek help, the bigger the chances are you are going to get help while the issues are not as severe, so it might be a bit easier to tackle them.
Choosing to seek help is a brave and important choice. Taking that first step can sometimes be difficult, but every little thing you do for your mental help counts. Good luck!
Written by: Blanka Orhanovic