How To Combat The Effect Mental Illness Can Have On Hygiene

Having a mental illness can be a disruptive and debilitating experience. For many, the symptoms and side effects of a mental health condition can interfere with activities of daily life. While events like missing work, avoiding social events, or engaging in risky behaviors are obvious signs that someone may not be well, smaller actions (like not bathing or brushing your teeth) can also be an indication of a mental health condition.

Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses present a host of unique challenges to daily life, including issues with maintaining proper hygiene. Individuals struggling with depression often report the inability to shower, brush their teeth, or comb their hair (via PsychCentral). In some cases, disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can create a need for an individual to overly clean themselves, according to Healthline. Additionally, PsychCentral reports that some of these mental health conditions are often accompanied by a lack of motivation or interest in cleaning their living environment, which perpetuates an unhygienic lifestyle. For neurotypical individuals, these behaviors are often viewed as being lazy, disgusting, or otherwise not concerned with proper social norms regarding hygiene. This often creates shame, fear, and apprehension about seeking help.

Maintaining personal hygiene

So what can you do to combat how your mental illness affects your hygiene? According to WebMD, one way to help combat the side effects of mental illness is to practice mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness is one in which you are focused on the present moment and your surroundings to understand where the source of negative or unwanted emotions is. In the act of focusing on the task at hand, you can focus on the five senses each action makes you feel. 

Mindfulness and meditation practices are used in a variety of different types of therapeutic programs and processes, such as Opposite Action. Opposite Action is when a person is mindful of the emotion being experienced and the urge the emotion is causing, and then provides an "opposite" or more appropriate coping action for that emotional response (via University of Oregon). For example, a person struggling with wanting to lay in bed due to depression might find themselves engaging in Opposite Action by standing in a cold shower for 5 minutes. Another strategy is to try to view each hygiene task as small acts of self-care, and engage in them for short periods of time. For example, if brushing your teeth feels insurmountable, try gargling with mouthwash (via PsychCentral).

Other options for your mental health

Choosing to look at each task as an act of self-care and practicing mindfulness are great options for helping you to create and establish routines that can make your hygiene tasks more manageable. Other options for managing your mental health symptoms can include therapy, group therapy, or medication. You should seek out the assistance of a licensed therapist or mental health counselor (via Healthline). 

Often, treating the symptoms is best done by dealing with the root of the issue. A therapist or counselor can help you to identify the triggers that prevent you from engaging in the hygienic activities needed for daily life. Additionally, a therapist may be able to offer help with restructuring your perspectives so these 'chores' are viewed more as acts of self-care. Group therapy can help to provide support by engaging with individuals who share the same experiences with mental illness (via WebMD).