This week, for #InternationalParentalMentalHealthWeek, we’re shining a spotlight on the importance of mental health for parents.
As the famous saying goes, ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ – this couldn’t be more true when we think of the importance of caring for your own well-being so that you can be there for your children – on both a physical and emotional level.
Here at The Youth Fairy, we have seen first hand the rise in mental health difficulties in children since the pandemic. There has been much support placed in schools to raise the profile of mental health for children since this time and yet it’s important to remember, that for parents, it was also an emotionally exhausting time too that threw many challenges at the whole family unit: isolation, juggling home-school learning, a full house with little to occupy the children and less time for parent’s own self-care and mental health. In fact, according to Government statistics, clinical levels of anxiety and depression increased around the time of the 2020 pandemic (gov.uk) and, for many families, it has been hard to return to how life was before. Not only have we seen a lasting negative impact on children’s mental health, but ultimately, it has also taken its toll on many parents’ mental health too and their resilience for coping with life’s challenges.
So, parent’s mental health really is important – and if you’re reading this feeling guilty of not carving out a little bit of time for you, now is the chance to take action! Caring for yourself is not selfish, it’s necessary.
What is meant by the term mental health?
Mental health is something we all have. It is so much more than just carving out a little time for self-care.
It refers to our psychological, emotional, and social well-being and affects how we think, feel and act. When we have strategies to cope well with challenges and times of stress, when we can interact with others in healthy ways, and when we can set boundaries and make good choices then we might consider ourselves to be mentally healthy.
If you were to ask yourself honestly as you’re reading this to rate your levels of positive mental health and well-being out of a possible score of ten, where would you place yourself?
Like many parents we speak to, you may well be at the lower end of this scale as you juggle work or home commitments and other setbacks and challenges in your life.
At times it may feel that life runs at such a fast pace that you barely have a moment to spare for yourself after caring for your children and the rest of your family.
But who is caring for you?
If we’re not taking action to care for ourselves too, we can quickly find ourselves suffering from feelings of burnout and stress – and the impact of this on our children can be devastating.
The effects of stress
We know that there is benefit to some stress in our lives – it gives us focus, makes us more alert and gets the job done. That “good” stress comes when there is a short-term challenge which we feel we are able to overcome – it’s challenge stress.
The stress that can become overwhelming and affects our ability to function well on a day-to-day basis is threat stress. This stress is more prolonged and can leave us feeling out of control and unable to cope.
Can you think of times when you’ve experienced this type of stress?
Often it accompanies change:
- A change of job
- The breakdown of a relationship
- Money difficulties
- Moving house
- Loss of a loved one.
- Uncertainty about a life situation
Stresses also come in more positive packages:
- Promotion at work
- More responsibility
- A growing family
The stress that we carry as parents often trickles out into our family. We might not notice it at first, but as we are feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, we can find that we have less patience with those around us.
We know that there is a negative cycle that comes with increased stress – as our stress bucket (or busy bucket) gets fuller, our ability to sleep diminishes – and yet sleep is one of our key tools for emptying the stress bucket. Sometimes we can find other ways to temporarily empty the stress bucket and these might include binge watching television, getting lost in our phones, or opening a bottle of wine each evening. These other things can help, but they are only like a sticking plaster on our stress – they relieve stress in the moment, but they don’t help in the longer term.
How can I reduce my stress bucket?
If you are a regular visitor to The Youth Fairy Parent Pad you know that by increasing our feel-good neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine) we can spend more time in our intellectual mind where we can make proper assessments of situations and generally are more positive (and more creative).
When your stress bucket is full, you spend more time in your primitive, anxious, angry, miserable mind – great if you’re surrounded by danger and need to run away, fight or hide but pretty frustrating if you’re just trying to get your kids ready for school in the morning!
How do you increase serotonin and dopamine?
Engage in more positive activities – we call them the 3Ps:
- Positive Action (doing things you enjoy and that make you feel good)
- Positive Interactions (spending time with friends, family and loved ones for example)
- Positive Thoughts (taking a moment each day to think of the things you are grateful for)
When we create more 3Ps, we also start to empty and put less into our stress bucket. This then has an impact on our sleep, and as we sleep better, we give our brain more opportunity (through REM sleep) to process the emotions and stress of our day. In doing so, we empty our stress bucket.
Can you see the beginning of a more positive cycle?
As parents we can spend much of our time running our children between activities, working, cleaning, cooking, paying bills – we can neglect ourselves and our stress bucket.
And we all have bad days. There are circumstances that can cause us stress. There are situations that can cause us to be sad, anxious and angry. This is true for us as parents and for our children. Sometimes it can feel that we are having more bad days. When we can find the good moments in every day, even the bad days, we are re-training our brains, forging positive neuropathways and creating opportunities for our serotonin to increase so that we can feel better. We start to reverse that negative cycle of filling our stress bucket. We start to create a positive cycle where we can begin to see solutions and options and take steps towards our preferred future and preferred outcomes.
Sometimes we need to start small.
So, what one small thing can you do for yourself this week?
And, if you need a little bit of fairy inspiration to get you started, take a look at our ideas below:
- Try to cut down on excessive technology or screen time for the day. We all know the negative impact that excessive screen time can have on us all, particularly leading up to the hours before bedtime when blue light devices inhibit the normal release of melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone). Consider making a pact, that even just for a day, you will put all devices away early and set some quality time aside for you after the children are in bed.
- Share gratitude for the things you have. As Oprah Winfrey once wisely said, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” We hear many things about the benefits of practising gratitude and many scientific studies have demonstrated the direct link to improved well-being. Not only does gratitude encourage feelings of positivity, contentment and kindness but it has been shown to boost our immune system and reduce the risk of major diseases. So, why not try keeping a gratitude journal at the end of each day and include three things you feel thankful for.
- Declutter your living space. An organised space can do wonders for our well-being and studies have shown it boosts feelings of positivity and productivity. So, whether it’s clearing out your wardrobe and giving to charity, clearing your desk at work or decluttering around the home, you might be surprised by the well-being boost you receive!
- Think back to the last time you became fully immersed in something you enjoy. Perhaps it’s been a really long time since you’ve experienced that feeling. Perhaps it’s been a very long time since you’ve engaged in a hobby you once enjoyed before life became too busy. Now is as good a time as any to start again!
- Plan ahead. When life gets busy, it can feel almost impossible to carve out some time for ourselves so make a conscious effort to schedule in some time for you, even if it’s just a short time once a week. It will make the world of difference to your feelings of well-being.
- Reach out to loved ones. It’s good to talk. Reach out to friends and family if you’re finding things difficult. The chances are they’ve felt the same at some point and will feel glad that you felt you could reach out for support.
If you need further support or information regarding your own mental health and well-being, visit:
https://www.theyouthfairy.com/fairies/ to find your nearest therapist at The Youth Fairy who each offer programmes for parents.