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Our mental wellbeing is something that we all need to be aware of. And it is important to remember that small mental health issues can easily become large ones if left ignored.
We can think of mental health hygiene as being a lot like dental hygiene. We aim to remove unwanted stuff so we are left with only what is healthy and useful. And, while we may think we’re doing enough – much like looking our after our teeth – the reality is that most of us could be doing a lot more.
And it’s not all about how we feel or think: proper ‘mental hygiene’ means knowing, as best we can, how we got to feel or think in this way.
1. Never say something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – change to a more specific word
We rarely ever know whether something is actually ‘good’ or ‘bad’; the words are mostly meaningless. It is amazing how liberating for the mind it is if we simply replace them with something that has some meaning.
Try labelling something ‘helpful’ if it assists in whatever goals you have identified (personally, for others, or even in a society), and ‘unhelpful’ if it does not.
This encourages you to think through why something may be ‘helpful’ or not, and, even though it is more mental work, the mind really enjoys it. Additionally, it better reflects what is going on in your mind.
2. Remind yourself that change is inevitable
Permanence is probably our greatest illusion. Science tells us it is nonsense, and common sense does, too – yet we spend so much emotional and mental effort trying to pretend things do not or will not change, and get upset when we are forced to face the truth.
3. Accept that you can’t have complete control over anything
Another great illusion is our control over outcomes: whether we wish it for our own ends, or to help others, individually we control almost nothing. A huge amount of causes brings about future outcomes our actions are just a drop in the ocean.
4. Guard against tolerating other people’s unreasonable behaviour
We all forgive our friends outrageous behaviour, behaviour we may condemn in total strangers. Recognising when you are doing this is a useful exercise. It’s not that you should become intolerant of your friends: it is simply important to recognise how your mind works, and how standards of behaviour are actually incredibly flexible.
5. Accept all your emotions – even the bad ones
Having eliminated ‘good’ and ‘bad’, accept all of your emotions. Some of them will be unhelpful (anger rarely helps anything) and some will be helpful (compassion springs to mind). But, helpful or unhelpful, they are all yours.
Accept them. Nurture the helpful so that they thrive. Remain aware of the unhelpful, and discourage them gently but firmly. Like an ill-tempered dog, they are there, and are fine as long as they are quiet and not roused.