LEARNS: Establishing Mental Health Hygiene by Darrel Kirby

From the Editor: Darrel Kirby is the co-founder and co-owner of Thrive Behavioral Health. He is a mental health therapist and alcohol and drug counselor. When Darrel found his own life unraveling at age 20 and unexpectedly losing all of his eyesight, he sought psychotherapy and discovered such healing that he was driven to establish a career helping others.

The LEARNS acronym provides six important sources of mental and emotional hygiene. Good hygiene will help with stressful or adverse life events. Here are six important forms of self-care:

Laughter and fun with others:

Humor is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. In addition to the domino effect of joy and amusement, laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. The key is taking the steps to meet and make connections with others.


The standard recommendation is thirty minutes of moderate exercise done three or four days a week. It helps if the exercise is something you really enjoy. Regular exercise is a proven stress buster. Most people find that regular exercise increases energy, self-esteem, confidence, and stamina. Walking is considered the "Cadillac" of exercises. It gives you a good workout, it's easy on the knees and ankles, and it doesn't require any fancy equipment. The good news is that you don't have to overdo it to be healthy.


Attitude is a mental position and way of thinking or being. A positive attitude is, therefore, the inclination to generally be in an optimistic, hopeful state of mind. In his ground-breaking book, A Primer in Positive Psychology, Christopher Petersen, PhD, says, "...optimism has been linked to positive mood and good morale; to perseverance and effective problem solving; to academic, athletic, military, occupational, and political success; to popularity; to good health; and even to long life and freedom from trauma.” Even if you have been a pessimistic, negative thinker for many years, it's not too late to change your way of thinking and reap the benefits of a positive attitude. Pay attention to self-talk and the power of using supportive, compassionate, forgiving, and hopeful language.


The key to relaxation is to clear your mind of the day's events and troubles. Some people relax by reading a book; others by working in the dirt, connecting with nature, meditating, or taking a walk. Most experts recommend that you give yourself at least thirty minutes a day just to relax and unwind. Relaxation may also come with slowing down and taking time to breathe and connect with the present moment i.e. Mindfulness.


Food is fuel. The latest information encourages us to eat more primary foods, or those foods that are not processed. This would include fruit and vegetables, nuts and high fiber grains, and beans. Consider some of the super foods: almonds, eggs, soy, apples, berries, leafy greens, yogurt, veggie soup, salmon, and quinoa. Water is another important consideration for keeping the brain and body healthy.


We should all be getting about nine hours of sleep a day. If we don't get enough sleep, we may feel tired, run down, and cranky. The amount of sleep needed varies a little from person to person, but not by much. Sleep problems are common after alcohol and other drug use. Good sleep habits help with stress management and avoiding health problems. Consider a regular waking time, relaxation before bed, limiting caffeine to the A.M., moderate exercise some time during the day, and getting sunlight during the day and the removal of blue light in the evening (putting away screens at least one hour before sleep).