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Managing your mental health is a skill we all need to nurture. It’s essential for living happy and healthy lives and it’s essential for raising happy and healthy kids. As parents though, looking after ourselves can be one of the first things to slip. But looking after our mental health shouldn’t just be something we do if we’re struggling. It’s crucial that we invest in our mental health in the same way we invest in our physical health. It’s not just something we should tend to when we’re feeling low, anxious or stressed.

When the to-do list is getting longer by the second, when there are dinners to be made, homework to be completed and little people to feed, wash and clothe, and that’s just the start of the things on your mind, doing things to take care of your mental health always slips down the priorities. But the more we can do to look after our brains when things are ok, the better it’ll be when things get tricky. There are tonnes of things we can do to take care of ourselves. We usually try and start with these tactics. They don’t take much time and may sound super obvious, but it’s the little things that make a big difference.

 

#1

It’s really easy for us to develop patterns of thinking that aren’t particularly helpful. Recognising these and taking steps to adjust them is a really smart way to help us take care of our brains. It means we won’t become entrenched in ways of thinking that snowball. Reframing your thoughts is a technique that comes from cognitive behavioural therapy (aka CBT). It helps us get a handle on some of the stories we tell ourselves that aren’t particularly useful for getting us through day to day life. CBT is an action-focused approach to mental health management. The concept of reframing your thoughts comes down to the basic idea that not all of your thoughts are facts. We’re going to say that again to let it sink in. Not all of your thoughts are facts. Reframing your thoughts allows you to look at them and assess how truthful you’re being with yourself.

When something goes wrong, you might use words like ‘failure’ or ‘useless’ to describe yourself. When you’re using reframing, you start to question the validity of these statements. Are they true? All too often we get into the habit of believing the things our own negativity bias tells us, so try to get in the habit of asking yourself, “What’s the proof that I have for this thought?”. If you tell yourself you’re a failure when things go wrong, think about how you can flip this thought on its head. Yes, this thing may have ‘failed’ but that’s no reflection on your wider abilities.

 

#2

There are so many distractions in the modern world. Our brains were not designed to manage them all. It’s no wonder our mental health can suffer as a result. Being present (or trying to be) can be a good way to manage your mental health. Taking time to notice ourselves in the present moment by checking in with our current thoughts and feelings and paying attention to the world around us can help us get a better perspective. Being more mindful can often elicit a bit of an eye roll from people because it’s something that is rolled out as a cure all for the many ills in the world, but when you’re overwhelmed or feeling the world’s a bit heavy, it can be a great place to start. Check out our No Bullsh*t guide to mindfulness for busy parents as a starter for ten on managing your mental health – and give this six minute meditation a go to help you slow your roll.

 

#3

You know the old adage a problem shared is a problem halved? It a cliche for a reason. Whether you’re feeling good or a bit wobbly, chatting things out with someone you trust (whether a pal or a professional) will nearly always make you feel stronger. There’s something about taking thoughts out of our heads and putting them into words that helps make sense of them. They stop rattling around between your ears and become less tangled through the process of talking them through. Not only that, but being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone. And when you speak about a problem, you’ll likely find someone else who feels the same. That’s why Gi started Happy Mum Happy Baby – because when she spoke about all the thoughts rolling around in her mind in the lonely, late, quiet, small hours of the morning, she found others started opening up too. You never know what you’ll discover when you say “Jeez – this is tough isn’t it?”

 

 

#4

While sleep is key for managing your mental health, we won’t make you LOL by suggesting you get a good night’s sleep. If you can, make the sleep you get good. If sleep is something that’s hard to come by (and let’s face it, in those early days of parenthood, it can become something of a fond memory), it’s about quality not quantity. In general, adults need about 7-8 hours of sleep a night to feel properly rested, although some people might find they only need 5 hours and some people may need more like 10 hours. For parents, it’s about making sure you’ve got really good sleep hygiene so as much as you can, establish a good bedtime routine. Try and find ways to switch off and wind down before bed. When you’re exhausted it’s easy to just go to sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow but you might find you wake up later with your brain still whirring. Reading a book, listening to gentle music, doing breathing exercises or muscle relaxation can help you quiet your brain so it switches off properly.

Avoid tea, coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, cigarettes and other stimulants close to bedtime and avoid using screens in your bedroom. They all make resting and sleeping harder and will impact how well you sleep.

If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, getting up and writing down the things that are on your mind can be useful. Then try going through your bedtime routine again.

 

#5

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of something and suddenly realised that time has slipped away from you? That you’ve been squirrelling away and you’ve forgotten about everything apart from the task at hand? You might have been in a state of flow. Flow is incredibly good for you and managing your mental health. It’s a state of mind in which a person becomes fully immersed in an activity and it’s good for emotional regulation, offers greater enjoyment and fulfilment, happiness, intrinsic motivation and creativity amongst other things. It usually happens when we do something we really enjoy. But we’re all a bit guilty of not giving ourselves time to do the things we love, especially when we’re parents and there are other people and things to worry about. But doing something you’re good at is a great way to maintain good mental health.

Achieving something boosts your self esteem. Concentrating on something helps you get out of the ‘thinking about your worries’ part of your brain and into a different part of your mind. When you do an activity, you get away from being someone’s mum, dad, partner, carer, employee or boss. You get to just be you. And that’s really freeing.

 

#6

Remember, however you’re feeling, there are sunny days ahead. Mental health is, as Stephen Fry once famously said, like the weather. His quote goes:

“I’ve found that it’s of some help to think of one’s moods and feelings about the world as being similar to weather. Here are some obvious things about the weather: It’s real. You can’t change it by wishing it away. If it’s dark and rainy, it really is dark and rainy, and you can’t alter it. It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row. BUT it will be sunny one day.

The sun may well come out tomorrow, and when it does I shall take full advantage.”

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