“The fundamentals of mental hygiene”- 13 May 2018.

When Ritu was a kid and suffered from a childhood disability, her mother was a pillar of strength and oft repeated one sentence that soothed her nerves, ‘keep calm, you are a fine girl and will make a mark one day. Your day will come- patience and be good’. The mother was right for she grew into a fine young woman who made a great career for herself. The mother would panic and often feel anxious for the child but she never communicated her fears to the child, instead she would pray and pray and wish her well and take good care of her in all ways. Her devotion, her calm demeanour, her faith in God and her confidence in the child’s potential helped the child grow up in a positive manner with a resilience and toughness that many a normal child failed to display.

Resilience is one very important quality that needs to be focused on in creating healthy minds. Being tough in facing difficult situations, increasing the potential for managing the mind during failures, rejections, duress and stress is vital. Most mental disorders and illnesses develop due to the mind’s inability to handle the difficult situations of life in a proper manner. To be able to spring back to normalcy as fast as possible is imperative. If the impact of stress, duress, trauma, failures is not taken care of and the negativity continues, we can be sure we are inviting trouble and heading towards a mental disorder.

We all know and understand physical hygiene and teach it to our kids as a matter of priority. We teach them the importance of toilet training, daily brushing of teeth, daily bath, cutting nails, combing the hair, sleeping properly and eating enough. All this for the welfare of the body is fine and great indeed. Each child knows these fundamental sets of health and hygiene at least in theory even if not applied in practice fully. But how many parents are aware of the fundamentals of mental hygiene for themselves and their kids is a question to be asked and researched into. We also know and agree that knowledge is not enough for people to put it into use effectively.

‘Mental hygiene is a science of maintaining mental health and preventing the development of mental illness and other mental disorders. It aims for an attainment of a state of well being in which the individual functions at a level consistent with his or her mental potential and also for increasing the potential for living life in a balanced and stress free manner for the attainment of happiness.

There are various mental processes that are not known to the general layman because unlike the body which is material, the mental processes are generally unknown and ephemeral in nature. They go on surreptitiously in the mind day and night without much control, in an automatic manner at most times, unless we train the mind to be aware of the processes and its functioning. Some of the processes are –perception, attention, memory, logical thinking, interpretation, and emotions which ultimately defines the external behaviour. Becoming aware of the mental processes is not impossible if the individual practises introspection and does an objective study of self daily. We can become aware of our finer mental processes in order to control, change and divert them in the proper direction.

‘Calming the mind’ is a basic virtue upon which other qualities can be cultivated. A restless, fearful, anxious and disturbed mind cannot achieve much. Learning how to manage the mind entails as the primary step to keep it cool by meditation and prayers. Equanimity of mind is vital for any attainment and achievement. Equanimity will lead to the skill of concentration- the ability to focus on one thing at a time to achieve maximum results in minimum time.

‘Cleaning the garbage bin’ daily is another practice to be followed religiously. The previous day’s negativity should be cleaned off by whatever ways possible, either by shooing it off, talking it off with another or resolving it with the specific. If left unattended and unresolved it begins to pile up and stink! Then the mind too should be rid of the last day’s waste so that a fresh day can be started with optimism and bounce.

‘Addressing the emotions’ by identifying it and dealing with it needs to be learnt. Many adults too cannot identify their emotional states properly and deal with it. Parents specifically could help children work on their emotions and help resolve them not by logic but by understanding and controlled action on it. Having a dialogue on the emotion is more appropriate than indulging in an argument about it.

‘Highlighting the positives’ is another imperative in good mental health. If we believe that every dark cloud has a silver lining, we should live it, teach it and promote it. Being aware of the negatives as well as the positives gives us a complete realistic picture but being ultimately optimistic about the future is an attitude to be cultivated. We build on strengths and not on weaknesses.

‘Seeing the larger picture’ gives us the difference between issues and non-issues. Many times energy can be wasted on insignificant trivia losing out time on more significant issues. Focusing on important goals and objectives will help us tolerate eccentricities and stupidities of others thus preventing us from the luxury of indulgence in trivia.

‘Having larger goals’ that are bigger and better than just the self and family keeps us rooted to the soil of motherland as we enlarge the circle of influence to encompass a larger society. It teaches respect, empathy, compassion, diversity and altruism for all segments.

‘Searching for a purpose and meaning in life’ elevates the mind to higher levels of thought and existence and raises your standards of life and living. The philosophical quest should be a regular habit and not left for post retirement hobby. It leads to expansion of the mind and a sense of universality- oneness with the world.

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