Throughout my life I’ve faced a varying amount of mental health challenges. Before becoming a parent I always made it a priority to take care of my mental health but once becoming one, I’ve realized that it’s vital for my family. When I take care of myself, I am a better spouse, parent and friend. Airplane mask analogy – you must help yourself before you can take care of others.
I’m a big advocate of talking to your doctor to find out what plan of action is right for you. But, what I want to do today is talk about some simple things I’ve done to promote and encourage overall better mental health for myself. All of the lifestyle changes I discuss below are about consistency. They are daily exercises that are a form of preventative maintenance in order to avoid a big collapse that can easily occur when my life schedule becomes a bit overwhelming.
1. Nightly Meditation
I’ve practiced meditation on and off for years and have always noticed what an impact it makes when I am intentional about practicing it. I find it helps me to feel more focused, balanced and brings me a sense of peace when I feel most anxious.
After Henry was born it felt like there was never enough time to get back into it. I took a short online meditation course a few months ago that taught me a little meditation that I have made a part of my nightly bedtime routine.
Before I fall asleep each night, I get into bed and close my eyes and take a few deep breathes trying to focus on each. With each breath, I tell myself – “let go…”; “let go…of the anxiety”; “let go…of the fear”; “Let go…of your insecurities”; “let go”. This usually goes on for just a few minutes and I often doze off during, but it’s overall impact has helped me thoughtfully release so much of the stress and worry that I find builds up throughout my day. More importantly, I find myself voluntarily thinking these words during the day when I find myself in tense situations. It allows me to gain control over my emotions in order to avoid a negative reaction.
The science behind meditation and it’s impact is undeniable. If you’re looking for more concrete evidence on how it can help, check out this article from Psychology Today on 20 Scientific Reasons To Start Meditation Today. And if you’re interested in trying out meditation for yourself there are thousands of online resources but calm.com is one of my favorites.
Being active has always been a huge part of my life. I find it a great way to relieve stress and boost my mood. It also helps me a lot with my anxiety, dealing with stress and, as an added benefit, helps me sleep better, too.
Before Henry was born and during my pregnancy, I was exercising anywhere from three to five days a week, but once he was here, it felt almost impossible to find the time or energy to partake in that type of schedule. The sleep deprivation made me feel sluggish and drained and so fitting exercise into my life took a back seat. The lack of exercise started to catch up with me mentally as I found myself feeling more “in-my head” than I like.
Last year, my husband and I both decided that it was time to get back on the exercise bandwagon. We started slow by committing to walking and stretching at least three days a week. Once the snow hit the ground we redid our budget and made a few other sacrifices because we decided it was time to get back to the gym. We knew exercise needed to be a part of our lives because it truly made a difference in how we felt emotionally and physically, which in turn, helped us to be better parents.
Exercise is a proven way to help with support healthy mental health. If you’re looking for more information on how exercise can help manage stress and anxiety check out this article from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
3. Prioritize Sleep
I’m a high-sleep-needs-person, an eight-hours-of-sleep kind of girl. I know you’re probably laughing at this as I am parent of a toddler, but we make sleep our #1 priority in our house. The more well rested I am, the better mood I am in and the more I feel like my true self. I have an easier time concentrating, staying focused and I don’t find myself getting as overwhelmed during the day. Even though it can feel hard as a parent to get a good night’s rest, taking a few simple steps to help can make a world of difference.
At first, I found it nearly impossible to “sleep when the baby sleeps”. My body, although exhausted, wasn’t conditioned to sleep at odd hours of the day. Even so, I made it a priority to lay down and rest when Henry was sleeping. I let go of lists; to-do’s and turned off the TV. Even if I couldn’t fall asleep I would close my eyes and rest in my bed. Over time, I was able to train my body to easily take an afternoon nap. This rest helps me feel recharged and refreshed. Even still, when time allows, I try and take a short power nap in the afternoon to help reset my mind and body.
Early bedtimes are a must at our house. It’s a rare night if we’re in bed later than 10 p.m., sometimes even sooner, depending on the day. In those early months, I was even in bed as early as 8 p.m. so that I could ensure I was getting a decent block of sleep before I was up throughout the night. Even when my son started sleeping through the night, I still held on to my early bedtime (so that I felt well rested), as he didn’t get the memo that 5:30 a.m. was not an acceptable time to start the day.
For a few tips and tricks for promoting healthy sleep, check out this article from the National Sleep Foundation.