Every year around this time we are bombarded with messages that we need to change. The second the clocks strike midnight on Dec. 31st we are supposed to go down 2 jean sizes, run a 7-minute mile, cook 5-star meals, and become the perfect parent and partner. Easy enough, right? Wrong. Here at the Parent Alliance, we have always been anti-New Year's Resolutions. It is an unnecessary pressure that people put on themselves every year and it often leads to feelings of guilt or failure when we aren't able to magically reboot our lives in 1 month. Generally, we see people discussing resolutions regarding weight loss, activity level, finances, productivity, etc. One that we are noticing more and more this year is an urge to make "fixing your mental health" your New Year's Resolution after two very difficult years for many.
While we welcome and celebrate a mainstream conversation about mental health we want to be cautious about thinking of it in this way. You and your children are not something to be "fixed," also adjusting your mental health is not something that can be done in a month. Just like you're not going to drop 20 pounds by February 1st, you're also not going to magically get rid of anxiety, depression, or any other challenges you may be dealing with. One headline that I read while researching for this article included the words; "Try To Be Happier in 2022." Wow, if only we had thought of that. If only a child who is struggling to get out of bed every morning could just 'try to be happier.' That is an absurd, and dangerous way to think about mental health. It completely minimizes the real struggles that people endure on a daily basis.
However, if you are like me you may be in need of a fresh start. I used to countdown the days every summer to when I could go to the store and buy new folders and binders and color code everything perfectly for the upcoming school year. As adults, we don't really have that marker of "this is new and different" like we did when we would change grades in school and it can be easy for all of our days to run together as we try to get by. If prioritizing your mental wellness is something you have been pushing off this could be a good time to start working in some practices that will help you find a path toward good mental hygiene. It is a lifelong process to heal from past traumas, and actively focus on your mental health but if you were looking for a place to start we have some ideas.
1. Create an Emotional Safety Plan
"The heat of the moment," is just that; heated. When stress is high and you are overwhelmed by a big project at work, or up to your neck in scheduling therapy sessions and extracurriculars for your kids it can be hard to think straight. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance understand that your plate is full, and it most likely continues to fill up. In this heightened sense of stress, it is difficult to decide what is going to help you get out of it. That is where an Emotional Safety Plan comes into place. This document is designed for you to make your mental health a priority.
The section on the right side of the document (in green) details the intended purpose is of an Emotional Safety Plan, and how to use it. It starts out by saying that you are your least rational when things are very stressful. When you have reached your tipping point and a fight with your partner or an email from your boss sends you over the edge it is hard to even see straight let alone strategize what is going to help you relax. At the moment where tensions are high, it is hard to think "Okay, I am stressed right now let me do things that calm me down, and then tackle this stressor with a level head." That is where the Emotional Safety Plan comes into play.
On the left of the document, you can see where one parent; Hannah Clark, has already written down the things that help her relax. Clark is one of our members, and we asked her to sit down and share her go-to relaxation strategies as an example of how to use the document. "My number one go-to is always making a cup of tea. It is something that requires me to physically get up from whatever is stressing me out (for example my work computer, or a family situation) and complete a simple mindless task that gets my body moving. Those 15 minutes where I have to gather everything together to boil the water, select a favorite cup, get the honey and select which tea I want allow me to concentrate on something else. With my tea made, my focus is drawn to the feel of the warm cup in my hand, the delightful smells coming from my steaming cup, peppermint, cinnamon, or lemon encourage me to take a deep breath, and watching those first whiffs of steam float away often encourage a few moments of daydreaming.' Spend some time when you're not stressed to brainstorm your own list of calming activities to add to your list which you can post somewhere as a guide when you need it. Don't forget to update your list for different situations, seasons, or as you add new techniques to your toolbox.
This is a great activity to do with your children, sit down and have your whole family create their own!
Small talk is getting harder and harder to do after spending so much time in our homes and socializing with even your closest friends is feeling more awkward than usual for many people. A social battery is a metaphor for the amount of time and energy someone is able to put into socializing until they feel mentally and sometimes physically drained. You may have experienced your own running low or even out but not known what it was.
If you have ever been at a party and felt a shift where one moment you were having fun and the next you were suddenly overwhelmed or tired this may be something that you want to work on prioritizing. While everyone experiences their social battery differently it is very important that you are in tune with yours. If you are constantly socializing on an empty battery you could seriously impact your mental health. Trust us, we know that as a parent it feels selfish to say no to social events to relax and recharge. However, you will be a better parent, partner, friend, and family member if the social interactions you do have are meaningful and you are able to enjoy yourself.
We have been hearing a lot about parents whose children were struggling with their social batteries so we created a tip sheet on the topic. While this tip sheet is written for parents so they can help their children, a lot of the tips can help an adult who is having similar struggles. Whether it's always having an exit strategy, to being upfront with the people you are socializing with these tips can help you ease some of that anxiety around socializing. If you have noticed that your child suddenly becomes very quiet, irritable, or anxious after socializing they may struggle with their own batteries and this tip sheet will help you help them.
3. Carve out the time for you-that works for you
We know that as a parent who is raising a child who is struggling it can be hard to relate to parents who are not. This becomes very apparent with the discussion of self-care. A parent who does not have a child who is struggling may suggest getting a babysitter so that you can go and do something you enjoy. This is wonderful and we are glad when any parent practices self love but it is a different conversation for parents who have children who are struggling. What if a sitter is not an option for you? That is why it's so important to get advice and tips from parents who understand you. Parents who know what it's like to be a caregiver and experience that burnout.
That is why we asked parents who are raising children who are struggling how they practice self-care and compiled them all here. These are real-life people who shared with us the things that they do to practice self-care and ultimately prioritize their own mental health. While collecting these responses many parents shared with me that they are better parents because of these practices.
We at the Parent Alliance want to wish you and your family a very happy new year. We hope that 2022 brings you nothing but great things and we are honored to have you as a part of our community. In 2022 we invite you to remember that your mental wellness matters too.
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