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Mental Health

How Mental Health Can Negatively Impact Your Hygiene, and Some Tips

To many, personal hygiene is an extremely simple task. It requires no effort or thought. It is just another mundane part of everyday life… but to those who struggle with their mental health, practicing adequate personal hygiene can sometimes feel like an impossible responsibility. 

Exacerbated by the weight of the pandemic and the stresses of being a student, many of us are finding ourselves at our lowest points. On the worst of days, it can be difficult to even get out of bed, let alone take a shower or brush your teeth. The “easiest” parts of being alive can be exhausting and inaccessible when you are in mental turmoil. It is an embarrassing reality for many of us, but we can start by understanding that it is not our fault.

men and mental health
Photo by Fernando @cferdo from Unsplash

Hygiene issues are a very common and very real part of mental health. When somebody is physically ill or incapacitated and unable to take care of themselves, it is socially acceptable and understood. Their struggles are legitimate and so are yours. Being mentally unwell can have tangible physical symptoms that make hygiene difficult, namely the feelings of fatigue and despair. If you are struggling, it is not a choice, and while it is easier said than done, you should not be embarrassed. 

As somebody who has made it out of periods where I couldn’t even brush my hair, I have learned a few tricks for when I feel as if I can’t keep up with my normal routines. While these tricks do not replace the basics, they can help you feel more in control as you re-introduce better hygiene into your life, and I have personally found them very effective in motivating myself to stay clean.

  1. Dry Shampoo: This works wonders for making your hair look cleaner and feel fresher, especially on days when you can’t wash it. It also usually has a nice smell.

  2. Chewing Gum, Mints, and Breath Spray: I always felt insecure about my breath and my teeth when I was struggling. Gum, mints, and breath sprays can help when you can’t brush your teeth.

  3. Mouthwash: Similarly, mouthwash can be a low-effort way to make your mouth feel a bit cleaner and there are special kinds meant specifically for making your breath smell nicer.

  4. Baby Wipes: A bit unconventional, but baby wipes work great if you feel unable to take a shower. You can use them on your body and your face to target grime.

  5. Taking a Bath: Baths can be both relaxing and helpful when you are struggling. They are much more low-effort than showers as you are able to sit or lay down in the water, they can also be comforting like a warm hug.

  6. Deodorant: Deodorant is one of the fastest and easiest parts of everyone’s hygiene routine. While it may not always be possible, it will help you feel more confident when you can apply it.

  7. Body Spray/Perfume: If you have a signature scent or a smell that you really enjoy, spraying a nice mist or perfume can be both a mental pick-me-up and a way to feel fresher.

  8. Washing Your Hair in the Sink: This one is also slightly unconventional but I have done it. In the morning when you are washing your face (if you are able to), you can also wash your hair in the sink. It is not as effective as a shower but it does the job.

  9. Do What You Can: Ultimately, you must come to terms with the fact that not every part of your routine is going to be accessible to you when you are in a low place. You are not going to be able to just jump back into being perfectly clean, and there are going to be some days where you might not be able to do anything hygiene-related at all. It’s okay. You are not gross or weird for struggling, and you owe yourself some compassion. Do not push your limits. With that said:

  10. Ask for Help: This is the most important tip that I can offer. When you are struggling, no matter how embarrassing you think that it might be, reach out. You are not alone. From asking a loved one to wash your back to seeing a professional, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to let others know. 

lonely woman looking out a window
Photo by Cosmic Timetraveler from Unsplash

Hygiene can be hard. It may seem taboo or shameful to talk about, but the reality is that struggling with cleanliness is a legitimate symptom of poor mental health and mental illness. Taking care of yourself is put on the back burner when you barely have enough energy to eat and drink water. It is not a choice that you make, and your pain is not your fault. Please reach out if you need help, and be understanding with yourself and others. Do not immediately assume that someone with poor hygiene is intentionally skipping out, and do not tear yourself down for trying your best.

Sydney McKenzie

CU Boulder '24

Sydney is a second year student studying political science. She loves coffee, but not even half as much as she loves to debate with friends.
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