Does your life seem overwhelming at times? Personal responsibilities, taking care of family and managing a career, all at a non-stop pace that can get the best of even the strongest person. Fortunately, there is a way to prioritize yourself without diminishing the commitments you have to others. It all starts in your brain by working on your mental hygiene—a daily practice that is just as important as washing your hands.
We are huge fans of Dr. Daniel Amen and his wife Tana! The decade we spent working together on the Daniel Plan left an imprint that when it comes to our health, change is possible and with intentional effort, long-lasting results can be our reality.
We loved their focus on brain health and mental well-being, with the emphasis that we are not stuck with the brain we have. There is always room for improvement! As we jump into our week, we thought we’d take a deeper dive into Dr. Amen’s daily practices to protect and revitalize our mental well-being. We hope you find his practical lifestyle tips as inspiring as we did!
“When you take the necessary measures to protect your mental health so you can function well, you support your mental hygiene, which is critical for thriving in anything you do. It is directly linked to your energy, mood, conscientiousness, motivation, and many other aspects of your life, including the ability to cope with challenges and setbacks. However, if you wake up every day wanting to pull the covers over your head, often feel stressed out, struggle with cravings, or have a mind filled with negative thoughts, chances are it’s time to make some lifestyle changes to elevate your mental hygiene—and improve your life.
5 MENTAL HYGIENE PRACTICES TO PROTECT MENTAL HEALTH
Fortunately, even if you’ve never consciously paid attention to the choices and behaviors that diminish your mental health, you can change that. The practice of mental hygiene is something that can be easily incorporated into anyone’s life—and it doesn’t really cost anything. By adopting the following strategies, you can shift to new habits that improve your overall well-being.
1. Have a regular morning routine.
Starting each morning in a similar way can help you feel more grounded and focused as you prepare for the day ahead. Some people may find that sipping a cup of tea while reading or listening to the birds sing can help them feel centered. Others may spend 15 minutes in meditation, going for a walk, or doing some yoga. Whatever it is that helps you feel calmer and more mindful, rather than rattled and rushed, is good for your mental hygiene.
2. Disinfect your thoughts.
If your mind is filled with ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) that run rampant, it’s likely making you feel miserable, stressed, anxious, or depressed. Unfortunately, ANTs are very common—especially as social and political discord continue to abound, the COVID-19 pandemic still looms, and the nightly news seems to be filled with one tragedy after another. All of these can trigger the emotional centers in our brain, making those ANTs feel difficult to control.
The good news is that you can get the upper hand with them by learning to challenge the ANTs that are infecting your mind. Here’s how:
For each ANT you have, write it down and answer the following questions about it:
Then, flip the ANT you started with to its opposite and see if this new thought isn’t actually truer—and more accurate—than the ANT is.
Whenever you catch yourself ruminating on an upsetting thought, take a few minutes to challenge it. With practice, your thinking will become more realistic and improve your emotional health.
3. Fit in time for physical activity.
The many benefits of exercise for your mental and physical health can’t be overstated. Not only does it help with your fitness, but it also promotes the growth of new brain cells and increases the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, as well as endorphins, which are the body’s natural pain-relieving hormones. Physical activity can induce calmness and clarity, which elevate your mental hygiene. Exercising doesn’t have to be a chore—choose a variety of activities you enjoy. Better yet, get an exercise buddy to make it more fun. Even if you can only squeeze in 10-15 minutes at a time, it is still worth the effort.
4. Make good decisions about what you eat.
As Dr. Amen’s wife, Tana, always says, “Food is medicine, or it is poison.” Everything you drink or put on the end of your fork can help your feel energized and focused, or end up making you irritable, tired, and foggy-headed. A healthy balanced diet includes lots of fresh produce, clean protein, healthy fats, such as the ones from avocado and coconut, and foods like walnuts, salmon, and flax seeds that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Starting your day off with a boost of protein, whether it’s a brain-healthy smoothie, eggs, or almond flour pancakes can provide you with the energy and focus needed to achieve your goals. Sugar, processed foods, and alcohol do not support your mental or physical health, so steer clear of these. To help you make better decisions about food and beverages, every time you plan to consume something, ask yourself, “Is this good for my brain, or bad for it?”
5. Prioritize your sleep.
When you don’t get adequate amounts of sleep, it affects the health of your brain and body beyond feeling cranky and tired. Sleep deprivation can increase the risk for mental health issues like depression and anxiety, make you prone to cravings, addiction, and brain fog, cause weight gain, and elevate the risk for type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
One reason for this is that while you sleep, your brain undergoes a critical process during which it eliminates toxins and waste that are normal byproducts of cellular function. These mechanisms help to keep your brain healthy, which is a vital component of good mental hygiene.
Making the necessary changes to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night supports your mental and physical health and will help you think more clearly, manage your thoughts, make better decisions, and give you the energy necessary to accomplish what you need to do.
These guidelines can help you get the zzzzzz’s you need:
MENTAL HYGIENE FOR BETTER MENTAL HEALTH
Taking the steps to practice mental hygiene every day will help you feel better overall so you can enjoy the things that are important to you. By incorporating Dr. Amen’s practices into your daily life, you will quickly reap positive benefits that improve your energy and mood, support optimal mental health, and enhance the quality of your life.
At RISE we’ve found that the best way to start is with small changes that you can easily add to your daily routine. You’ll be surprised at the remarkable results you’ll achieve with your health and overall well-being!
Have a wonderful week!
Blessings from all of us at RISE,
Dee and Sean