May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If there is anything I have learned over the last few years, it is the utter most importance of one’s mental health. And if I do only one thing for the month of May, I hope it is to bring some mental relief to one of my fellow military spouses.
In 2018, I was introduced into the field of play therapy by working with a dear friend and fellow military spouse as their administrative assistant. I learned so much from her and her colleagues about the importance of counseling for children and their work as counselors. The power of play can unlock so much from a child’s mind, help them express themselves where words can’t, and, with the help of said counselors, heal from traumas. It wasn’t until 2020 I realized the importance of counseling for adults as well. When everyone around the world was in lockdown, so many stories of mental health came to the surface- so many more than I had ever heard before. I felt like a lightbulb switched on and this topic was a staple on my news feeds from TV to social media.
I feel prior to 2020, the stigma of mental health was so negative and shied away from. Now, I believe the world has come to realize how important it truly is to a person’s total well being. There are so many things you can do for your own self- care to help and I would love to share with you some of my own daily practices.
1. Start a gratitude journal. When I was in middle school and high school I had a diary I would write in sporadically. I went back and looked at them and most days I just talked of negative things. Many of the entries read, “So and so made me angry, my parents are so mean, my brothers tortured me today,”- the typical teenage angst. So I decided in my adult life to start a gratitude journal. I found this a great one that takes just 5 minutes and in the morning you write a few things you are great full for, and then 3 things you hope will happen today. Then in the evening you write about what you accomplished and your take-always from the day. At first I was intimidated by the “What are you grateful for?” section as finding something to be grateful for everyday felt like a really hard task. But then I started to realize I could be grateful for this hot cup of coffee in front of me, or even that cold cup of coffee I poured 4 hours ago before my daughter asked me to take a walk to the park, or even that walk to the park. It’s all about appreciating the little things.
2. Exercise and healthy eating- I always think of the phrase from Legally Blonde
(you know the one)
Exercise has been shown to help with reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood by improving self-esteem, cognitive function, and social withdrawal1. Even just going for that walk to the park can give you a boost. Also making sure you have a diet rich in nutrients and healthy fats can help aid in brain development to help you think clearly and give your body the energy it needs to take on the day! I started tracking my food just to make sure I wasn’t going too heavy on the junk food. There are so many great apps like MyFitnessPal that are free and give great tips for overall health (including mental health)
3. Sleep- Most Americans today do not get the recommended amount of sleep. Myself for example- I have 4 kids, a husband who works more than the average, a full-time job, and a I love to binge watch shows more than I should admit. I took an average over 3 months last year, and I was averaging 5
hours of sleep per night- Significantly less than the 8 hours recommended. So I had to make a change for me and my family’s happiness. I started by working my day backwards- I wanted to be up by 5 am so to get a full 9 hours, I needed to be in bed by 8:30. Now you are probably thinking- why 9 hours? I tracked my sleep for a while and found I needed much more sleep than the average person to feel refreshed. And why 8:30? Because that gives my body time to wind down, write in my gratitude journal, and maybe read if I’m feeling frisky that night. SomI can actually be asleep by 9pm. So give it a try and work your day backwards. Start with getting 8 hours of sleep, see how you feel, and tweak it from there. You are probably thinking- “There is no way I can do this. I have too much responsibility,” and start listing all the reasons why (because that is exactly what I did). But then I thought, “Will this all be there tomorrow? And if I’m not here tomorrow, will it even matter?”. Think about that and let me know your thoughts in the comments.
4. Listen/Meditiation- Listen to a daily app/ podcast or meditate. I meditate daily with my Peloton app. I am not the kind of person that would meditate and thought it was “weird”, but after a day of 4 kids under 8 and their demands, clearing my head and just not thinking about anything is amazing. There are also apps like Calm and Headspace that provide amazing moments of just listening and clearing your head. Or if you need more mental stimulation, down load an audio book through Audible or your local library!
5. Talk to someone- sharing what you are going through can really help with coping. Keeping your burdens and worries just bottles up inside can slowly (or quickly for some) eat away at you. As a military spouse, we take on a lot with deployments, duty days, and just fear for our partner. I have an amazing
support system within our neighborhood and we get together 1 or 2 times a week, hang out on someone’s porch/patio and let the kids run a muck while we chat about our days- the good and the bad. So grab a friend and schedule a daily/weekly/monthly gab session over coffee/tea/beverage of choice.
Those are just a few of my daily practices. I always know that there is more out there if I need for my mental health. In the past, I have reached out to my PCM and asked about mental health counseling. After my children were born, I took some time to meet with a counselor regularly and it was everything I needed at the time. Tricare has amazing mental health opportunities if you or I ever find ourselves in
need. You can read more about the latest policies and how they can help at https://tricare.mil/mentalhealth/.
So cheers to us for making mental health a priority. Let me know if the comments
below what you are doing to help with your mental help. I would love to see us
share tips as a community and help one another.