Because we all want to be the best parents possible — for as long as possible — we do our best to look after our physical health so we can enjoy that eventual promotion to grandparenthood. But just as our bodies require healthy habits, so do our minds. Good mental health isn’t something that just happens; experts say we fare better when we’re proactive and adopt ways to improve mental health and stay mentally healthy.
We reached out to Christina Burnett, Director of Clinical Services at Harbor Oaks Hospital in New Baltimore, where individuals can seek treatment to cope with addiction, psychiatric and behavioral disorders. Burnett offers two effective techniques to stay mentally healthy.
No doubt you already have your own tried-and-true methods of coping with the struggles of daily life, but see if you can fold in one or both of these habits. Best case scenario: your own kids will recognize how you stay mentally healthy and adopt your techniques for their own use.
Hope: is it what you think?
From the take-responsibility-for-your-own-mental-health perspective, hope is a strong tool for boosting mental health. “Hope is a mind state of wishing for things to go well. But it’s actually more than that. Hope is an expectation that things will work out,” Burnett says.
While at first blush, hope may seem to be a passive act, it’s really an active participation in your own mental health, she adds. “It’s active and it’s two-fold. You’re not just hoping, wishing and desiring that your situation will improve if you think about it in a certain light, but you are trusting in yourself that you will be able to make it happen,” she says.
Individuals who embrace hope to boost their mental health might use affirmations — or positive self-talk — to remind themselves that they are strong and resilient and can have an impact on their own personal mental health.
“My favorite affirmation is ‘This is temporary. Things can get better,’” says Burnett. “I’m a big fan of realism so this goes beyond positivity to a belief that things can actually get better. There are two sides of the coin here. There’s the belief in the potential for something to improve, and there’s the knowledge that you can handle it, that you can influence your own future.”
Hope and recovery
From a recovery perspective, hope is an absolutely essential skill to overcome substance use disorder. “Hope is heavily tied to motivation. It’s the flicker of light in your own head that you can cope and it’s the thing that helps you gather inertia. Hope is absolutely the foundation of recovery,” Burnett explains.
As a counter to the addiction disease model of substance use disorder, where recognizing the genetic component to addiction can give rise to a feeling of helplessness against the disease, hope provides individuals room to understand that their brains can actually change and bring them closer to a positive outcome.
“We are multifaceted beings,” Burnett says. Just because an individual may have a genetic predisposition to addiction doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion that they will suffer substance use disorder. “It could make things more difficult, but there are several other factors at play that can positively impact their ability to function. Hope is one of them.”
Distinct from hope is a second tool for strong mental health: empowerment.
“Empowerment is the state of giving yourself authority over the things in your life that you have control over,” Burnett explains. Empowerment allows us to maintain our own authority rather than allow another person to trigger us or make us feel bad about ourselves.
When we have encounters with others that leave us feeling bad or betrayed, we can choose to empower ourselves with a new perspective.
“We have an immediate tendency to personalize the experience and believe the other person was trying to hurt us,” Burnett explains. “But if we consider the very real fact that everyone has baggage and everyone feels stress, and if we know it’s possible they were just having their own bad day, does that change the narrative? Can you let it go, knowing this?”
When we can empower ourselves to recognize everyone has their own issues, this can depersonalize the experience.
Together, hope and empowerment are cornerstones of turning around what feels like a bad situation or the feeling of being stuck, Burnett says. “We need both of these to get started and sometimes, focusing on these is enough.”
This is a powerful message for parents to share with their children, Burnett says.
“We can always ask ourselves what we can be hopeful for. Whatever the situation may be, it’s never one-sided and if there are 10 things that are part of the problem, it’s possible that only two are out of our control. The others are within our control and that becomes part of the inertia. That can give them some hope.”
Learn more about Harbor Oaks Hospital at harboroaks.com.