If you have a mental illness, one of the most important things you can do is
develop a solid roster of good habits. Literally everyone in the world has bad habits, but when you're mentally ill, even fairly benign bad habits can spin up into behaviors that can exacerbate your struggles. It's likely not a shock that you can develop tons of good habits — but what may be surprising is that some of the habit changes you can make to help your mental health can actually start in your bathroom.
As someone who struggles with mental illness, I learned a long time ago that in order to minimize my generalized anxiety and my terrible procrastination habits, I have to keep to a solid daily routine. Otherwise, things in my life tend to go more than a little haywire. I don't have an issue switching up my routine, but there are certain things — caring for my desk plants, making my bed, and listening to music before going to sleep — that I cling to to keep me on track.
Of course, helpful routines and habits aren't one-size-fits-all, but the habits below are great starting points for using your time in the bathroom to help keep your mental health on track.
According to Dr. Carrie Barron writing for
Psychology Today, making lists can help " [f]oster a capacity to select and prioritize," which in turn can help you handle what Barron calls "information-overload situation[s]." If you live with a mental illness, just waking up and getting yourself out of bed can be an information-overload scenario.
I start to worry about things pretty much the moment I wake up — but one thing I've found helpful is to keep a tiny whiteboard on the wall in my bathroom. While I'm getting ready, I'll jot down things I want to get done that day. And inevitably, when my tasks are written down instead of flying around in my endlessly busy brain, they don't seem so difficult to accomplish. Plus, getting to come back throughout the day and cross items off the list is oh so satisfying.
Take The Time To Destress
This habit is ultimately best if you're in the bathroom in your own home, where you can establish it as a relaxing space full of things you like, whether that's a soap with a scent that relaxes you, a stack of your favorite books, or a plant, but it can work anywhere. If you start to feel yourself getting overwhelmed, leaving the stressful situation is best — but it's not always easy to detangle yourself and sacrifice a few precious minutes of productivity, especially if the stress is being caused by work or an impending school deadline.
Taking a few minutes to calm down, though, will help you focus and stabilize.
Dr. Joshua C. Klapow, licensed clinical psychologist and host of The Web Radio Show, told Bustle that he recommends his clients take hourly " breathing bathroom breaks" at work to destress and center themselves.
There are a lot of mean-spirited jokes about how "crazy" people talk to themselves, but there's nothing funny about how effective positive self-talk actually can be. Taking a few minutes in the morning — or anytime, really — to lock eyes with yourself in the mirror and engage in some genuine positivity
can help boost your self-esteem. Thought Catalog has a list of some one-sentence pep talks you can give yourself, including, "I know myself better than anyone else, I’ve made it this far, and I will continue to take care of myself the same way I always have," and, "I am my own harshest critic, so what I really need to do is just tell Pessimistic Me to shut the hell up."
I know, I know. You've probably heard "you shouldn't take your
cell phone in your bedroom" and other cell phone well-being advice. But I'm talking specifically about social media, where we tend to be barraged by the latest bad news, and, if you're someone with a marginalized identity, it's all too easy to run across people debating your right to exist, which can, unsurprisingly, have a negative effect on your mental health.
If being away from your phone is impossible for work reasons, or if you're just not ready to try disengaging for a long period of time, making the bathroom a cell phone-free zone is a good start. In the morning, instead of scrolling social media while you're getting ready, put on some music and make your prep time about
you, not that very tempting argument on Facebook.
One of the things I struggle with is cleaning. I can be obsessive about cleaning, but I also procrastinate. I'm great about putting my sheets on my bed; I'm not great about doing dishes. And when I've been in a bad downswing, things that need to be cleaned and organized start to pile up. Eventually the amount of cleaning starts to seem insurmountable, and I can end up paralyzed, with my brain very seriously telling me a good solution to all this is to move out and start fresh at a new house.
Dr. Eva Selhub told
Shape that "[a]t the end of the day, being organized is about having more time for yourself, and enabling you to live a more balanced life." With so many things piled on the "to clean" end of the spectrum, that balance can feel wildly off. But the bathroom is actually a good place to start if you feel like cleaning is getting away from you. It's a small, contained space, and there are divided tasks. Don't worry about anything outside the door. Just throw the bathroom trash away. Wipe down the mirror. Clean the toilet. Throw out empty soap bottles. Doing one little thing can actually be the kick-start your brain needs to help see what other sequential tasks you can complete throughout the rest of your task, instead of lumping everything together into one mountain you can't accomplish.
According to Mental Health America, a lack of sleep
can worsen depression and anxiety. From my experience, that's definitely true. I'm always more anxious when I'm underslept. On top of that, for me, taking long naps is one of my avoidance techniques.
So, I mitigate that by making sure my sleep schedule is as insomnia-free as possible. In order to prevent my racing anxiety thoughts from keeping me awake all night, I
established a nighttime bathroom routine. It involves more than brushing my teeth and washing my face — I open my window to feel the breeze, and I listen to my favorite music. It's a destressing moment, but because it's an established routine, I'm also letting my body and brain know that it's time for bed.
You may not think of the bathroom as an epicenter for mental health wellness, but if you establish helpful routines, it can become a point of stability when mental illness can often make us feel adrift.