We brush our teeth twice a day (and some of us even floss) to prevent our teeth from decaying. We wash our hands before eating to avoid getting bacteria on the food. Many people take vitamins and food supplements to stay healthy. Those of us who do sedentary jobs often engage in some form of physical activity in order to preserve our health. We are taught to do these things since early childhood as a way of taking care of ourselves. All of the activities I listed, however, are aimed at preserving our physical health. Very few people in our Western Civilization are taught similar measures aimed at preserving their mental health and psychological well-being.
Pharmaceutic companies benefit greatly from this profound illiteracy that characterizes most of us in what concerns psychological hygiene. Constantly depressed, burned out, anxious people who have no idea why they feel as miserable as they do provide eternal customers ready to swallow handfuls of pills that promise them some relief. Of course, pills always end up requiring more pills to deal with the side-effects of the initial round of pills. And then there is also medication that helps you take medication. And so the vicious circle is created.
As somebody who views with horror the American culture of popping pills whenever you feel sad, shy, sleepless, nervous, listless, agitated or anything else in between, I take care of my psychological well-being through psychological hygiene measures. Of course, different things will work for different people but I'll just give some examples of what I do to take care of my mental health.
We are now in the last week of the academic year, which is always a very difficult moment. There are endless meetings, tons of paperwork, dozens of emails and visits from students, final exams that need to be prepared, and a lot of grading to do. I have so much stuff to grade that I can't even bring it all home because it's too heavy for me to lift. So I just bring it home in smaller batches. Obviously, this is a moment when one runs a big risk of feeling stressed out, exhausted, miserable and suffering from a burnout. Since I know how dangerous this last week of classes can be to one's psychological well-being, I have planned very carefully my psychological hygiene measures for this week.
Every day this week, I stop working or doing anything work-related by 5 pm. Then, I take a nap. After that, I do things that help me unwind. On Monday, I read an entire mystery novel in one evening. On Tuesday, I spent 4 fours playing Civilization V, which always takes my mind completely off any problems, issues, or work-related concerns. Today, I will reward myself for doing a massive amount of grading by watching several hours of Top Chef reruns and cooking something complicated. Tomorrow, I'm planning to spend several hours chatting on the phone while walking around the neighborhood. Friday will be especially brutal because of all the meetings I will have to attend. Forced sociability always exhausts me like nothing else. So I envision some serious Internet surfing while listening to Latin American rap on Friday evening.
I know from experience that after I do all this, I will wake up on Saturday feeling fresh, happy and ready to leave this academic year behind.
I also have experience of staving off depression successfully. I was told at some point that I had to abandon all the work I had done on my doctoral dissertation and change the topic completely after spending over a year of working on it. (That was a year since my prospectus had been officially approved.) I had most of the research done and had written a chapter and a half. Having to change not only the topic but even the time period I was working on felt like a complete disaster. And, of course, my boyfriend choose that very moment to dump me. And a huge, completely unexpected bill surfaced on that same day. And a very close friend told me that I deserved all this anyways.
Of course, I felt like plunging into the depths of complete and utter misery. However, a new dissertation topic that had to be selected, and I knew I had to start working on it immediately if I was going to graduate when I had originally planned. There is this writer who writes completely trashy and goofy mystery novels in Russian. They are of the kind where you forget the names of the main characters and the plot two minutes after you finish reading. So I took to my bed for three days and just started reading these novels. I read twenty-two of them over the course of those three days. I did absolutely nothing else. I didn't even shower or wash my face. The novels were so completely silly that they took my mind off everything else. Three days later, I got up feeling completely rested and ready to start working on my second doctoral dissertation.
Feel free to share your own psychological hygiene methods.