While there is no way to prevent mental illness, there are steps everyone can take to help increase resiliency, boost feelings of self-worth and keep stress levels under control. I explain to my clients that there are tiny changes you can make in your daily life that added up make a huge impact on a personal wellbeing. During Mental Health Awareness Week (October 4th-10th) I want to share a few things each of us can do to give ourselves a boost.
Create a consistent plan for self-care Let’s face it, life gets hectic and at times can be stressful, it’s inevitable. Having a concrete plan for how you are going to work in self-care time each day or each week is a must. Children need time to decompress from school, activities and responsibilities at home. Help guide them to take some time in their day to play, to run, to draw, to do something purely for enjoyment. The activity chosen should not be used as a reward or taken away as a punishment. It should be scheduled into each day or several times per week no matter what happens. It is decompression time; chill time. I love physical activity to be part of this for kiddos. We spend too much time in front of screens or without social interaction as it is. Play a card game together, ride bikes, draw with sidewalk chalk, have a dance party, color, read, etc.
Get into the habit of consistent physical care It is important to begin teaching children the importance of routine hygiene care. Together you can create a Bed Time Routine to do list, and Morning Routine to do list with pictures or written tasks for what needs to get done in regards to their personal hygiene. Here is an example of a chart a client made for their 5 year old: Routine Example. You can make these routine tasks into a memory game who can remember what we need to do to get ready for bed? Once the routine is created you can print off a copy for each day of the week, allowing your kiddo to mark off a task once it’s complete. Using a star chart or reward system can also be helpful in reinforcing the importance of taking care of personal hygiene.
Also getting into the habit of regular doctor checkups is important for prompting great physical care. Consistency with doctors and the dentist can help reduce anxiety or nervousness that a child may feel going to visit these health professionals.
Physical activity and balanced nutrition. Movement is important in prompting positive mental health. Daily exercise does not have to be strenuous to count. Taking the stairs when you have the option, going for a walk at lunch, playing outside, bike rides…anything that encourages you to get up and move. Work in balanced, nutritious food choices throughout the day. I find that if I start the day off with a good food choice for breakfast, it helps me throughout the day make better choices with what I eat. Tips on how to balance your diet can be found here.
Get help when you need it. This can mean reaching out to a teacher, friend, parent or professional during times of crisis. Notice I say when you need it, not IF you need it. We all need support at different points in our lives. Part of my hope during Mental Health Awareness Week each year is to break down the stigma that has been attached to seeking professional help for too long. Having someone like a counselor, or involving yourself in a support group can be extremely helpful and increase the chances of success through difficult or stressful moments.
These may seem like small, maybe insignificant tasks. While there is no way to completely prevent mental illness, as many are caused by a combination of genetics, environment and development, spending time on self-care, physical health and reaching out for help when needed promotes a healthy environment for children to grow and develop into well-adjusted healthy adults.