Feeling out of sorts? Mental health pros share their tips for simple changes with big benefits. As a parent, you already know that caring for your mental health is vital. But as a parent, you are also limited on time and energy, resources that have only shrunk since the pandemic started.
And yet, with a bit of intention, you can absolutely tend to your mental health even with a demanding career, little to no childcare, and a thousand other tasks that you need to complete. Here are the best and totally doable mental health-boosting strategies, according to psychotherapists.
Care for your basic needs
These basics include eating regularly, eating nutrient-rich foods, and moving your body. Experts suggest carrying a snack and water bottle with you wherever you are going and eating when you feed your kids. You can also participate in fun physical activities with your family, such as taking nature walks, playing an active game, and doing a yoga video.
Parents often treat their children’s bedtime routines with great respect but then neglect their own. Lack of sleep sinks our mood and “is a recipe for increased stress for everyone in the household. Creating a bedtime routine can be super simple: Adjust the blue light emitted from all screens, as “blue light tells your brain it is time to be awake,” point experts. You can do this in each device’s settings or download a blue-light filter app. You can also get smart bulbs for your bedroom that eliminate blue light at night and emit more of it during the morning or wear blue light-blocking glasses in the evenings. Stop using devices about 30 minutes before bedtime. Engage in a relaxing activity or two, such as drinking chamomile tea and listening to a 10-minute guided meditation.
Set boundaries around energy zappers
What tends to drain your emotional, physical, and mental energy on a daily basis? For example, you might limit news checking to 15 minutes each day and get to bed by 10 pm. You might put your phone in a drawer when you are with your kids. You might swap your afternoon coffee with a huge glass of water. These small changes can make a big impact.
Take mental health breaks
Parents must find ways to take breaks. One of these ways is to use screen time strategically. Thirty more minutes of screen time for the kiddos might ‘sound bad’ but if 30 minutes will keep a parent from losing control and yelling at someone they love over a small matter, that extra screen time is 100 percent worth it. Think of those minutes as a mental health boost: Catch up with a friend, journal your feelings, listen to a funny podcast, make progress on a creative project, or do a high-intensity workout.
Stick to your treatment
Experts stress the importance of taking any prescribed psychiatric medication. Many pharmacies are also delivering medication and doctors are offering services at home. Of course, if you feel like your medication isn’t working or you are experiencing bothersome side effects, talk to your doctor. Always voice your questions and concerns.
Practice bite-sized behaviours
Here are suggestions for small but significantly beneficial activities:
• step outside to savour some fresh air
• sit in the car to catch your breath
• take a hot bath
• process your feelings with your partner
• watch a funny or inspiring show
Focus on activities that fill you up
Do this when you are by yourself and with your kids. This might mean working on your novel and reading your favourite books to your child. It might mean teaching them to bake brownies while singing songs, like you did with your mom. It might mean painting or learning a new language together, because that’s what you are interested in too.
Find creative ways to connect
It may be tough for parents to line up their timelines with other parents’ busy schedules in order to connect. But that doesn’t mean connection is impossible. You also can start a two-person book club or schedule exercise dates: practice yoga over Zoom, meet for a bike ride, or call each other while taking a walk around the block.
Be gentle with yourself
Self-compassion can be a boon to mental health, especially when you’re struggling and stressed out. On difficult days, acknowledge that you’re having a hard time and lower your expectations. Giving yourself shame-free permission to skip the chores, eat another frozen meal, and increase screen time for your kids.
Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can. Let yourself feel your feelings — and cry when you need to. If you feel selfish caring for your mental health, remember that you’re a human being who deserves to feel and be well — just like anyone else.
So, just like you fill up your gas tank, check your oil, and add air to your tires for a long car trip, “you want to make sure you are fueled up mentally and physically” for one of the best adventures you’ll ever experience.