The Tao of Psychological Hygiene

don't ask why. ask why not.

The Tao of Psychological Hygiene


It seems that everywhere you turn, hand sanitizers abound. Ask one out of every four New Yorker for some and chances are, you’ll get a quick “gloop” of a travel-sized container. We know how important it is to stay clean and healthy. After all, life expectation grew when we started washing our hands. While the hand sanitizer industry has grown, so has the self-care industry (band aids of every shape and size, scar creams, antibiotic soaps and ointments) and the fitness industry (brewery yoga classes, weights for every part of the body, wearable monitors). As a society, we seem more aware of the importance of and how to care for our bodies (how much we follow the voluminous advice out there is a different issue). Yet we ignore, even try to avoid, the importance of psychological, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. We whisper “mental illness,” or “emotional imbalance” as if these “things” can spread like an epidemic. We will take a leave of absence to care for a bad back and get loads of get well cards, but if we told our employers we need a leave of absence for a mental health break, we’d be in fear that our colleagues will no longer look at us the same or if our jobs are secure for fear of us being “too unstable.” There is a stigma against psychological wounds and caring for them. Yet as the science shows, many psychological wounds hurt just as, if not more, deeply than physical ones, often go undetected, and can have longer-term physical consequence. We can go to the gym seven days a week and still feel miserable. Aligning our physical and psychological well-being requires awareness, compassion, and care, and can help us achieve greater contentment and achievement.

Emotional Wounds

Psychologist Guy Winch notes that one of the major psychological wounds, chronic loneliness increases the chance of early death by 14%. Ruminating, he notes, is extremely costly not just in time but also likelihood of physical and psychological illness. He emphasizes that being aware of how your brain reacts to failure is key to taking care of our psychological selves.

“A healthy outside starts from the inside.”
~ Robert Urich

The mind-body-spirit are all connected. Ignoring one impacts the others.

  1. Be aware of your default thinking

We all have different default mental thinking. These default patterns tend to be the most obvious when we are stressed or scared and have to quickly react. When you can rejected, do you immediately criticize yourself? Blame someone else? Accept and move on? There is no one “right” way of thinking, and we all have our own defaults. Being aware of them, however, can help us break any negative patterns. If we tend to be overly tough on ourselves (“you’re a loser), we can then be mindful to catch ourselves when next it happens and recognize that that is not reality, but our minds just going back to what it’s used to doing after years of habitual use.

  1. Know your mind tricks

Your mind is your friend…most of the time. It can also be your harshest peanut gallery with unfounded criticisms. Our brain works to protect us, but even the most well-intentioned approach can lead to unintended consequences. For example, if we are turned down for a plum job, our brains may tell us, “you’re not qualified, you’re not good enough” to protect our wounded egos from trying for another position and getting rejected again. Knowing this helps us to stop overthinking, overanalyzing, and ruminating, which is not unlike ripping scabs over and over and over again, leaving permanent scars that don’t ever heal.

3. Practice self-compassion

Most of us are kind and understanding to our friends. When things go wrong, we’re there to encourage them. Yet we don’t do the same for ourselves. Say out loud or write down those mean things you say to yourself and pretend you are speaking to your best friend or your sibling. Or better yet, say them out loud to your best friend or sibling and see what his or her reaction is (probably not great…). Before you spew those hateful things to yourself the next time, remember that keeping yourself psychologically health is to show compassion to yourself.

  1. Prioritize psychological health

Just as you may put importance on eating healthy and taking your daily Vitamin D, put psychological health right up there on the list. Check in with yourself. It’s tougher to notice psychological wounds than say, an aching back or a broken toe, but the signs are there. Pay attention and seek the treatment you need. Perhaps it’s letting yourself have a good cry or seeking professional help. Whatever it is, it is just as important and as natural as treating your physical self. Drink lots of water and be aware of your psychological well-being.

  1. Take a mental health break

There is nothing embarrassing or shameful about taking a mental health break. In fact, it’s highly recommended. Not only will you feel better, but those around you will likely feel better as well because you will be that much more pleasant, productive, and maybe even playful. Take a day off to do whatever it is that pleases your fancy and soothes your soul, whether it is painting or walking through the woods or hanging out with friends. Does binging on Netflix count? While that might sound fun (and every now and then, a pure delight), take a mental health break is also about restoring your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, not avoiding your wounds by escaping into another world.