Health & Science

5 Simple Mental Health Practices to Start Now with the Whole Family

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If you’ve been stressed lately, you’re definitely not alone. Parents and kids alike are anxious these days—with good reason—and it’s showing up in our daily lives as changes in sleeping or eating patterns, mental health challenges, regression, and other negative behaviors. But the good news is, there are ways you can overcome it—as a family.

Laura Cline, a school counselor of nearly 25 years, explained in a Kansas City Public Library virtual discussion that the effects of the quarantine on children depend largely on their home life. A connection between parents and kids can lower anxiety for all of you, and even improve physical health. Engaging in some or all of the mental health practices below, together as a family, can help strengthen both your family’s bond and your resilience in the face of difficult times—and hopefully help improve kids’ sleep and behavior as well!

Start a gratitude jar

Ask each family member what they feel grateful for that day, and write it on a slip of paper. Collect them in a jar so that when it’s full or whenever you need a boost, you can read them out loud to remember there’s always something to be thankful for. Even just watching the jar fill up is a reminder of good memories and warm feelings. According to Harvard Health, “gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” Giving thanks is good for your relationships and your own mental health.

Walk it out

Go on a walk together as a family, and ask everyone to report on what they can hear, see, smell, and touch. Paying careful attention to our surroundings is a mindfulness technique that’s calming and centers you in the moment. Focusing on the moment you’re in gives you a break from worrying about big decisions or issues that’ve been weighing on your mind. You can even turn it into a fun challenge—try to notice one new thing each time you go on a family walk!

Put it on paper

Have 20 minutes of drawing or journaling time as a family, and throw out some family prompts like, “What’s making you feel frustrated lately?” or “What’s been bringing a smile to your face?” Try different mediums like collage, cartooning, or writing lists. This exercise gives each of you a chance to think about your feelings and what’s bringing those emotions out. It also puts you all in touch with what others are experiencing.

Family circle

Before bedtime or whenever you need a reminder of your love and support for each other, try a family circle. Stand or sit in a circle holding hands, and squeeze the person’s hand to your right. Stay quiet while you pass the “love” around 3-5 times. Physical connection, like the famed 6-second hug that releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, will increase your family’s feelings of closeness and security.

Create a calm space

Create a “quiet time” (aka “no screen time”) nook in the house with the help of your family. Stock it with books, puzzles, soft pillows, plants, and whatever else your family thinks is calming and cozy. Then, use it whenever you need a mental break! Feel free to set some ground rules if family members are using it at the same time—for example, it might be a “no talking” zone. If you’re using the space solo, consider connecting with your family and boosting their spirits by leaving notes of encouragement for them to find next time they’re there.

The key to actually doing some of these? It’s all about incorporating them into your routine—add to the gratitude jar every night during dinner, or go on a family walk every Saturday after pancake breakfast. Making mental health a priority by making practices like these part of your lives will bring you some much-needed peace of mind.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.