Mental Hygiene -- and Lack of It
Need for a Mental Tune-Up
Due to all advanced preventive measures that have become a norm of modern life, our sewage system, drinking water treatment, and other important facets of the public hygiene are considerably well taken care of. Add to it the general personal care about cleanliness, and here we have one of the strongest reasons for the good statistics about our admirable average lifespan.
However, one universally neglected aspect of our wellbeing is our poor understanding of the paramount significance of our mental hygiene, which in the simplest terms means our stress management. While it has become a household truism that "stress kills", few of us have the slightest idea how actually powerful are all our moment to moment thoughts, our mood, attitude, and reactivity to life.
In a somewhat satirical metaphorical sense, our "public infrastructure" could also be seen as inferior---since we are collectively producing so much emotional crap, that no sewer can accommodate.
Namely, we are mass-producing all kinds of stressors detrimental to our mental well being---as well as our physical health. We don't seem to have a clue how to make our coexistence work, and we don't need any history books for evidence---watching a typical news program will say it all.
A Goal-Striving Mechanism
Staying with metaphors for another moment, just like an excessive use of deodorant can't be a replacement for washing ourselves, all those chemical crutches like coffee, smokes, alcohol, sweets, over-eating, drugs, and other forms of sugar-coating routines can't replace a genuinely good mood, happiness, and well organized mind, also meaning---clean and tidy mind.
Being in a sense psycho-cybernetic mechanism, our mind and nervous system are goal oriented, tending to see "something-to-be-done" in all our thinking and emoting. Hence that saying: "Garbage in---garbage out", meaning that the useless and trashy input results with a useless and trashy output in form of our behavior.
So, our daily mental preoccupations, or those most prevalent aspects of them are taken as our "intentions" in that goal-striving mechanism. What are our intentions each day, in the light of all those negative thoughts, and feelings, and attitudes, which according to experts amount to a good 80 percent of our daily mental activity?
What Do We REALLY Want?
Since intentions are generated by our wants, we might as well make this first step towards a good mental hygiene by examining what it is that we want. By "wanting", I mean what we really want as an outcome of a situation.
You see, most of the people actually improvise in their life, playing it by ear, or better yet by emotion, randomly and automatically handling things, and not particularly conscious about what would be the optimal result of it.
Since much of our emotional guidance tends to be of a negative charge, we almost regularly end up being unconsciously oriented towards what we don't want, rather than what we really want.
Now, multiply such an attitudinal positionality over the course of years, and we have little to be surprised why we carry around a considerable baggage of emotional trash. Before we know it, even small things start affecting us as irritants.
How many times we are not clear about what we really want, torn between opposite tendencies, and waiting for the inner, spontaneous computation of our priorities to tell us what "seems to be a good idea at the time"---without investing some good thinking in it?
To Learn from Them - or to Blast Them
Let's see an example for what we really want, and what are our knee-jerk wants. Suppose I have received a negative response from a reader to one of my articles. Now, my choice of responding will be based on what I really want to do, and that is to thank that reader for a feedback that's helping me to learn something.
What I don't want is responding to that comment with words : "Your opinion means nothing to me, and I can't please everyone's taste anyway. So why don't you read something that would be more to your likes, and stop criticizing that which is not."
Now, have you noticed, how short and straightforward was the positive response when compared to the negative one? It's because our emotion attached to it is giving the fuel to some endless ranting that would not really benefit me in becoming more sensitive to my readers' preferences.
The question quickly following the first one about our most effective "want" would be : How to do what we really want with a minimized effort? It's not merely about economizing with our energy, but mainly about saving a ton of nerves.
Let's face it, we all tend to beat around the bush way too much, not addressing the situation in a way of the least energy expenditure. We are bound to "talk" about the problem more than we "do" about it, and by "talking" I certainly don't mean "planning"---but complaining.
A little of pragmatic sense in us will remind us that we are either about to do something---or not. If we know that we will eventually end up doing it anyway, why all that talk? Most of it anyway doesn't sound like a motivating one that would spur us towards doing it, but rather like a display of our unwillingness to do anything.
All that with a good dose of feeling sorry for ourselves, or explaining why we are having a problem, or even making it sound like someone else's problem.
Burning Gas but Getting Nowhere
The next in that set of questions important in our mental hygiene would be : What is it that we can and we cannot control? There is no way that I could fully express my surprise over this globally massive illusion going on---that everything imaginable on this planet is somehow "our business".
Earlier I mentioned how our nervous system is basically a goal-striving mechanism, ever ready to turn our thoughts into an action. We got that in our nature from primordial times, while our thinking, for the lack of intelligence, was reduced to those moment to moment necessities of survival.
Thus, all thinking processes were strictly tied to the task at hand. As our brains evolved, that inner arrangement has not evolved much, and our thoughts are still interpreted as our intentions.
Now, I let you figure out how much of our daily thinking resembles stepping on the gas pedal while in the "park" position, revving and revving, and getting nowhere, except to a possibly worn out engine---while there is nothing we can do there.
Why Just Giving Our Vote Is Not Enough?
Let's give you a simple example, although you could probably add so many of your own---but shall we call the following one typical. Think of the last pre-election time in the United States, and as always, there is a notable dynamism in the public life all wrapped around the prospects of having Clinton or Trump for the future president.
Suppose we are opting for Clinton. Now, why not simply wait for the election day and vote for our "beloved Hillary", as we prefer calling her by her first name---out of a "sheer endearment"? Now, how are we really affecting the outcome of the election by passionately badmouthing Trump, whom, by the way, we don't want to call "Donald"---out of a "sheer despise".
Once we have run out of all ugly names (including "Hitler"), we need so badly to hear what other ugly names exist for him, so we read every commentary available to make ourselves even more pissed off about the dude.
For Pete's sake, how does that look like a good mental hygiene, if we seem to thrive on these negativities, sipping on the poison one day at a time, all the way into the election time? Why are we using election to torment ourselves so much? Because, in a strictly physiological sense---a torment it is.
News, Our Daily Mental Poison
Indeed, what is it in us that likes to torture ourselves with matters that will either stay or unfold themselves by their own will---regardless of our mental investment into their outcomes? Which brings us to the final question of what "terrible" would befall us if we simply skipped something that crazy and ineffective from our mental repertoire?
So much of what seems to have some significance to us is actually a junk---information that we could perfectly live without. That would certainly include much of those daily news that are probably the biggest pollutant in our questionable mental hygiene.
I guess I don't have to mention how those news over a time become so addictive that we miss them big time while spending a day camping with our kids, or otherwise being away from our crazy box and newspaper.
Putting Some Real Substance Into Our Lives
Everything being said is leading us to this last theme of : How to give more healthy substance to our life, or, like we could rephrase it---have something like life at all. We might as well start by making a little inventory of our daily preoccupations in order to sort out that which could be called "mental dirt and trash", and what is really contributing to all aspects of our wellness.
Do we have more of that mental material that makes us pissed off, as opposed to the one that makes us laugh, smile, and which inspires us for constructive behaviors and actions? For, no matter how complex we may seem to be to ourselves, it's really boiling down to "taking a good care of the mental instrument", so that it can serve us just like our clean bodies do.
Since everyone is different, our hobbies, outdoor activities and interests, as well as our taste for fun is different, so it's up to each one of us to get in a close touch with our nature and find out what would bring more clean fun and joy into our life.
As for starters, let us all become more aware how absolutely invaluable is our mental hygiene, possibly even surpassing that routine of brushing our teeth.