The last time you went to the dentist and she reminded you to floss more regularly, maybe you nodded or giggled nervously, but certainly you didn’t walk out of her office thinking, “What a ridiculous suggestion!” You accepted it as a reasonable recommendation. And when you told yourself, “Self, it’s time to take better care of your teeth,” I doubt that your next thought was, “Gee, I’m so selfish and overindulgent.” Perhaps it’s because an expert told you to do it or perhaps it’s because it’s widely accepted in our culture that flossing is part of a solid oral hygiene routine, but for whatever reason you knew it was the right thing to do.
I’m making no judgments about whether you kept up your oral hygiene commitment. I am, however, making a judgment about our society’s lack of attention to the importance of psychological hygiene– the things that we do (or should be doing) on a regular basis to maintain good mental health. As a society, we seem to be a bit slower to jump on that bandwagon though there are some pretty clear reasons why to pursue it further. Intrigued? Good.
6 things to pay attention to right now for better psychological hygiene:
- Mindfulness. This is about being in the present moment– the right now– with intention and without judgment. With the fast-paced chaos many of us currently live in, a mindfulness practice is becoming more important than ever. Greater Good in Action and Mindful.org are two great resources for lots of easy activities.
- Exercise. Admittedly, most of us probably know that exercise is important to our wellbeing, but not everyone knows about all of the psychological benefits. Specifically, that exercise is also effective at treating psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. Pair up exercise with mindfulness and you’ve got an especially winning combination that recent research suggests can ward off and greatly relieve depressive symptoms.
- Sleep. Unhealthy sleep patterns may increase the risk of mental illness and lead to problems with emotional regulation, memory, and immune functioning. Some great resources for helping a child sleep include the American Academy of Pediatric’s sleep tips as well as our very own handout on getting a good night’s rest.
- Nutrition. For so many reasons, good nutrition is important to our overall health and we are learning more and more about this every day. It’s far too complicated to get into a detailed analysis of all of the ways that nutrition link to emotional wellbeing, but I’ll offer a few examples. Perhaps most intuitive is the fact that sugar affects mood and may even be contributing to depression and anxiety. We also now know that gut health is directly linked to emotional health. There are also many things that are being added to food and coming into contact with items we ingest (such as the teflon on our pans) that are considered toxins for the brain, particularly in children and have been linked to a variety of behavioral and emotional health problems such as aggression, ADHD, Autism, and other neurodevelopmental issues.
- Social Support. Hands down, social support is the most important buffering factor in times of stress, adversity and trauma. There are a series of fantastic long-term studies on this topic, which suggest that, for a child, the perception of having at least one invested adult is a significant protective factor.
- Play. Well, of course! In this wildly hectic world, adults and children alike are becoming workaholics and achievement addicts. It’s not that we can’t get enjoyment from work or school, but certainly a healthy balance is necessary. With the positive psychology movement, we’ve now learned about the importance of awe and the concept of flow, which are sometimes nice benefits of play.
Did you know that first aid for mental health also exists? Yup. It’s a real thing. It’s what you should do if you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis or a metaphorical emotional bruise, scrape or cut. I’d encourage you to read about it also.
My colleagues and I at Intuition Wellness Center specialize in counseling children, young adults and families and supporting other like-minded professionals in doing good work. Call 520-333-3320 for a free phone consultation.
Written by: Brandy Baker, Psy.D., Clinical Psychologist
Image by Yann (talk) – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7866365