Caring for Mental Health is Like Brushing Your Teeth


I bet you have been brushing your teeth for as long as you can remember. Oral hygiene is important. We are taught this at such a very young age. I actually remember lessons from when I was in elementary school, specifically teaching us how to properly brush our teeth. It makes sense that we value our teeth so much. We use it to smile (a form of social expression) and to eat (for our own survival and health). We even use our teeth to assist us in staying calm and focused. Did you know that chewing gum (applying pressure and biting down to work the gum) actually helps our nervous system to organize and relax? 

Yes, keeping those pearly whites clean and healthy is important.

Have you ever wondered why we do not value keeping our mind clean and healthy as well? Even though we use and need this part of our human body even more than our teeth, mental hygiene is typically not addressed until there is a problem. No wonder mental health issues in youth have skyrocketed over the past few years.

Considering all of the recent research in neuroscience informing us on how our human brain is wired, and how we can enhance its function, it would not only seem essential to teach our children about their brain but also provide them with explicit education on how to care for this vital organ. We are a society that is so consumed by technology, but we don’t always recognize that the human mind is our most fabulous piece of technology when we know how to care for it and use it. 

We need our mind for everything, why is it not part of our teaching, at the very least, as much as oral hygiene?  What’s more, science is even showing how a two-minute “hygiene routine” for the brain can create significant changes for improving the brain’s functional abilities. This can be improving memory, attention, problem-solving skills, and critical thinking. I think this research alone would make it a “no brainer” (pun intended) for teaching mental “hygiene” in school.

As an educator, wouldn’t you be interested in knowing how a simple two-minute practice can help the minds of your students improve their capacity for learning? Zensational Kids is setting out to make this every school’s BEST PRACTICE.

Here are a few simple, short (only two minutes), research-based mental hygiene activities you can use yourself and share with students of every age. Think of them as tools to “floss” your mind:

  1. PAUSE – Yes, there is power in pausing. We are consumed with being busy and always DOING. However, we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS. Take two minutes (actually set your timer) and allow yourself to JUST BE. Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Breathe. That’s it. Just breathe in and breathe out for two minutes. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Nothing to figure out, solve, change or do. Just BE. Sounds easy, right? It’s not, and that’s okay. It’ll become easier with practice, and you are worth the investment. Research shows that connecting to the moment and focusing on only one thing helps to access the higher thinking centers of the brain.
  2. POSITIVITY – Close your eyes and imagine a perfect day. See yourself as your best self, encountering situations, people and opportunities that make you smile, feel good, and bring joy into your day. This is all in your imagination, so try not to get stuck thinking, “this will never happen.” The point is that you are simply conjuring up thoughts that elicit positive emotions and feelings. They don’t have to be real, however, science shows that the more you focus your attention on something, the more likely it is to become part of your reality.
  3. POWER – Studies by researchers at Harvard University have demonstrated that how you position and hold your body posture can impact your brain (both positively and negatively). When your head is down, your trunk is slouched, and you literally look like you want to hide, your body sends a signal to your brain that there is something to fear and avoid. Your brain goes into survival mode and the cognitive, rational centers shut down. Conversely, when you hold your body in positions of power (often called power poses), a signal of strength, courage, and wisdom is sent from your body to your brain. This activates the parts of your brain that hold skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and impulse control. Warrior pose is a power position we introduce in our Educate 2B and Everyday Mindfulness programs for K-12 classrooms. Stand with your feet wide and arms stretched out to the side. Rotate your right foot to the right and gently bend your right knee so it is in line with your right toes. Keep your left leg straight. Look over your right hand. Hold the posture and breathe in and out deeply. Think of three words you can say to yourself to invoke the feeling of strength, such as “strong,” “confident,” “prepared,” “peaceful,” “wise,” etc. Then, repeat on the other side.

Remember the analogy of brushing your teeth for two minutes? The same practice can be applied here. It just takes a daily practice of taking two minutes to pause, instill positive thoughts for positive experiences, and use your body to influence your mind. Stand in your own power in order to care for your mind and improve its health, function, and flexibility.