May is Mental Health Awareness month, and also my month of focusing on being a better parent. One aspect of being a good parent, is taking care of oneself. It’s like what they say on airplanes, you have to put your mask on before you can help others. A while back I was asked to speak to my local MOPS group about mental health. During the discussion, I spoke about common mental health issues women face, specifically as mothers. With the month of May coming to an end, I feel like this is a perfect time to touch base on mental health and it’s affect on being a mom. During my talk, we discussed the prevalence of postpartum depression (1 in 7 women), clinical depression (1 in 5 women), and the fact that according to the World Health Organization approximately 50% of all adults with deal with mental health issues of some form. And yet, despite the staggering statistics of the prevalence of mental health issues, only approximately 36% of people actually seek treatment.
Why is this? Why is it that even though this is something that affects everyone, whether personally or interpersonally, it isn’t discussed and treatment often isn’t sought? One major cause is the stigma associated with diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues. The personal and public stigmas associated with mental illness create barriers to treatment. Unfortunately, when these illness aren’t treated the effect is on the entire family, not just the individual suffering. So, what can we do to improve our mental health? Not just mental health in a clinical sense, but on a day to day basis. And in this case, specifically as mothers, what can we do to improve our mental health for ourselves and also for the ripple effect which comes from positive mental health in our families? I have 6 Ideas!
- Admit that it’s ok, to not be ok.
Stop pretending that you are ok if you’re not. Its important to be able to recognize signs and symptoms within yourself that are your red flags that something is wrong. This doesn’t mean that if you’re not ok, and that if you’re having a hard time, that you have to walk around every second being not ok. And that you can’t have moments of happiness during dark times. But what this does mean is that if you’re not ok, find SOMEONE to talk to. Often just telling one person that you aren’t ok, will set change into motion.
2. Its OK to ask for help.
If you are experiencing a crisis, rough period of time, or just struggling, ask for help. Reach out; Ask for help in a clinical sense. tell someone. Because the worst thing that can happen when you tell someone that you need help is that they will help you get the help you need. BUT also ask for help with the little things. Instead of being annoyed that your partner hasn’t taken out the trash: ASK! Instead of being frustrated that the dishes aren’t done, or the toys aren’t picked up, ask for help! Holding onto that internal frustration until you implode or explode won’t help. You’ll either experience resentment because you feel like you’re doing it alone or guilt because you snapped out of anger and frustration. If you encounter a situation and you aren’t sure how to proceed, ask for help; Someone out there has faced whatever it is you’re facing, and they’ll know how to help or where to point you in the right direction. Talk to someone who not only has been there, and learned from it; BUT talk to some who you think can actually be helpful in the situation, not just someone who will help you throw a pity party you may be looking for.
3. Be Realistic about and manage expectations
This one is especially important because this is about the pressure we put in ourselves. In the world of Pinterest it’s really easy to think that every single thing we do must be Instagram or social media worthy. Unfortunately this creates often unrealistic expectations and thus realistic disappointment. Most of us are probably all guilty of this, striving to maintain an expectation that we place on ourselves to be the perfect mom, wife, daughter, friend, caretaker; But in reality there are some days we need to be happy with just having the kids fed and nobody getting seriously injured.
4. Be YOUR Authentic Self
Research on happiness indicates that when we are happier we our with ourselves, it influences those around us. How we view ourselves and how we treat ourselves is what we model to those around us. Trying to be someone you’re not, or something you’re not will increase anxiety, frustration, perhaps even resentment towards someone you are trying to change yourself to please. We focus on our child’s development and their milestones, but what about those of our own? Gretchen Rubin says that happiness occurs in an atmosphere of growth. They say that growth and challenging yourself allows you to expand your self-definition. I’m sure our self-definition changed when we became mothers; But what about beyond that?
5. Find An Outlet
Find a healthy coping skill or activity that you do just for yourself. Often I know many of us joke about using wine and food as a coping skill. And i’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t do this, BUT the keyword in this to to find a healthy coping skill. Something that you can do that has a positive impact on you, and bonus if it helps those around you as well. Finding and utilizing coping skills that work for you make a huge difference in outlook and overall mental health. I understand it’s easy to get swept up, and be so focused on your child and those around you, that it’s easy to lose a little bit of your pre-baby self each day. Think of something that you used to LOVE to do before you had children. Were you a runner? Did you paint? Were you a reader? Were you an amateur chef who enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen and trying new foods that aren’t chicken nuggets or cereal? What was it before children that you used to do, that brought you joy? Is that something you can get back to? Is there a way for you to implement that activity back into your life in a healthy way, that can help you be a better version of yourself?
6. Increase positive mental health through Gratitude
Finally, when we are in a rough place it’s hard to see the light in the darkness, which brings me to my last tip for increasing positive mental health, gratitude. Even during the hardest of times, we can generally find something to be grateful for. I read a while back that “Anxiety and gratitude cannot live simultaneously” by focusing on gratitude and the positive things in our lives we can reduce the power of the negative aspects. Tony Robbins talks about this in many of his books, and its also something that we discuss in dialectical behavior therapy; Give yourself 90 seconds to recognize and identify the problem, be upset, angry, frustrated about a situation, acknowledge and embrace those feelings; but at the end of that allotted time, find something to be grateful for. In many ways this may sound silly and unrealistic; however what this does is change your framed mind from negative to positive, helps you change your thoughts, and thus change your behaviors and actions. Try to implement daily gratitude practice through a gratitude journal, there are some really great ones out there; The Five Minute Journal is a favorite of mine (and there’s an app version). It’s simple and easy and you focusing on finding 3 things in which your grateful for, and it takes less than 5 minutes.