An Open Letter to Parents Who Aren’t OK Right Now

We’re living in uncertain times. Prioritizing your own mental health is key.

Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock
Kaspars Grinvalds / Shutterstock

So many moms out there aren’t OK right now.

If that’s you, that’s all right. Truly.

If we’re being honest, most days, I’m not either. Coronavirus has completely wrecked life as we know it.

I’m so grateful for the healthcare workers, delivery drivers, and grocery store employees all working the front lines. I’m grateful that both my husband and I still have jobs. I’m grateful for the health and safety of my friends and family.

I know we are fortunate. I realize that there are others who are facing far worse. Believe me, I do. But being grateful doesn’t automatically erase feelings of fear, despair, and hopelessness.

Everyone is struggling

The world is facing a crisis and lives have been upended. No one’s situation looks like the next, but we are all experiencing some degree of difficulty. If you are feeling worry, sadness, and anger, you are normal.

Let me say it again for those in the back.

You. Are. NORMAL!

You are not broken. You haven’t been bested. You may be down, but don’t count yourself out.

You will get through this. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. It may take weeks, even months, before you start feeling “normal” again. Honestly, normal as we know it may never return, which, in so many ways, is a good thing.

Through the use of technology, more families are able to access things like telemedicine and virtual school. Many workers now have the option to work remotely.

As we come out the other side, businesses will see the value in ramping up their capabilities to make more of these things possible in the weeks, months, and years to come. Out of this challenge will come innovation, collaboration, new ways of doing old things.

The truth is, there are good things coming out of what is a very bad situation. And still, it’s OK to not be OK.

Go easy on yourself

It’s OK if you are barely making it through each day. It’s OK if your kids are getting a little too much screen time. It’s OK if you’re having cereal for dinner for the third time this week.

Do what you need to do. Your kids are loved, happy, and safe.

This is just a season. We don’t know yet when it will end, but we do know that eventually, it will.

It’s all right to prioritize your mental health right now. If extra screen time and having breakfast for dinner allows you to hang on through bedtime each night, then go for it — sans guilt.

Practical ideas to prioritize your mental health

All you need to focus on right now is moving forward, one teeny, tiny step at a time.

But move forward with purpose. Your reserves are low. Your capacity is nil. So take what little you’ve got and invest it in the things that will rejuvenate your soul, renew your mind, and replenish your waning energy.

Here are a few simple, yet practical, things you can do to prioritize your physical and mental health during this difficult time.

Stay hydrated

It goes without saying, but hydration is key to physical health, and your physical health has an impact on your mental health. When you aren’t drinking enough water, you’ll feel sluggish, bloated, and foggy, and your mental health will suffer too.

One simple thing that helps me drink more each day is to keep a glass by my sink. Every time I walk into my kitchen, I stop, fill it up, and sip it.

Having the glass out is a physical reminder to pause whatever I’m doing and take a minute to hydrate. Stopping to sip my water is a great opportunity to breathe and be mindful of how I’m feeling.

Spend time outdoors

Sunshine is a great natural source of vitamin D. When you’re feeling anxious and worried, your immune system isn’t at its best. Giving it a boost with a little fresh air and sunshine is just what the doctor ordered.

Another benefit of getting out in the sunshine is that it helps establish a good circadian rhythm. This can help resolve that stress-induced insomnia you’ve likely been dealing with each night.

Plus, being outside just plain feels good. There’s something about nature that soothes the soul. Sit out on your front porch to drink your coffee. Kick the ball around with your kids in the afternoon. Take an evening walk with the family. Whatever you do, get your daily dose of the outdoors. The benefits are worth it.

Move your body

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, exercise plays an integral role in maintaining your mental health. Indeed, physical activity is not only good for your body, it’s good for your mind as well.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. Simply put, endorphins make you happy. You don’t have to be a marathon runner to reap these rewards either. Something as basic as a beginner yoga video on YouTube or a walk around the block is enough.

Along with time spent outdoors, exercise is also ideal for regulating your body’s sleep cycle. A good workout is a solid prelude to a great night’s sleep!

Get plenty of sleep

I keep coming back to the topic of sleep because there is a very real link between sleep and your physical and mental health. Getting the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night can positively impact your body and your mind in a major way.

In one 2005 study of nearly 800 people, those with insomnia were 10 times as likely to be diagnosed with clinical depression and 17 times as likely to be diagnosed with clinical anxiety than people who get adequate rest each night.

While it’s often easier said than done, a bedtime routine can greatly improve the quality of sleep you are getting each night.

What I’ve found works for me is making sure my kids are in bed early enough that I have quiet time to wind down without the constant chorus of “Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” ringing in my ears while I’m trying to relax.

I also find it helps to turn off the TV, take a hot shower, and spend some time getting lost in a good book. Doing these things sends a signal to my brain that it’s time to rest and helps my body relax enough so that I fall asleep with relative ease.

Wrapping it up

There are other steps you can take to guard your mental health right now. Limit your exposure to the news, keep in contact with loved ones daily, stick to a predictable routine, and make sure to schedule plenty of time for family fun.

Doing these things can help keep your focus where it matters most: your family, friends, and the life you love.

These steps toward improving mental health aren’t revolutionary. Really, it comes down to two things, taking care of yourself and going back to basics.

When you take foundational steps to prioritize your physical health, the impact on your mental health is significant and immediate. The two are so deeply entwined that you can’t separate one from the other. When your physical health improves, your mental health will too — and vice versa.

Remembering the mind-body connection will serve you well, not just during the coronavirus crisis, but beyond.

Originally published on Healthline.

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