Tara Bone, contributing writer
With January comes a push for new goals and a new you! Voices on social media, radio, and the news encourage new fitness programs, diets, or exciting routine changes. My personal favorite this year: You need regular and consistent country swing dance in your life!
While I definitely would love to hit the dance floor more in 2024, and setting new goals is a good thing, when January 1 hit this year, I just felt … tired, and not the take a power nap and everything will be fine kind of tired. I realized I wasn’t alone. Friends and family I’ve talked with feel depleted and in some cases are barely hanging on. Many of us, especially mothers give everything to loved ones. We encourage and love alongside our families through life’s ups and downs and it can be draining.
So, what if instead of feeling pressure to add new goals in a frenzy of self-improvement we take a step back and evaluate our mental health and stress levels? Perhaps cut some things out of our day-to-day routines and add moments that promote mental health. Things such as exercising, walking outside, practicing mindfulness, or talking to a medical professional if needed.
Sarah Richards is an associate clinical mental health counselor (ACMHC) who grew up in Cache Valley and practices in Logan. She’s also been married for 27 years and has three sons and two daughter-in-laws. Sarah has been in the trenches of raising children and juggling life and says it’s vital to remember that we cannot pour from an empty cup. In her practice the most common pattern of damaging mental health behavior she sees in women is them not taking time to connect to themselves or others.
“Oftentimes, as women and mothers, we spend all of our time caring for the needs of our families, and we feel like we don’t have time to engage in activities that we used to find fulfilling or enjoyable,” she said. “It’s important to take time out to reconnect with ourselves in order to know what we need. What makes it even more difficult is doing those activities may require finding someone to care for our kids.”
Connecting with friends or groups with similar interests is important. A support group with friends to interact with and to swap watching kids for an hour or two is not just a luxury, it’s healthy. Sarah says cultivating relationships with friends and family is critical because one of our primary needs is to belong.
Sometimes mental health challenges may be triggered by life events, but it’s how we interpret those events that affects our mental health, Sarah says. That’s why learning healthy ways of coping with life’s challenges can help improve and sustain mental health.
There are signs to watch for in ourselves and others that indicate when help is needed. These include someone withdrawing from normal activities or describing low energy, being chronically tired, having difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much, or feeling irritable. Sarah adds that suicidal ideation is a definite sign that help is needed immediately.
As 2024 begins, let’s make time to be intentional about preserving and increasing mental health. It’s a serious topic that affects us all, and what tools work for one person may not work for another, but one thing is certain, we can offer support and kindness to everyone around us — including ourselves.
7 Tips for Boosting Mental Health:
- Eat a healthy diet, including eating whole foods, and limiting processed food.
- Practice good sleep hygiene: Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night. In the case of new moms, see if dad can do a nightly feeding at least one night a week.
- Exercise regularly (e.g., Go for a 20 – 30-minute walk at least three times a week), and if possible, do it outside. Being in nature has been shown to improve mental health.
- Cultivate connections with friends and family. Even if you can’t see them in person, call them and chat on the phone.
- Take time for yourself to engage in activities you enjoy such as hobbies or take a class to learn something new.
- Practice being mindful, which means paying attention to what you are doing, moment by moment. Tuning into the body is the best way to do this because body sensations are always felt in the present moment. Oftentimes, we are on autopilot, which means our bodies are present, but our minds are not. Our minds tend to either focus on past triggering events or to predict worst-case scenarios in the future, both of which elicit the body’s stress response.
- Practice gratitude by writing down three things you are grateful for each day. As humans, we have a negativity bias, and this helps our mind orient toward positive aspects of our life that we tend to take for granted.