It's been more than a year since my last blog, social media post, or Positive Parenting course. The collective trauma of Covid 19 has united us in grief, in fear, and, at our best, in support. In honor of World Mental Health Day, I am returning with renewed intentions to provide a fresh voice of encouragement to parents, starting with a few words about your own precious mental health.
In my career as a clinical social worker, I have never before experienced such an immediate connection and understanding of my clients' struggles like I have during the last 18+ months. More than once, the lines between clinician and client felt blurred because of the commonality of experience. For example, I tried to conduct private sessions with clients from a spare-bedroom-turned-home-office, with my kiddos next door. My family accommodated new demands in order to protect the health of aging parents. I am wrestling with what it means to be a white ally as a parent, clinician, and human being. The list of shared concerns and life-altering decisions goes on and on. Because of those shared concerns, I too have had to find ways to maintain sanity, hope, and a sense of humor. Here's my go-to recipe for striving towards all 3:
1) For sanity's sake, develop a meditation practice. You don't have to sit in lotus position on a mat to meditate but it doesn't hurt to try some form of mindfulness practice. The data doesn't lie: meditation lowers your heart rate and deactivates your fight/flight response so that you can respond to the difficulties of your life and minimize your reactivity to them. You can mindfully walk to the mailbox. You can mindfully sip your third cup of coffee. The practice of being intentional about noticing your thoughts without getting caught up in them, all while focusing on some aspect of the present moment (your breath or one of your 5 senses) is the gateway to a calmer nervous system.
2) Develop hopefulness about your and your children's future by participating in some form of service. Thinking about another person or thing is more selfish than you think. What do I mean? When you do an act of service or kindness for another living thing, the result is that the arrow of good feelings points directly back at you. It feels good to do good. It doesn't have to be revolutionary or monumental. You can make eye contact with the barista at your fave coffee shop and genuinely say "Thank you, you made my day." Or drop off your favorite dessert on your neighbor's doorstep with a note saying, "I'm glad we're neighbors." Plant a tree. Rescue the spider rather than squash it. All these acts generate compassion towards others which in turn generates compassion for ourselves. And self-compassion, my friends, makes life a lot more hopeful.
3) Laugh more. These are uncertain times, to be sure, and there are plenty of things demanding our serious attention. That said, if we take ourselves too seriously, we risk finding ourselves isolated and despondent. Everybody has something that sparks their joy and, dare I say, everybody may need a bit more of it these days. Doom-scrolling isn't going to save the planet but watching your fave rom com might make you feel a bit more like fighting the good fight the next day. We regularly need to turn off the news and plug into something that inspires us: nature, your bestie, old tunes, new tunes, a good read, sex ..... And don't forget our kids. A child's unique ability to see the world through fresh eyes means their perspective on and interpretation of the happenings around them can be the biggest source of a smile that you can count upon.