Eat, Play, Sleep: Building Simple Mental Health Practices Into Your Family Routine

February 4, 2023

Nurturing our mental health can be made easier when incorporated into our daily routines, such as eating well, playing, sleeping, and hugging it out with our little ones and our pets.

Are you stuck in survival mode or living for bedtime? As a parent in today’s world, we are constantly juggling the daily demands for our own personal and professional lives as well as for our children and the family as a whole. Sometimes it can feel like we are being pulled in every which direction from the minute we wake up to when we shut our eyes at night, leaving precious little time for ourselves. 

Nurturing our mental health (self-care) can feel overwhelming, time-consuming, and draining. Over time, like any machine put to work and poorly oiled, breakdowns can start to happen more and more frequently, and we get stuck. To avoid this, we must provide our nervous system with the opportunity to truly gear down into rest and restore mode each day, but this takes time, our precious time that seems fleeting at best.

Creating a Routine that Promotes Mental Health

What if there were ways that we could incorporate self-care into our daily routines so that we are also filling our buckets as we move through our daily grinds, helping us to feel accomplished, satisfied, and ready for what is around the next bend as we drive cliffside through life. 

How can we maintain our mental health as parents while we live and provide for our families in ways that don’t feel like a chore or an effort but more natural and cohesive with our way of life? 

Simple. Eat, play, sleep…and hug it out! 

Four simple but important tips for supporting your family’s wellness:

Food – it is our common denominator, it is essential, and it’s something we usually enjoy. However, it is also something we take for granted or forego in lieu of other demands. In our busy lives, we end up eating alone, on the go, and sometimes not enough. While food (and water) is the gas for our brain and body, it also relaxes our nervous system. Food triggers the “rest, digest, and restore” function of our nervous system (parasympathetic) and as a result, creates opportunities to relax and open ourselves up, especially in good company. Making a mindful effort to eat good healthy meals with people that we enjoy, taking time to break bread with them, focusing ourselves in the present, and taking in conversation and genuinely relating to each other – this is self-care. This gives our brains a break from the fight mode and allows our parasympathetic bodily processes (rest, digest, restore)  to get full attention. Bonus – family meals cooked together, incorporating the children in the process, and eaten in a safe, non-rushed setting. 

Play, get outside – Movement heals us. Our bodies are designed to move, and in effect, we are rewarded with endorphins when we do so. Getting outside into greenspace provides us with further psychophysiological benefits. Nature calms the mind and has been shown to promote mental restoration and enhance mood, among other benefits. As we get even further enjoyment from the company of others, finding a fun outdoor activity or exercising together as a family are easy ways to get everyone moving more and refueled.

Quality Sleep - set an alarm for bed and stick to it. Sleep is integral to our mental wellbeing and is essential for our brains and bodies to function optimally.  When we sleep, we allow our nervous system to gear down as well and rest, repair, and restore. A good night’s sleep has a significant impact on mood, stress tolerance, focus, and energy levels – why not start your engine with a full tank each day instead of fumes? Waking and resting at consistent times helps our bodies function more effectively and sets us up for success.

Touch – Humans are social creatures. We are group animals, and when left without the comfort of each other for too long, we become stressed (we stay in the fight or flight mode – or sympathetic nervous system). It’s important to take time to hug people you enjoy, that you trust, and that you love. Think about how long you go without being touched (a full workday perhaps?) and then that embrace by your child or partner after a long day or tough commute. Notice how good that feels? Why wait? Do it often, do it more – feel connected and spread the love. Safe touching gives us a dopamine boost and promotes the bonding hormone oxytocin, which helps us feel safe, relaxed, and loved, another win for the nervous system and another way to switch to rest and restore mode. This works with our pets too. Take time out of your day to cuddle and play with your animals. It's a beautiful symbiosis. For better mental health, incorporate purposeful touch – whether that’s contact play with your kids, cuddling while you Netflix or asking for a hug after a long day – don’t hold back.

The good news is you are probably already doing some or all of these already –however, the key is to be mindful of these daily functions and how they connect to your overall mental wellbeing as well as the health of your family. Be purposeful, be mindful, and remember to eat, play, and sleep.

If you’d like to learn more about creating a routine for your family that incorporates good mental health, we’d love to connect!

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References

  1. Berto, R. (2014). The role of nature in coping with psycho-physiological stress: A literature review on restorativeness. Behavioral Sciences, 4(4), 394–409. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs4040394 
  2. Breit, S., Kupferberg, A., Rogler, G., & Hasler, G. (2018). Vagus nerve as modulator of the brain–gut axis in psychiatric and inflammatory disorders. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00044 
  3. Foster, R. G. (2020). Sleep, circadian rhythms and health. Interface Focus, 10(3), 20190098. https://doi.org/10.1098/rsfs.2019.0098

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