Essery, PsyD, ABPP
October is a month that is set aside for “mental health screening” in order to remind us that being aware of mental health is an important part of caring for ourselves and our children. Most often, the focus of mental health screening is identifying mental health conditions and symptoms. While understanding signs that signify mental health concerns is important, it is also important to think about how habits and life routines affect mental health and well-being. There are multiple lifestyle factors that have been identified by research to support overall mental health. The following is a list of important lifestyle variables taken from research that affect mental health with some related questions to reflect on:
Physical Activity: Are there regular times for exercise built into your schedule? How often do you or your child engage in activities that require physical effort? For more information on physical activity and guidelines, visit: https://health.gov/paguidelines/default.aspx
Time in Nature: Do you and your family members spend time in natural sunlight, away from screens and electronics? Are there regular opportunities to get fresh air in a natural setting such as a park or forest preserve? Explore the fun with the help of San Antonio’s Parks and Recreation Department: http://www.sanantonio.gov/ParksAndRec/ParksFacilities/AllParksFacilities.aspx
If you are interested in programs regarding nature and science within the parks system please visit: http://www.sanantonio.gov/ParksAndRec/Programs,ClassesFun/ProgramsClasses.aspx
Diet: Does your family have a routine where family members are eating a balanced diet? Are the number of calories you or your children consume balanced with what is needed given your physical output and body type? How much sugar, caffeine, artificial or processed foods do you or your child consume? For more information on a healthy and balanced diet, visit www.choosemyplate.org
Sleep: How many hours of restful sleep do you or your children get per night? Do you and your children have a regular and stable sleep routine that supports true rest? For a list of suggested hours of sleep based on age, refer to: https://sleepfoundation.org/media-center/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times
Fun: How and in what ways do you and your children play? Are there regular times where laughter, excitement, and enjoyable experiences take place? If not, why not and how might you alter your routines and activities to make time for carefree fun and play?
Relationships: Do you and your family members engage in supportive relationships that are defined by trust and openness while maintaining appropriate boundaries? Do you and your children regularly spend time with friends in person? Does your family have an adequate support system?
Community/Spiritual Involvement: How often does your family attend community-related events or spiritually oriented activities? Are there times that your family engages in activities that contribute to the larger good of your community and serve others? Do you and your children feel a connection with the larger community and have a greater sense of meaning and purpose?
During this month, take an assessment of how your family is supporting mental health through therapeutic lifestyle choices. Make it a priority to ensure that your routines integrate physical activity, a healthy diet, regular fun, time in nature, ongoing supportive relationships, and connection with the community. While identifying mental health conditions and symptoms is essential, making therapeutic lifestyle choices can improve our quality of life while helping prevent mental health problems for us and our children.