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Boys Town Mental Health

Five Mental Health-Boosting Strategies for Mom and Dad

October 8, 2021     By Julie Almquist, MS, LIMHP

Mental Health, Understanding Behavior

​When it comes to your family's mental health, follow the flight attendant's directive: Take care of yourself first (and don't feel guilty about it).

When the cabin pressure drops in an airplane, you have to put your oxygen mask on first otherwise you won't be in a position to help those in need. The same principle applies to your mental health. If you don't ensure your own emotional well-being, you won't be in any condition to help your children when they need guidance and support.

The past 18 months have thrown so much at parents – a pandemic, school closures, street protests, political unrest and climate disasters – it's no wonder nearly fifty percent of us say our levels of stress have increased since the pandemic began, according to the American Psychological Association.

Being a parent and experiencing stress go hand in hand, even on the best days. But when you're really stressed and overwhelmed, you're at greater risk of lashing out more harshly or responding with less sensitivity to your children. These stress-induced overreactions or emotional withdrawals can have a trickle-down effect on the whole family, creating more tension and anxiety for everyone in the home.

To keep from falling into a negative headspace or to find your way out of one, practice these five mood-boosting strategies:   

  • Give attention to the basics.
    Diet, exercise and sleep are the foundations of a healthy mind, body and spirit. You need to take care of yourself by eating and sleeping well, getting regular exercise, socializing, having regular health check-ups and setting aside time to indulge in activities you enjoy.  
  • Show vulnerability. It's okay to “play hurt."
    Suppressing stress isn't healthy for anyone, so make space to share uncomfortable feelings. Expressing difficult emotions in healthy ways AND showing a willingness to have such feelings in front of your kids offers a powerful lesson. Children learn a lot by watching and experiencing. Simply by seeing you work through and manage a difficult time or situation shows them how to process their own negative emotions in similarly healthy ways.
  • Practice self-care throughout the day.
    Self-care is a great stress reliever. While it's true self-care can involve weekends away or hours-long escapes, it doesn't have to. It can be done throughout the day, in brief increments of time. Short walks, meditation, yoga, watching a humorous video/TV comedy or calling a friend are simple things you can do every day to boost your mood and vitality.
  • Go easy on yourself.
    When you're feeling overloaded or having a bad day, admit to yourself you feel lousy and then lower your expectations. If a few chores don't get done, that's okay. If letting the kids have extra screen time so you can take a breather and have more personal time, that's fine. Tell yourself you're doing the best you can, and stop any shame-based thinking (I'm incompetent; I'm weak; I'm a failure.).
  • Connect with your anchors.
    Identify a support network – the family and friends you can turn to for help and encouragement when stress and self-doubt bubble to the surface. Anchors can be anyone you trust – work colleagues, other parents, a neighbor, sibling or spiritual adviser. Allow their voices to ring in your ears with messages of hope and optimism. You can get through this!

By taking these self-care steps, it will help you go easier on yourself (and others) and find much-needed relief. But if the emotional toll of the pandemic still weighs heavily on you or a loved one, please call the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 or text VOICE to 20121. Trained counselors are at the ready to offer whatever support, resources or referrals you or your family needs.

In support of World Mental Health Day, please share this content so other families know they're not alone and achieving better mental health is possible!

Julie Almquist, MS, LIMHP
Clinical Therapist and Manager
Boys Town Center for Behavioral Health

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