08 Oct Role Model Mental Health Habits
Something that often comes up in my therapy practice is parents admitting that they are not being a good role model for mental health habits for their children. Examples of this include:
- Parents who come home and moan about their workplace all evening but do nothing to get a new job or take action to make things better
- Those who spend too many hours working, or on their phone
- Not looking after their physical health by eating rubbish food and taking no exercise
- Losing their temper with children because they take no time out for themselves to calm down and lower their own stress and emotional arousal
- Smoking when they know it’s a bad habit they wouldn’t want their children to take up
How can we role model good mental health habits?
One useful thing that we can do for the generation/s below us, whatever our age, is to try and role model good mental health habits. When we sit in that therapy room it can be both empowering, and a little scary, to realise that everything we do impacts those around us. This is especially so if we have children or are working with younger people. Taking responsibilty for ourselves can empower others too.
What powerful things have we learned in our own lives can we share with younger people? One way to illustrate this is by telling stories, offering advice or starting a discussion. Alternatively, we could just model these things through our own behaviour.
Examples that will positively impact our own mental health and help young people learn to do the same might be:
These could include being firm about deadlines, when you are and are not working, things you will and will not do in your role, and what you will talk about. Explanations are the key here. Setting a hard deadline of Tuesday for a piece of work will have much more impact if you explain why it needs to be done by then – if someone else is waiting for the piece for instance. Likewise, explaining that you don’t work on weekends so that you keep that time free to wind down will help them to gain the confidence that it’s okay to value your own time and energy.
Taking time to wind down
I often hear my therapy clients tell me they know they “should be” taking exercise, meditating, walking or doing any one of a number of powerful things we all know are helpful in calming anxiety and stress levels. They often report feeling guilty and not having time. However, these things, deceptively simple as they are, are the key to managing our anger and irritability.
Why not show those around you that you care enough for them to look after yourself, and put yourself in a good place for them? They will grow up with the knowledge that looking after themsleves is okay, and that they too can take some control over their own feelings and emotions.
Gossip is an underestimated factor in mental health. This includes both gossiping about others, as well as worrying if others are talking about you. Setting a no gossip tone helps people feel safer and more comfortable.
If someone else is struggling, a conversation about how we can all be kind to them, even thinking in practical terms, helps everyone emerge feeling much happier.
Finally, don’t forget about being kind to yourself. This includes taking time out for self-care, as well as refusing to let that inner critic take over.
Looking after yourself
You don’t have to nag about eating greens and drinking water. If young people see you eating rubbish, it’s not unlikely that they will take that as the norm. Set the bar higher, ask them how they look after themselves, and start the conversations that show them that health should be a priority. Get to bed at a decent hour, or see a therapist about your insomnia, and let them see how important sleep is.
If you’re having a hard time cutting down your smoking, talk to them about it. Let them see that stopping struggle can be a struggle…but in the end it is worth it. What story does that tell them about overcoming hard challenges? You never know, one day they may be thinking, “if mum/dad can stop smoking, then I can do this.”
Get off the phone
If we are on the phone, our attention is turned away to some virtual person or website. It is not with the people we are with. Apart from showing respect, this models good manners and highlights that you don’t need to be glued to your phone to get on. No phone rules at the diner table are a great place to start with this, as well as when you’re all sat down watching TV together.
Learn from them
Older people are not the experts in everything. I learn so much from young people, from how Bitcoin works, to why they are turning off the news for their mental health. Listening and learning from them reminds them that they too have the ability to influence others, and how powerful is that?