The Book to Get Your Family Together is in production! However in these uncertain times, the release date is unclear. However I thought I would give you all a sneak preview of what it is all about with a look at my introduction of the book talking about family and mental health. It just seemed appropriate to share given the unprecedented situation we are all currently dealing with – please give it a read – I really hope you enjoy!
Family and Mental Health
After years in hiding, finally we are talking about mental health! Whilst some old attitudes still remain we are slowly moving away from the ‘stiff upper lip’ and ‘keep calm and carry on’ methods that were often enforced in previous generations.
When we hear the words mental health we automatically think of illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, to name but a few. These illnesses can play a major part in our mental health and it is a positive step that so many more of us are aware of the many forms and symptoms of mental health illness and more importantly are understanding that there is no shame in talking about and seeking support to treat them. Whilst mental health illnesses play a key part in our understanding and knowledge of the subject, it is not the only factor we need to be talking about. Everyone has mental health whether they have an illness or not and we can all take steps to invest in it, in the same way we can do with our physical health. Understanding this is key to our overall health & wellbeing.
So what do I mean about everyday mental health? To me, it means recognising our emotions and realising the effect they can have on our actions, noticing our thoughts, knowing they are not fact and being able to decide which ones to act on, taking time for self care, being comfortable talking about how we are feeling and ask for help if needed and having confidence and belief in our abilities. We have thoughts and feelings everyday and they impact everything – everyday mental health is not about stopping those thoughts or only feeling a certain way, it is about managing, checking in and understanding our own minds not only leading to an improved sense of wellbeing but also making it easier to spot and talk about any problems or mental illnesses if they occur.
When it comes to families, as parents we are all conscious of our children getting enough exercise, drinking plenty of water or eating plenty of fruit and vegetables – it is something that is a great source of worry and stress for parents but nonetheless we strive to incorporate these messages into our daily lives. When it comes to looking after our minds or mental health the message is less clear. Mental health has only recently been moved to the front of the queue unlike the message on physical health which has been passed down through generations! This book is about taking the lead and introducing mental health to your family, to make it as much a part of their day as eating a healthy meal, reinforcing a positive message they can then take forward into their adult life and beyond.
The Book To Get Your Family Together is all about making mental health a part of your family and the first step to doing that is explaining mental health and what it means to your children. Don’t worry, this is not as scary as it sounds! It can be as simple as introducing and associating the fact that our thoughts and feelings are a part of our mental health and then creating an understanding that we can all take steps to help our minds stay healthy as we do with our physical health. Now whilst I realise mental health is much more complex than that, for our children this exercise is about creating an idea of what mental health is so when they hear the words, they can already identify and recognise how it applies to their own lives. Often the word mental health is spoken to our children but many cannot see how it affects them which can make them dismissive of the subject, we have all switched off when someone is saying something that we feel has no relevance for us, this is no different for our kids! The fact is mental health applies to all of us! It is also worthwhile explaining that our minds can get ill just as our bodies can, again you don’t have to scare them but it is important for children to think of their mental health as equal to their physical health and understand that it can change for better and for worse throughout their lifetime, in simple terms just as if we catch a cold or break an arm, the key message being that it is OK to ask for help if you need it.
My main aim is to increase awareness of mental health for families through the power of conversations by including regular family meetings each week as part of your normal routine, it really is as simple as that.
In my opinion, talking to each other is one of the most underrated but valuable tools we have to invest in our everyday mental health and when I say mental health I am talking about our basic mental health needs, not mental illness. Conversation is simple, it’s free and only requires a minimal amount of effort and in turn it rewards us with so many things, understanding, connection, laughter, advice, support, change and love to name but a few. Now, after reading that – you are probably thinking that my house is full of in depth, heavy, deep and meaningful conversations, all related to us sharing every last detail of what is going on inside our heads, this is a common misconception when talking about mental health. Whilst, yes, some of our conversations are more serious than others there is also a massive element of fun and laughter too! Look, mental health is a serious subject but take it from me investing in it does not have to be. Joy, happiness and laughter are as much a part of our mental health as sadness, worry and despair. Whether we like it or not we can’t avoid emotions, we will all feel a multitude of them across our lifetime, both positive and negative. If we, as families and individuals, can recognise this and more importantly, accept that it is OK we can then define how we choose to manage these emotions in our everyday lives. In our mission to make mental health part of the family I think it is key for us as parents to explain to our children that it is OK to be sad and happiness is not a static state of being, even the happiest of people are not feeling happy all of the time. If we can realise this we will have greater control over our general mental wellbeing. This can all be done in a conversation! Conversations really do hold the power to influence so many things, not least our mental health and this book is going to help you harness it with your family.
So taking us back to the concept of family mental health – ie working together as a family to maintain and invest in our minds/mental well being, I think we can break it down in a number of key areas:
Emotions, thoughts and feelings
Confidence and self belief
Worries and problems
When it comes to our overall sense of mental wellbeing, all of these are interlinked. It is clear to me, that our emotions, thoughts and feelings are central to our daily mental health with all the other areas mentioned above feeding into this, each playing a part in how we react and deal with everyday situations. If we neglect any of these areas, it is going to have a detrimental effect on our mental health and vice versa if we invest in them, the effect on our daily mental health is likely to be more positive. Knowing this we can take steps to put in place strategies to improve our mental health and adopt coping mechanisms if it deteriorates. How? I hear you ask – well, let’s look at each influencing factor in turn:
Emotions, Thoughts & Feelings
Like it or not, they have the ability to make us feel on top of the world or at rock bottom – not only that, how we feel has the knock on effect of being able to influence those around us too, we have all felt stressed and shouted at our child, not proud of that one, or started laughing and watched everyone in turn start laughing too, love it when that happens! That’s why I think it’s vitally important that we try to understand our emotions, thoughts and feelings, what influences them and how we react to them as much as we can, not only as adults but as children too. If we can get our children to recognise this at a young age, it could give them the skills to make more informed choices in the many situations they will face growing up and into their adult lives. Regular family meetings are a great place to explore our emotions and set the tone for more open conversations about them. So, for example, instead of the usual “How was your day?” look at introducing thoughts and feelings, discuss why you feel that way and how these feelings have affected your actions. As mentioned previously, this does not have to be serious, it could be as simple as your child feeling proud of themselves for scoring a goal in a football match and it made them want to score another one. You don’t need to search for in depth answers every time, the point is you are creating an awareness and acknowledgement of your thoughts and feelings in your family conversations and promoting an environment where you know you can comfortably talk about them without judgement. Now this does take some investment on your part, especially if you are the bottle it all up kind, this was definitely me by the way, but keep practicing and it becomes easier especially when you see the benefits. Talking about how we feel is a massive step forward in maintaining our mental wellbeing, all we need to do is start the conversation!
Confidence and Self Belief
For me this is a big one – I have lacked confidence and self belief from my childhood and much of my adulthood, and this has affected so many parts of my life, including my mental health, I will talk more on that more on that later! It was one of the main reasons I came up with the idea of getting your family together, I wanted to build my children’s own sense of confidence and self belief at home, creating a solid foundation in their own sense of self. Confidence doesn’t come naturally for everyone (believe me I know!) but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to be more confident and to me a strong sense of self belief is key to achieving this, not only that having a strong sense of who we are and believing in us as individuals goes a long way to improving our everyday mental health too.
This book is full of ways to build your confidence and self belief together, if we keep practicing it, we will all be more inclined to believe it and that can only be a good thing! Think of that warm glowy feeling you get from receiving a compliment, completing a workout, doing a job well, helping someone or finally finishing something you have been working on for ages – we all need more of that in our lives!
The Book to Get Your Family Together aims to positively change the way we view ourselves, through challenge setting, gratitude and reinforcing positive language when talking about ourselves. Asking questions like ‘What do you love about you?’ or ‘What are you proud of?’ or ‘Name one of your favourite things’ can really help in boosting our self confidence and realising our uniqueness! Similarly, getting your family to answer these questions about each other, will also help clear the clouds away, often what we see in ourselves is nowhere near what others see and this helps shine a light on that. Heads up – we normally see ourselves in a negative way, this is generally not how others see you! Making this type of questioning a part of your regular conversations will, with practice, improve your mindset, confidence and help you find that love of yourself that most of us misplace along the way to adulthood! Obviously, I know there is a lot more to confidence and self belief than just saying a few nice things to each other, if only it was that easy! However, we have to start somewhere and these little positive seeds you plant in your children’s minds now, will grow and help them flourish no matter who they want to be.
Worries & Problems
As once ruling queen of bottling up my worries, I feel qualified to say that this route does not work and in the end will only make you feel worse! Lets face it, at some point in our lives we will all have worries or problems – learning to deal with them in a productive way from an early age can stop them from having a negative effect on your mental health. One of the things with worries is – we always think we are the only ones who have them, we look at others around us who seem to not have a care in the world and it makes us worry even more. Another thing worries are good at is making us feel like they are not for sharing, that they will be a burden to others but don’t believe them! That’s why talking about worries and problems as a family is so important. It helps us to bust the myths surrounding them, trust me getting your worries out in the open is one of the best ways to help you deal with them, whilst it may not take all of them away – it will give you a chance to order your thoughts, seek advice and maybe see them in a different way. Family conversations can also help show children that worries are not limited to just them – parents worry about things too. It will also demonstrate a more productive solution to deal with them, discussing and offering advice and opinions as a group and building a support network that you know you can always turn to without fear of judgement. Seriously regular conversations are a great way to help your children find positive ways of dealing with problems, hopefully avoiding the bottling up approach that can be common to many of us.
Now of course, I am not talking about scaring your kids with the many worries that can plague our adult lives, it could be as simple as you are worried about a presentation you have at work the next day or that you are anxious that that birthday present you ordered may not arrive in time. Start small, make talking about it part of the norm and when the time comes for more serious conversations, you will all be ready.
Don’t worry, this is not the science bit, I am not going to pretend to know the complicated effects hormones have on our brains, all I do know is, I have a teenager in the house and there are definitely a lot of them flying about! This can sometimes, OK, quite a lot of the time, make conversations more difficult! Don’t let this put you off, we can’t stop all the hormonal changes and mood swings that are happening with our teens but we can change how we react to it. I am not asking you to be the perfect parent, we all react in the moment at times, we are all human after all!! However, if we can adjust our thinking and remember that for a good percentage of the time, at least 80% in most teenagers I reckon, their hormones are in charge and this will affect so many things including their decision making, responses and overall mindset. As parents it is up to us to guide and at times, ride it out with them as best we can, storms and all!
Family conversations, altogether or one on one with your child whatever suits the moment best, can provide a safe place where your child can be themselves for a bit away from the teenage pressures they are under – they won’t always go to plan and some sessions will be more productive than others but it will set the tone as a place where you can talk and listen to each others points of view – this is one of the best things you can do to gain a better understanding of each others perspective, we all have one and to feel listened to is a really valuable tool in our journey to a better parent/child relationship. Family conversations are also useful to resolve conflicts that may have happened that week, lets face it there are likely to be a few, especially if you have more than one child! By re visiting arguments or problems after the event, it takes the emotion out of the situation and goes towards a more productive outcome for everyone. Of course this does not mean ignore things as they happen or that you have to deal with everything later but if we can take a pause before we react and decide how much we want to deal with now and how much we can save for a later conversation, more diarising than ignoring, it will add to a more harmonious household. Look, it won’t stop the arguments but it will reduce the stress you may feel in the moment and give everyone a chance to discuss and hopefully resolve some of the issues that are causing the arguments. Talking later about conflict can also aid in the fight to be a less nagging parent, my teenager constantly tells me I nag!!
I am not saying these changes will be easy and we will no doubt make mistakes along the way, as I say this is not about being the perfect parent but it will be worth it!! I promise, if you can get the communication right, in between all the tantrums and one word answers you will get glimpses of the child they were and the adult they are going to be.
Self care is a relatively new term that thankfully is starting to come to the fore when we talk about our mental and physical health. For me, self care is about taking some time out to do something that will positively affect either our mental or physical health or both together. Self care is unique for everyone but it could include things such as a walk outside, some time reading a book, a bath, catch up with a friend, drawing a picture, writing in a journal, feeling the sun on your face, meditating, colouring in – I could go on the options really are endless! I think it is important to introduce the concept of self care to our children, the idea that taking some time for yourself is a valuable tool in keeping your mind & body healthy. Practicing this ourselves and labeling activities as self care is a great way to set an example for your child, helping them to see self care as part of their everyday routine. They may not necessarily need to incorporate it into their days yet but teaching and demonstrating the importance of self care now will give them the knowledge and confidence to take their own self care measures as they get older.
So, in summary, you can see, there are many areas that we need to talk about when it comes to maintaining an awareness of our everyday mental health. These ideas are what I feel is important when it comes to my family’s mental health, you may have some more of your own to add. Remember mental health is not limited to just one person’s views, it is much more personal than that but I hope I have given you a greater understanding of how my ideas of everyday mental health can be introduced to your family.
I realise, in my usual style, I have rambled on for quite a while so thank you for sticking with me! Despite the waffling, reading it all back, it is clear to me that when it comes to our everyday mental health, we can all check in and invest in with one simple thing – a conversation! I realise this is not the only answer in our journey towards maintaining our everyday mental health but as I have hopefully summed up, the potential to make positive changes through conversation is, dare I say it, unlimited! So with that, I am finally going to sign off by saying, let’s ditch the stiff upper lip and get talking!