Parenting and Mental Health

Children bring a lot of joy to our lives, but being a parent also comes with its own set of added stress to an already stressful world.  Due to the obligations, love, and commitment that we have as parents it is easy to put our children first while our own needs fall to the wayside.  Compounded by living in a world that often neglects mental health, our own mental self-care can easily be the first to go, yet may be one of the most important areas of our lives to take care of.  Especially to be our best self so that we can be the best parent we can be to our children.

It’s important to take care of your mental health because if you don’t attend to it your negative mood and emotions will resonate with your children.  Especially younger, more impressionable children can interpret your negative emotions into thinking it’s their fault.  As children become burdened by the feeling that they are responsible, this can lead them to have their own mental health issues and can be a form of trauma. Another reason that it’s important to take care of your mental health is because if you don’t then it is easy to become very reactive to your children’s behavior, even when their behavior is very normal for their age.  Furthermore, your stress may ripple throughout other areas of your life such as in your relationships and career.  Lastly, one should note that they do not have to have a diagnosis of a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety for children to be impacted.

One way for parents to prioritize their mental health is by incorporating mental self-care strategies into their time with their children.  Since parents can sometimes feel guilty for taking too much time for themselves and not spending enough time with their children, this is a way for you to do something healthy for yourself and for your children while also spending time with them.  Furthermore, you will be setting a good example of a healthy lifestyle by teaching them good tools to manage their emotions.  Triple win!

So what are some of these activities and strategies that you can implement with your child?  Let’s start with nutrition.  Food can play a fundamental role on our mood.  Certain nutritional deficiencies are linked with low mood and depression, and conversely proper nutrition can help promote psychological healing by helping to stabilize mood, reduce stress, increase energy and improve sleep.  Cooking with children can be a fun activity during which you can both learn about the benefits of nutrition while also connecting and spending time together.

Fitness can also be an activity that helps promote positive mood and be something that is done with children.  Depending on your child’s age and ability, it can be something as simple as going for a walk or a bike ride, or doing something more challenging like a run, jumping rope or a yoga class.  Fitness has been found to relieve stress, improve mood reduce mental health symptoms such as depression or anxiety, promote restful sleep, help manage anger and frustration, provide structure and discipline, and increase self-esteem, not to mention the physiological benefits of exercise among many others.

Another important technique that we encourage our patients to practice is meditation, which is another thing that can be practiced together with children.  Meditation is a powerful tool that can be used to combat mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.  Some mental health benefits of meditation are that it can help relieve stress, decrease negative ruminating thoughts, reduce impulsivity, improve concentration, increase self-awareness, lower blood pressure, increase happiness and well-being, and help individuals to reach an overall higher state of consciousness.  There are many free mobile applications or YouTube videos that offer guided meditations for children which can be done together as a family.  Morning meditation can be a great way to start your day in order to be more “even-keeled,” and conversely nighttime meditation can be a great way to unwind and help to promote sleep.

These things - eating well, exercising and meditating – sound so simple but are not always easy to commit to daily.  Making such self-care activities a part of your daily routine is essential to reaping the benefits and to living a healthy lifestyle.  However, if you find yourself continuing to be overwhelmed, stressed, sleep deprived, angry, sad or anxious despite making positive behavioral lifestyle changes then it may be time to seek professional help in the form of therapy. There are certain issues or stressors that need more than healthy lifestyle changes.  For example, trauma from the past, marital discord, chronic unhappiness, substance abuse or other addictions, anxiety or apathy are some things that people struggle with that may need professional help to manage and sort through in addition to proper self-care.

Author
Lin Anderson & Aaron Sternlicht

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