From the January 2017 issue

10 Mental Health Resolutions for Parents

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This piece is brought to you by Flinn Foundation.

New Year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to maintain. One study found that just 8 percent of people achieve their goals.

But what if your resolutions could improve your mental health or make you a better parent?

The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to put a renewed focus on your mental wellbeing. It’s something many people don’t prioritize but absolutely should, says Kristine Roth, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Henry Ford Medical Center in Troy.

“Taking care of yourself just makes you better able to take care of others,” she says. Plus, “taking care of your own mental health and your own health needs is a great example to your children.”

While many people focus on physical health in their resolutions – like dieting or losing weight – mental health can be forgotten.

“Staying healthy mentally is as important as staying healthy physically, and oftentimes they’re connected,” Roth says. That goes for your kids, too. “Children are as at risk for any mental illness as an adult.”

With that in mind, here are 10 resolutions for parents that Roth believes could help improve your own mental health or that of your kids.

1. Cut back on social media – for parents and kids. “Be OK with not knowing what everyone else is doing all the time, focus on your priorities and be present in the moment,” Roth encourages. The effects on mental health and productivity are significant.

2. Unplug. It’s not just social media causing issues. The constant use of technology is also problematic for mental health – not to mention the risks of distracted driving, she says. Unplug more often, model a balanced life and don’t watch important moments through your phone’s camera screen. “You’re not experiencing it in its truest form,” Roth says. “Parents will say you need to disconnect, but they are looking at their phone as they’re yelling at their child to stop looking at their phone.”

3. Keep things simple. “I think we have a tendency in this day and age that everything has to be very complicated,” she says. “It’s very important to step back and prioritize what needs to be done and realize the things that you don’t need to do.”

4. Get more sleep. “Making sure you get enough sleep is a resolution I would absolutely tell everybody,” Roth says. Don’t let yourself believe it’s a luxury; it’s not. “It’s so important to restore the brain. Adequate sleep and modeling that behavior for your child is important.”

5. Exercise. It’s been proven time and time again to improve mood and relieve stress, anxiety and depression. “It could really be just as simple as taking a walk every day,” she says.

6. Maintain a healthy diet. Stick to common sense changes like eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing sugar intake and limiting portion sizes. “There’s been a lot of connection between appropriate diet improving physical but also mental health,” Roth says.

7. Be grateful. “Remind yourself every day of at least one thing that you’re grateful for. I think that keeps your mental health in check for the average person, even when times get tough,” she says.

8. Volunteer. “Volunteering or giving back is a great thing you can do with your children,” Roth says. “I think it makes people more emotionally balanced. They’re doing something good with their time and helping someone else.”

9. Make time for yourself. “That’s not a selfish thing at all,” she points out. “It makes you better for your family. It models for your children that mommy or daddy take care of themselves. Your behavior affects them more than anything.”

10. Find the good in everything. “Try to find a common thread or a positive trait instead of allowing yourself to focus on the negative,” Roth says. “It sounds kind of cliché, but it’s actually a really, really strong skill that can sustain you mentally.” This takes practice, she acknowledges. “It’s absolutely a skill that can be learned.” 

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