Prioritizing Your Mental Health

As a mother and psychotherapist, I always hear that parents want their kids to be physically and psychologically healthy. However, the truth we neglect in this desire is that the psychological health of any child is interdependent on that of their caregivers.

Thus, to desire healthy mental health in our children is to also desire it in ourselves. There is a reason that airlines require we put on our own oxygen mask first before we help anyone else with theirs.

Prioritizing your own mental health is perhaps the most important thing you can do for yourself and your children. Mental health is specifically defined as emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel and act. The state of our mental health helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.

As Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet and visionary once wrote, “Never give from the depths of your well, but from your overflow.” Centuries later, and this statement could not be truer. We live in a modern world that places countless demands on parents. The latest research states that one in every five adults in the United States experiences at least one mental health issue every year.

Unfortunately, our society is not set up to intuitively support mental health. Therefore, we must take matters into our own hands and prioritize our own wellbeing. Here are five warning signs you need to make some time to focus on your mental health:

1. Long-lasting sadness or irritability
Self-reflect on the last 6 months to a year. Are you repeating the same narrative to yourself or others around the same stuff? Are you more often irritable or sad than calm and joyful? “Negative” emotions aren’t “bad,” but if you are chronically sad or irritable then it’s a sign you need more support.

2. Extremely high and low moods
Do you go through periods of extreme happiness and then hit rock bottom when the elation wears off? The polarity of feeling either really great or really down can have a major impact on you and your loved ones.

3. Excessive fear, worry or anxiety
Do you chronically struggle with worrying about the future or your day-to-day decisions? Do you consistently lose sleep over the latest thing that is worrying you? Are you more focused on everything you can’t control rather than feel peace in what you can control?

4. Social withdrawal
Are you skipping time with family or friends? Do you isolate yourself from gatherings and social events? Are you going out of your way to avoid places and people that had been a source of support or comfort?

5. Dramatic changes in eating, drinking or sleeping habits
Do your eating, drinking and sleeping habits reflect healthy choices? Are your current habits reflective of times when you felt happier?

If you notice any of the warning signs above, here are two things you can do:

Confide in a trusted and historically supportive friend or family member

Talk to them about how you feel and ask for feedback. Have an open, honest and supportive conversation where you can plan together what your next steps should be in order to improve your psychological health.

Seek the support of a reputable therapist

Diligently research and reach out to therapists. Read their websites, professional backgrounds and the psychological frameworks from which they work. How do these align with your goals and values? Does their personality match your needs? If you don’t feel a strong connection within the first three to four sessions, strategize together on whether they are the fit for you. You can always ask them to recommend somebody else.

Simply, we can’t pour from an empty cup. When we prioritize our mental health, our children benefit greatly. This will even have ripple effects into future generations. Hurt people hurt people, and healed people heal people. What role do you want to play in life?

Vanessa Durrant, LCSW-C, a licensed psychotherapist, owns Kindred Tree Healing Center, a holistic psychotherapy practice in downtown Frederick serving children and adults individually and in groups. Vanessa has extensive expertise in the field of attachment, adoption and parenting.