Put your own oxygen mask on first - Mental health continued...
Just in case you’ve missed it. I’ve recently decided to dedicate July as somewhat of a child / adolescent mental health awareness month. If you didn’t read my last blog. Go check it out. We covered some of the more prevalent mental health diagnosis that we see in our kids / teens and which red flags to look out for.
Today I am going to address the mental health of our children or adolescents as an umbrella term while looking into some of the things that we as parents or any professional working with children can do, to ensure that we are always taking care of our children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.
This might come as a shock but taking care of our children’s mental health or emotional wellbeing ALWAYS starts by taking care of our OWN first. That’s right, I just said that! I was talking to one of my previous employers, Sagwati Sebapu, just the other day, a woman that I genuinely admire and look up to in so many ways. A woman that I was honoured to have as a mentor starting out as an OT.
Anyway, we somehow got to talking about our little ones and she gave me such a beautiful analogy on the importance of self-care for parents. Honestly, though, I think we can broaden the analogy to any person working with other people.
If you haven’t been on a plane yet, I’m sure you’ve seen it in a movie or a show. When an air host or air hostess does their in-flight safety demonstration, they always remind adults travelling with children that they need to put their own oxygen masks on first before putting on the oxygen mask for the child or children that they’re traveling with, should the cabin pressure drop. Why? Because if you don’t do it first you might just pass out before being able to place a mask on your child, rendering you both helpless. In the same way, if we are not taking care of our own mental health and emotional well-being, how would we be able to look after our children’s? If we ourselves feel like we are drowning, how do we expect to save our children?
I get it, parenting, teaching, providing therapy, nursing… This list could go on forever. Does require a level of self-sacrifice in order to serve those around us. It should, however, never reach a point beyond repair. A point when we become so far lost at sea that there just does not seem to be an available lifeline. Having said that, the external pressures of the world are real and pressing and exhausting. Which is why I thought I’d give some advice on how to ensure better mental health and emotional well-being of our families as a whole. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, prevention is always better than cure. So here goes:
1. If nothing else, at least slow down the start and the end of your days, both individually and as a family.
As a family - This will without a doubt look different from one family to the next. However, be sure to create at least a 30-minute space in the morning where you can sit together as a family and talk through the expectations of the day. What will everyone be getting up to etc. It will provide a sense of security for your children and maybe a reminder or two for you or your spouse. You’ll start the day, having communicated well and being on the same page.
Then, either during dinner time or right before the kids go to bed, again, take at least 30 minutes to talk about the day’s events. Talk about how each of you felt during certain events and allow yourselves and your children a safe space to process what happened. You don’t have to force your children to talk, if they don’t feel like it, you can set the example.
Communication is the cornerstone to any relationship. Remember that if you have solid relationships and foundations as a family, it tends to become easier to address and take care of one another’s mental health. Emotions should not be hidden or disregarded but acknowledged, embraced and talked through.
Individually – Either choose a morning / evening self-care rhythm. It could be as simple as getting up before the rest of the household to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in peace or even a self-soothing skin care ritual at night.
2. Remind yourselves and your children that sometimes it’s ok to say no.
The moment you are expected to do something at the expense of yourself or your family’s wellbeing – Remember about the oxygen mask. Just say no!! It might just create that much needed space in your life to breathe, rest and recover in order say yes at a later stage, without losing yourself in the process.
3. Engage in regular outdoor and physical activities, together as a family.
It’s one of the age-old techniques that we as OT’s use with our mentally ill clients. Sunshine has a neurophysiological effect on our bodies. It is known to elevate our mood and improve our motivation. The same goes for exercise. Something as small as engaging in a task where you lift your hands over your head or increasing your heart rate a bit, releases endorphins, which is known as the feel-good hormone; as well as dopamine and serotonin in the brain which is also known to elevate a person’s mood and motivation and effect your sleep-wake cycles. Go for that walk or cycle, chase each other in the yard, kick or throw a ball back and forth, do a few jumping jacks... Just do it!
4. Remember that our words carry weight.
Be aware of the type of language that you use with yourself and your children. Self-esteem plays such a vital role in mental health so make sure to speak positive and live giving words over yourself and your children – Even on the ‘harder’ days when you don’t really believe it or feel like saying it. Even in times of discipline remind your children that you know that they are not naughty but bright, loving, kind and wonderful. Also remind yourself of that every now and again. Positive affirmations go a long way.
5. Remember that there is a time to be serious and a time to be fun, silly and carefree.
Ever heard of the saying laughter is the best medicine? Well… It totally is. Especially for our little ones. We need to learn to laugh more together. We have a saying in our church. “Although we take what we do very seriously, we don’t always take ourselves too seriously.” Which I constantly have to remind myself of.
Laughter is known to activate and then relieve our stress response leaving us feeling good and relaxed afterwards. It can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress, it can aid in the improvement of your mood, increase personal satisfaction AND SO MUCH MORE.
Truth be told, I’m barely scratching the surface when it comes to mental health and emotional wellbeing. The goal here is absolutely just to bring greater awareness. Suicide rates have rocketed within the past few years and although there are a number of reasons for this, I do believe that the stigma surrounding mental health does serve as a great contributive factor. So, let’s not tip toe around the topic any longer. Let’s remember that we are all human and although we might respond to the world that we live in, in completely different ways, we were still created for connection. REMEMBER to connect with people, always. Let’s become a people that dig deep into the souls of our counterparts and unlock the best in everyone. Especially our little life changers. Our future.