No Mental Health Awareness Month would be complete without taking some time to focus on parents and caregivers. As a parent, a lot of people depend on you. In addition to your kids, you probably have a spouse or partner, neighbors, coworkers, family members, or all of the above looking to you for support, guidance, help, and feedback.
Juggling everything is a challenge, but it’s downright impossible when your mental health declines. If you’ve ever flown on a plane, you’ve heard a flight attendant say, “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” And if you’ve ever been on social media, you’ve heard that sentiment echoed as a strategy for sanity. That’s because you can’t show up for others effectively when you don’t show up for yourself.
What is Mental Health?
When people talk about mental health, they’re referring to the state of emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. In other words, it’s how you think, feel, and act. Everyone has mental health, but not everyone has good mental health. All people of every age group are affected by the state of their mental health.
Mental health is a spectrum, and everyone lands somewhere. A person’s mental health might be healthy, somewhat reactive, injured, or in crisis. Knowing the signs and symptoms of good and poor mental health can help.
Poor Mental Health VS. Good Mental Health
It’s important to note that while anyone can experience moments of poor mental health, that doesn’t mean they have a mental illness. And it’s not only people with mental illness that need to tend to their mental health. Everyone is unique, and their mental health is too.
Signs of good mental health include:
- Normal mood fluctuations and good self-regulation
- Generally good sleep patterns
- Not using substances to cope
- Generally healthy relationships
- Physically and socially active
Signs of struggling or bad mental health include:
- Intrusive thoughts
- Low energy
- Poor performance
- Difficulty sleeping
- Angry outbursts
- Panic attacks
- Increased substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation
In between good mental health and severely bad mental health are various degrees. Someone might not have angry outbursts or panic attacks, but they might have persistent anxiety or recurrent muscle tension. While they aren’t in crisis mode, their mental health still needs attention.
Top Tips for Good Mental Health
First Thing’s First: Take Care of The Basics
Eating, sleeping, and staying hydrated might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how often busy parents neglect the basics. And it’s nearly impossible to gauge your mental health when you’re exhausted or hungry because these deprived states have such an extreme impact on how you feel.
We’ve all had days where everything went wrong, and everyone was out to get us, only to feel completely different after a good night’s sleep. Or, maybe you’re plagued by a headache, exhaustion, and irritability, only to realize you skipped breakfast AND lunch! Take care of the basics and go from there.
Setting boundaries is tricky because it messes with our self-perception. Very often, we imagine that a “good” person is someone who is always saying, “Yes!” “Yes,” to coaching little league. “Yes,” to making Rice Krispies Treats for the bake sale. “Yes,” to volunteering, mentoring, and offering a shoulder to cry on.
Setting boundaries asks us to reject that definition of a “good” person and make space for the possibility that a healthy, happy person sets limits. In all likelihood, they say “no” to some very good things so they can give 100% to the very BEST things–like their own mental health.
Enjoy the Little Things
If you have so many responsibilities that you’ve abandoned everything that inspires or uplifts you, it might be time to take inventory. In what areas can you ask for help? In what areas are people asking too much?
Whether scrapbooking, writing poetry, remodeling your house or finally getting your invention patented, “doing you” is essential. Only then can you show up as the best version of yourself when others need you.
These days, when we hear the word “connect,” it often has something to do with social media. But good mental health requires a genuine connection with supportive, trustworthy people. A combination of online and offline support is ideal.
It can be challenging for parents to foster friendships, but when we feel the least equipped for connection, we probably need it most. Take small steps to let friends know they matter. For example, you might tell a friend that you can’t reply to their messages right away, but that’s because you want to give them your full attention and respond thoughtfully. Honesty, transparency, and vulnerability go a long way in building strong bonds and relieving anxiety.
Conclusion: Tips for Parents to Boost Mental Health
Finally, don’t forget to be gentle with yourself. No matter how conversational you are with others, most of the feedback you get is internal. Extending empathy to yourself goes a long way. If you’re struggling, reach out to a professional who can help you build a long-term strategy, fill your mental health toolbox, diagnose any mental illness, and offer the support you need.
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