"Give me a quiet hand if you've ever had one bad thing happen early in the morning that ruined your whole day. How about a quiet hand if you have a hard time focusing. Good, now a quiet hand if you have a harder time making good choices if you feel bad."
This is the script I had for all of my elementary music classes this part Friday. Can you guess how many raised hands I had per class? Yep. Every single student.
Because we all share in the same struggle - to have a good day.
Visualize for a second what it would be like.
You wake up early, feeling fully rested and happy. You get to work on time, and you are able to handle everything that comes your way calmly and with ease. You get along with your coworkers, and aren't even bothered by the annoying ones. You're having such a good time, you didn't even realize work was over! You even forget to check your phone all day because you were so focused and content. You leave work, feeling proud of what you did that day and excited to have some time to yourself.
Sounds pretty wild, huh? Well, there's a reason for that. Let me ask you one more question.
What are you doing every day to improve your mental health?
... Not much, yeah?
It's time to start thinking about mental hygiene like we do about other hygiene. For example, you can't brush your teeth a few times a month and expect to have beautiful, white, clean teeth. You don't shower once and expect to smell great for the rest of the month.
Our brains deserve the same love and attention we give to our other body parts. You don't need to spend weeks meditating in some monastery cut off from society to heal. But you do need to include a few practices every day to maintain your health, just like you do with your teeth.
I've witnessed people avoid doctor's advice to avoid stress and eat better, brushing it off as if it's useless. But there is more and more research proving that your diet and mental health directly affects the rest of your health.
Your first line of defense against illness is your lifestyle.
A large part of that is your mental health.
I mean, read this post by Dr. Jess:
Your thoughts can control your hormone regulation in your entire body. And that's just one gland!
If you're reading this and you have so many negative thoughts, or you're struggling with anger, depression, anxiety, negative thoughts, or you think you're just too far gone to heal - don't panic.
You can heal. You can change.
I listened to a podcast this week with neuroscientist Richard Davidson, whose research on neuroplasticity gives hope to everyone at any age and any place in life. Your brain is never in a fixed state. Your daily decisions affect its health and even the smallest changes can have an incredible impact on the quality of life. He also shares that mindfulness increases your ability to focus and your attention span.
Listen to it or read the transcript here.
My students and I are doing Mindful March. Every music class will have us working on mental hygiene by practicing one way we can be more mindful.
So if you would like to join us, and have a day that's less like the ones you've been having and more like the one we visualized earlier in the post, here are 5 easy, quick ways to practice mental hygiene every day.
1. Say no to one thing every day.
Honestly, you probably need to slow the fuck down.
Find one area where you could make more time for your health. For example, you could probably watch just one episode of your favorite show rather than binging through the entire season in one night. Or maybe you turn down plans to spend a night taking care of yourself. Or maybe you don't check your phone while you eat your lunch. Set boundaries - you deserve it.
2. Eat one plant-based, organic meal.
Did you know that your stomach sends as many signals to your brain as your brain sends to your stomach? Maybe even more? So if you are dealing with anxiety or depression, it's a symptom of something wrong in your digestive tract. Do you know what that means?
You can heal.
You can be free of mental health issues, you can be free from medication, just by improving your diet.
Do this change slowly so you don't get overwhelmed! Change one meal a week, then one meal a day. Support your body in healing itself.
3. Do one meditation or deep breathing practice.
There are tons of resources for meditation and deep breathing these days.
I use the app "Stop, Breathe, & Think" because it's free, it allows you to track your emotional and mental progress, and you can do guided and not guided.
Another technique is a deep breathing one my boyfriend sent to me. Deep breathing used to make me more anxious, but this one has been life changing. Breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 7, exhale for 8. The hold is the key - when I'm forced to stop, I notice how fast my counting and thoughts are, and I have time to notice and release tension in my body.
Finally, my students and I love this finger tracing breathing practice. It can take just a few seconds or a few minutes, and it's so simple and discreet that you can do it anywhere when you need to ground and calm yourself.
4. Make one list a day of what you're grateful for.
Practicing gratefulness is essential to having more positive thoughts. If you want to start your day well, do it in the morning. If you want to sleep better at night, do it before bed. Feeling crazy? Do both.
5. Do one kind thing for yourself.
You deserve it. You deserve it. You deserve it. Even if no one else in your life is kind to you, you need to be kind to you. Whatever that looks like for you, do it.
Start small, start slow. You don't have to do all five every day. Do what feels manageable and don't overcommit or you'll set yourself up for failure.
This is because every time you have not done something for yourself that you said you would do, you deepen the wound of self-betrayal. One of our brain's main functions is to survive, so it will keep us places that feel safe. Self-care probably does not feel safe. By doing any of these 5 practices every day, you can start to heal that wound of self-betrayal and change your thoughts.
Finally, you should know that although you may feel better, you may also feel emotions that you didn't expect. Sometimes, our unhealthy choices are coping mechanisms to avoid feeling emotions like sadness, disappointment, or shame. Being mindful doesn't automatically mean being calm. It means making space to be aware of how you're feeling and being able to perceive those feelings without being controlled by them. Being mindful teaches you how to keep breathing and work through the feeling so that you can stay calm and make better choices.
I hope this helps! Please let me know if you try any of these in the comments below, or let me know any other ways you practice mental hygiene. And if you think this post was helpful, share it with someone you love!