10 Ways To Take Care Of Your Mental Health


1. Put yourself first from time to time. I’m not saying you should abandon your children in a deserted warehouse while you go off on a Mediterranean cruise. I’m just saying that sometimes it’s OK to take yourself out for coffee or go for a run – whatever it is that you like – even if it means <gasp> making your kids wait for whatever they want.

2. Stop and smell the roses. I mean that literally – if you see something beautiful, slow down and give yourself time to appreciate it. There is a small patch of tulips about three minutes’ walk from my house. Every Spring, my heart is lifted by the sight of them starting to bloom. Even on my worst days, when I feel horribly depressed, looking at the tulips has the power to uplift me.

3. Exercise, even if it just means going for a walk around the block. When you are in the depths of desperation, exercising might be the last thing you want to do, but it is almost certain to help. There are physiological reasons why physical motion helps people who struggle with mental illness.

4. Start your day with an accomplishment. For me, this means going for a run. For someone else, it might be finding a recipe for dinner or putting on a load of laundry. It doesn’t have to be big: for a period of time last summer, the simple act of brushing my teeth counted as an accomplishment.

5. See a therapist. Many people see this as a sign of shame or weakness, but honestly, it’s fine. Life sometimes throws things at us that we cannot and should not cope with alone. I’ve been seeing my therapist for almost four years now, and my only complaint is that I took so long to take that step.

6. Be aware of your self-talk. People who struggle with depression or anxiety have very strong powers of persuasion, and they persuade themselves to believe all of the wrong things. Negative self-talk can send a person into a downward spiral faster than the speed of light.

7. Recognize that sometimes it’s OK to fall apart. You don’t have to be strong and composed at all times. If life is overwhelming you, take yourself to a safe place and cry big, fat ugly tears.

8. Get enough sleep. This can be a tall order, since depression and anxiety seem to go hand-in-hand with insomnia. There are various strategies that can be used to help you relax. My therapist taught me the technique of tensing and relaxing all of my muscles, one body part at a time. That works quite well for me. Someone else might prefer visualization techniques, reading or listening to relaxing music. The point is that if you struggle with sleep, you need to try and find something that will work for you. The world is a frightening place: it’s even scarier when seen through the fog of sleeplessness.

9. Eat properly. Again, this means different things to different people, but you need to fuel yourself properly to function well both physically and mentally.

10. Know that mental illness is not a source of shame. It’s not something that you can just snap out of, it’s not your fault and it’s not something you should feel bad about. It’s an illness, just like any other illness, and it should be treated with the same respect. Recognizing that can help you come to a greater sense of acceptance for yourself.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, written for Mental Health Blog Day.


More Than Just A Toy

It is snowing outside, but it is almost too warm in the speech therapist’s office. None of us really wants to be there. Not me, not George, not even, I suspect, the speech therapist. George – three years old and non-verbal yet defiant – has refused to remove his coat even though he must be getting toasted under all of those layers.

He sits down unwillingly, and I position myself between him and the door to prevent any escape attempts. I settle in to watch what will undoubtedly be yet another fruitless session. We’ve been coming here for almost a month now, and George has not responded to a single thing. His speech is no further along than it was to begin with, and although I like the therapist very much, a part of me is wondering what the point of all of this is.

As usual, George is making niggling whiny noises, not-quite-crying noises, little sniffles and moans that make it abundantly clear that he does not want to be here. He doesn’t care for any of the toys that the therapist is producing out of nowhere, like a magician. He doesn’t care for toys, period, but the therapist patiently insists that it’s just a question of trying until we find the one thing that will work.

As George starts to noisily rock his chair back and forth, I sigh inwardly, but following the therapist’s early instructions, I do not say anything. I am tired. I am sad. I am frustrated. I suddenly find myself having to blink back tears that threaten to spill down my cheeks.

And then… a miracle.

The speech therapist puts Mr. Potato Head down in front of George.

It is love at first sight. Instantly, the rocking stops and the whiny noises are replaced with a stunned silence. I can literally see my child’s eyes filling with wonder. It’s like witnessing a rain shower on a parched desert.

Instinctively, I hold my breath and stay completely still. I just know that something special is happening, and I don’t want to ruin the moment.

George reaches out shyly and touches Mr. Potato Head. Then his entire face – his entire soul – erupts in the biggest, most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen.


From that moment, George started making progress at his speech therapy sessions. Thanks to Mr. Potato Head, his vocabulary started to explode. Not only that – he finally had a toy he was interested in playing with. Not staring at, not lining up according to colour, but actually playing with. When friends and family members asked what they should get him for birthdays, we had something we could tell them.

Six years have passed since that day in the speech therapist’s office, but George’s devotion to Mr. Potato Head has never wavered. He collection takes up two large Rubbermaid tubs – and those are just the Potato Heads that are not adorning his desk, his bed, and other flat surfaces at various points throughout the house. He has Mr. Potato Heads, Mrs. Potato Heads, Baby Potato Heads, Darth Tater, Indiana Jones Taters of the Lost Ark. There’s a hockey player Potato Head, a pirate Potato Head, a doctor, a fireman and a sheriff. George has an entire Potato Head community that keeps on growing.

Earlier this week, Mr. Potato Head celebrated his 61st birthday. This is one of the most iconic toys of the 20th Century, right up there with Barbie and Lego.

But to George – and to his grateful mama – Mr. Potato Head will always be more than just a toy.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)


Parenting and Mental Health: A Tough Balancing Act

When it comes to parenting my kids, I say all the same things that most mothers say. Everyone has Bad Mommy Days. I’m only human. I have to take care of myself in order to take care of my children. Even when things aren’t going so well, I need to remember that I’m a good mother.

But who am I kidding, really? Like most mothers, I expect myself to be perfect at all times, and I take the concept of guilt to a whole new level. Even more so than the Catholics do.

I pile one thing after another onto my plate, and somehow I manage to keep all the balls in the air most of the time. In the event of me dropping a ball, it’s always one that pertains to my own physical or mental health. In other words, I make it a priority to take care of everyone else, but I just kind of accept that it’s OK for me to neglect myself in the process.

This does not make me special by any means. Most mothers do this, and we all know that we’re not supposed to. We all know that the world won’t end if we take a bit of time to ourselves instead of putting on that load of laundry so that Little Johnny can wear his favourite shirt to school tomorrow. But we head right on down to the washing machine anyway.

Let’s face it, this whole equation is grossly unbalanced. I mean, here I am, a mom of a kid with autism and a kid who’s just a little – you know, spirited. I work full-time, freelance on the side, help the husband with his business and take care of household finances. That’s before I even get to the laundry.

It gets really tricky when it comes to my mental health. This is a subject that I am generally not comfortable talking about, but I feel that it’s important. Many, many mothers – myself included – have to deal with the reality of coping with mental illness while being the best parents they can possibly be. And it’s hard, because as scared and vulnerable and anxious as we may feel, it is our instinct to be strong for our kids.

This week is particularly tough, and here’s why. At this week’s therapy session, me and my therapist started the process of delving into a part of my life that was, to say the least, traumatic. I was describing a specific event – not glossing over the story, but describing everything in detail, and reliving the whole mess all over again.

A process like this comes with a certain amount of psychological fallout. My nerves have been in tatters and my emotions are raw. I am not sleeping, because all of a sudden my mind is being forced to try and process stuff that I’ve been keeping buried for the last twenty years.

And I am a mom. I have kids to take care of, autism meltdowns to deal with, boo-boos to kiss better, hugs and affection to bestow.

Being a mom and dealing with mental illness are not really activities that complement one another. And when I have to choose between taking care of my kids and dealing with my issues, guess who wins every single time?

While I’m putting on a brave face for my kids, though, my feelings are still there. I am still feeling the stress, the trauma, the anxiety, and depending on the day, the depression. I am still staying awake until late at night because I’m afraid to go to sleep and face the nightmares.

But I do what I have to do for my kids, because no matter what weirdness is going on inside my own head, parenting will always be the most important thing I ever do.

I know that I am not alone. I know that there are other moms out there who live with mental illness. I would love to hear from those moms, to find out if – and how – they keep things balanced.

(Photo credit: darcyadelaide. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)