I have recently given talks to a gathering of GP’s and another to a bank on the issue of Mental Hygiene. As awareness of the perils of stress and burn–out grows, those responsible for the health of people working in highly demanding environments are needing to broaden their understanding of what can be done to limit the damage to the workforce.
The feedback from my talks with doctors, human resource and occupational health professionals suggests that more needs to be done to equip individuals and organisations with good mental hygiene awareness. According to the World Federation for Mental Health, the concept of optimum mental health refers not to an absolute or ideal state but to the “best possible state insofar as circumstances are alterable”. Mental health is regarded as a condition of the individual, relative to the capacities and social-environmental context of that person. Mental hygiene is the action we can take on daily basis and in more general ways over time, to improve our emotional and psychological well-being and mental health.
Mostly these are common-sense measures. Daily attention to the basics: sleep, nutrition, exercise, are a crucial part of maintaining good mental hygiene. We also achieve a balanced life from:
• A measure of social support – people need to feel a sense of belonging, whether within family, friendship groups, teams at work, membership of clubs and organisations.
• A sense of purpose (work, religion, causes)
• Perspective and humour
• Leisure time and time to relax
What strikes me most from what I have heard during these talks and what I encounter daily in my private practice is how people are finding it hard to achieve a balanced life. It requires a commitment to self-care; a moment-by-moment attention to detail to maintain the equilibrium needed for a healthy emotional and psychological life.
By regularly checking in with yourself to ask, “How is my posture right now?”; ”Am I breathing well, slowly, deeply?”; “When did I last drink some water?”, you’ll be taking some important steps to achieve good mental hygiene. People struggle to keep updating themselves like this when they become so focused on what they’re doing that without knowing it they have switched to autopilot. They have lost touch with themselves. It may at first feel rather mechanical and laborious to have to keep monitoring oneself but this is what it takes to regain control of a life which has become lost in trying to be constantly productive without any respite.