Poor Mental Health Hygiene can lead to illness. You wash your hands but what if you gave the same attention to your brain?
Obviously, hand washing is one of the best ways to protect yourself from illness. But have you considered “washing” your brain? No, I’m not advocating pouring hand sanitizer in your ears. Whether you realize it or not, poor mental health hygiene can make you physically sick. Let me explain: Stress is responsible for up to 60% of all illness and disease, according to the American Medical Association and up to 90% of doctor visits. It’s life’s “dirt” that gets in our brains. And, if we don’t wash it out, it can short circuit our nervous systems. To help you wash your brain, here are five ways to up your mental health hygiene and boost your immunity.
You know what stress feels like, the tightening of muscles, restricted breathing, racing heart, and worry. While we naturally feel these things when we experience difficulties in life, we can also experience stress simply by remembering something from the past or imagining what might happen in the future-something that hasn’t even happened yet.
Whether we are reacting to something happening in our world or something imagined in the mind, when you experience stress, your brain changes, it prepares for action.
Let me explain how this happens by examining brainwaves. This explanation comes from Dr. Jeff Tarrant, Founder of the Neuromeditation Institute and Chief Scientist for Healium.
“When your brain is stressed, it tends to produce more fast brainwaves, such as Hi Beta. This activates regions of the brain associated with holding attention and coordinating thoughts and feelings. When there is an excessive amount of fast activity, the brain can get stuck in this pattern, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and depleting your resources. In order to keep balance in your nervous system it is important to counterbalance this fast activity. That’s where we can help. Healium is designed to quickly shift out of a stress response, into a more relaxed, calm, and present state of mind. It does this by reducing Hi Beta activity and shifting the brain into a more positive pattern.”
Virtual nature bathing. Sometimes a real walk in the park isn’t possible because you’re at work, the weather’s bad outside, or it’s in the middle of the night. But that shouldn’t stop you from bathing in nature’s beauty. Research shows that even looking at images of trees and greenery has a therapeutic impact. Healium kits surround you in nature in virtual and augmented reality. I use my Healium kit before I go to bed at night to quickly downshift my nervous system and wash everything that’s happened during the day out of my mind. Through research, Healium has shown to reduce the fast activity in the brain. Healium is an app that works on your mobile phone or on your virtual reality headset.
“This is like the stress olympics,” said Dr. Tarrant talking about the COVID-19 pandemic. “This is what experienced meditators train for.”
But what if you’re not an experienced meditator?
Mind your Digital Diet: You are what you consume in your media, social media, and news headlines. As a news reporter for 20 years, that constant digital diet of negativity made me sick and led to panic attacks. I recovered by replacing my digital diet with more ‘fruits and vegetables’ like inspirational or spiritual media, books, and podcasts. Even listening to reports of a natural or health disaster can raise your stress levels which reduce your immunity. I’m not advocating turning off the news altogether. You need that information to keep you safe and to know who to vote for but if the only thing you’re eating in your digital diet is chock full of negativity….negative fiber will make you sick.
Self talk at the sink. If you don’t have the ability to talk to a therapist, teacher, family member, or friend, talk to someone, even if it’s yourself. Self-talk is a powerful tool to shift the negative narrative playing in your head. I have regular conversations with myself on a daily basis every time I wash my hands. When I lather up, I look at myself in the mirror and say my name, followed by these words, “Sarah, you are beautiful.” Stress is ugly. Not only does it age you prematurely, but it zaps your self-confidence. Shift that negative narrative playing in your head. If no one is pouring beauty into your soul, it’s up to you to be the wind in your own sails. You don’t need anyone to tell you you’re beautiful when you have the power to say so yourself. You. Are. Beautiful. Say it every time you wash your hands. Lather, rinse, repeat. Molly. Joe. You. Are. Beautiful.
Stoplight Circular Breathing. What else are you going to do at the stoplight? I played clarinet in high school. My band teacher, Mr. Berry, taught me how to do what’s called “diaphragmatic breathing,” which is like kryptonite for your lung muscles. Your diaphragm is the dome-shaped muscle located just below your lungs and your heart. It contracts continually as you breathe. This kind of “belly breathing” encourages full oxygen exchange — that is, the beneficial trade of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. Not surprisingly, this type of breathing slows the heartbeat and can lower or stabilize blood pressure. Thirty years after Mr. Berry’s band class, I still practice breathing that way at intersections. I see a red light, and it reminds me to slow down and breathe. I breathe in a circle around my face. I inhale and count to six through my nose, and then exhale to the count of six through my mouth. Inhale one part of the circle, exhale the other half of the circle out your mouth. I also find that groaning loudly on the exhale feels good! Inside Healium, you’ll find some fascinating breathing stories tied to the windy patterns of a mandalynth.
Guard your Heart. Just like hand sanitizer can repel germs, you too can let go of thoughts and people who don’t serve you. If someone says something negative to you, you get to decide whether your heart receives that comment. It doesn’t have to sink into your soul. Have you ever noticed how a duck’s feathers have the amazing ability to repel water? It can be totally submerged in water, but yet it’s underskin doesn’t get wet! Be a duck. If something doesn’t serve you, let it roll off your back.
Research shows the stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (lowers the number of lymphocytes). Stress also leads to unhealthy behavioral coping strategies, like drinking, overeating, and smoking. Stress is linked to: headaches; infectious illness (e.g. ‘flu); cardiovascular disease; diabetes, asthma and gastric ulcers.
Lowering your anxiety can reduce toxins from your nervous system and protect you from physical illness. So, in a sense, you are washing your brain. What are some of the ways you practice good mental health hygiene? I’d love to see your tips in the comments.