(CNN) — You brush your teeth at least twice a day and visit the dentist regularly to maintain your oral hygiene. But how often do you practice mental hygiene?
Spending 15 minutes each morning taking care of your mental health could be very beneficial, according to psychologist Broderick Sawyer. “It’s the mental equivalent of brushing your teeth every day so you don’t have to do more serious dental work later,” he said.
Mental hygiene aims to reduce levels of cortisol, the main stress hormone. Practicing it daily will not only make you feel better every day, but according to research, it also has great benefits for your future well-being.
High cortisol levels can lead to physical health complications, according to a 2020 study. Along the same lines, a 2016 study concluded that good emotional regulation improves health in old age.
How to start? Sawyer has created a method of mental hygiene that should be part of your daily routine.
Yes, you have 15 minutes to devote to your mental hygiene
If you’re stressed and overwhelmed, finding 15 minutes in the morning to unwind can seem like a lot of work. However, that time is essential to make it easier to complete the other tasks of the day, Sawyer said.
“It’s not that I don’t have time; there’s time for a lot of things,” he said. “If we practice mindfulness throughout the day, our mental health needs less energy.”
If we take this mental space at the start of the day, whatever stresses us out during the day won’t accumulate and overwhelm us any more than we already are.
If you start the day stressed, the rest of your day will revolve around that stress, warns Sawyer. On the other hand, when you leave with a clear and clear mind, your point of reference is another, to which you can return during the rest of the day.
“Practicing mental health hygiene is like cleaning the mirror: you look in the mirror and you know what you are and what you’re not,” Sawyer explained.
If you have a reference point for how you feel when you are relaxed, this line of comparison helps you show compassion to yourself and others around you who may also be feeling anxious or upset. -he adds.
“Doing this daily is kind of like ‘training to feel happy,'” Sawyer said. “And it makes us feel more secure when stressful situations arise in life,” he added.
So you can practice daily mental hygiene.
1. Try new activities
The first step to improving mental hygiene is experimenting with different activities — anything that calms you down and lowers cortisol, Sawyer says.
“It’s learning to try to cultivate that inner space with awareness,” he added.
To start, take 15 minutes each morning to slow down and intentionally focus on your inner well-being. The activities you are doing at this time can be the same as the ones you are already doing, but in a more relaxed way. For example, sip your morning coffee slowly and with deep breaths or listen to music instead of the news on your way to work, Sawyer suggested.
But changing activities can also be beneficial, such as sitting outside for a while, taking a walk, or stretching.
The important thing is to try things out until you find what works for you. And don’t be discouraged if it takes time to see the benefits.
2. Track how you feel about your mental hygiene
An important part of experimentation is journaling, Sawyer said.
After trying a new activity in your 15 minutes, write down how it felt to understand what works best for you.
Are you calmer throughout the day? With more energy? Better manage stress? The feeling you seek may change, but the goal is to cultivate a core base that helps you feel better as the day progresses.
Journaling can also help you stay positive if you’re not seeing the immediate results you were hoping for, she said.
“You intuitively try things and if they don’t work, that’s fine. Just write it down,” Sawyer said.
3. Take care of what you need at different times
Not everything you do will always work for you, warns Sawyer. Pay attention to what you need in each context.
“If I have a day full of meetings ahead of me, maybe I need to be a little more upbeat and optimistic. Or if it’s more about writing, maybe I need to be more focused. That are different energies,” Sawyer continued.
This means that one day you might have to end your 15 minutes with a good espresso and another with some meditation time.
4. Spend more mental hygiene minutes if you need to
Over time, it might not be so hard to find those 15 minutes for your sanity, and you might even want to have more time for it throughout the day.
At least three days a week, or whenever you feel the need, Sawyer suggests engaging in low-impact physical activity, such as walking, biking or yoga.
It’s also helpful to set aside time at the end of the day to unwind by turning off work notifications, turning off screens, and taking time out to unwind.
“Once we find that tool(s) that works for us, we can improve how we use them every day,” Sawyer said.