The latest mental health buzzword has been circulating the Internet, but what does it really mean for us, and what are its essential components?

Hygiene, health and safety have been popular phrases used in almost every post-Covid setting. We’re all being reminded to wash our hands, practice good hygiene and to ensure we protect ourselves from flus, viruses and more. But is there an equivalent practice to safeguard your mental health? 

Hygiene is now also being discussed in an altogether different setting. Mental hygiene is not a new concept or phrase. In fact, the National Council for Mental Hygiene was established 100 years ago. But it’s been seldom used outside of psychological practices until recently, and there has been growing interest in it in recent years as people’s awareness and understanding of mental health continues to grow. 

Just as you build your physical strength through small, every day, consistent behaviours, so too can you build your mental muscle, building resilience and promoting an overall sense of wellbeing. 

While there are no globally recognised standards for mental hygiene yet in the same way that there are for physical exercise or maintaining good physical hygiene practices, setting aside a short period of time each day – even if it’s just 10 minutes – can help to create a consistent pattern.

Mental hygiene involves the daily practice of essential preventive measures to keep your mental health at the forefront of your mind. This includes a roster of common self-care strategies, from walks in nature and mindfulness exercises to breathwork and more creative outlets such as journaling. 

Encourage yourself to take note of how you feel during these practices and whether they have an impact on your mood throughout the day and week. You might find that you benefit from the same activity at regular intervals or from adapting your mental hygiene to suit how you feel at the time. This can take the form of varied physical exercises or interchanging between physical movement, mindful practice and more.

Combining mental hygiene with attention to your physical health – by eating a balanced diet, making time for exercise and ensuring you are getting enough sleep – can help to create new and lasting positive habits. A recent study by Tremblay, Rodrigues and Gulati saw those who engaged in mental hygiene, including self-led positive psychology interventions, time spent in nature and meditation, reported decreased rumination, more feelings of positivity and a heightened awareness of their cognitive processes. 

by Amanda Sheppard

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