As the child of two social workers, it is no surprise that I grew up to both understand, and care a lot about, mental health. Over the years, I have learned the importance of talking about mental health. Vulnerability creates connection. There is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health, but we are moving in the right direction. For many, it no longer feels taboo to talk about your therapist, or share about your depression, or name boundaries that support your anxiety. We are not fully there yet, but we are making progress. I still feel discomfort when I talk about being treated for depression in my early twenties (but every time I say it “out loud”, it feels easier!).
I recently sat down for an intentional conversation with my mom. She has been a sought-after therapist for decades, and is one of the wisest women – and mothers – I know. Here’s what we talked about:
Mental Health and Motherhood
“Mental health is an absolutely crucial part of your overall well-being,” she shared. “The lack of mental health, leads to suffering.” I was surprised – she jumped right into the notion of suffering, and I wasn’t prepared. I expected a lighter approach, one focused on self-care, or prioritizing therapy. We got there eventually, but we really dove straight into the hard stuff. We talked about suffering, and how mom’s often bear the burden for many. “Moms are tired – we don’t sleep, we are taking care of childcare 24/7, many are working…there are so many pressures, and it means you are more susceptible to depression and anxiety”. In that moment, I felt seen. I hope you do too.
How Can Moms Prioritize Their Mental Health?
My mom shared two lessons that she has seen show up consistently in her career as a therapist. “First – don’t take other people’s behaviors personally. We tend to think other people’s behavior is reflection of ourself” I cringed, knowing how often I take on the reactions of others. When I set boundaries. When I share what I need. “People’s response and behavior are reflective of themselves, not us. So it’s important not to personalize their behavior.”
The other lesson is to not make assumptions. “Check in with people, rather than assuming what the problem might be.” I then asked her specifically about self-care, which I noted felt like a buzzword. She jumped in quickly, “Learn to say no. Moms are so overextended, so if someone asks you to do something or go somewhere, and you don’t have the energy, but feel like you should.” She paused. “If you hear yourself saying or thinking that you should do something, it’s a good sign that you should re-consider. You need to prioritize your own needs. That is what self-care is about, and we don’t tend to do that as moms, because we have to put our children’s needs in front of our own. But, we need to, whenever we can.”
Is Therapy Really Important?
“There is a recent learning in our field, and it is the importance of doing things that bring you pleasure. If you truly can’t prioritize therapy [or feel you don’t need it], then do seek out things that bring you pleasure. Pleasurable activities will raise your mood. I love that Central Mass Mom has Mom’s Night Out events, and Playground Meet-Ups. Remember though: if you have experienced trauma in your past [and most have], you want to pay attention to it. Trauma can be a huge presence in your life. You deserve to heal the wounds that you carry from the past, and that’s where therapy can be really beneficial. Everyone has the capacity to feel well and be healthy, so seek out those opportunities.”
What Can I Do Right Now?
“Carve out 15 minutes for yourself each day. Spend 15 minutes reading a book, or going for a walk, or doing Yoga With Adriene.” For the record, my mom’s daily yoga practice is super inspiring, and she loves Adriene. “Remember. We are much more than just moms. We are human.” At this point in the conversation, I audibly sighed. It was such an important reminder. So much of my life, and my identity, has become tied up in being a mom. And beyond that, being a working mom. This reminder is important: you are more than a mom.
“Every mom deserves and needs time to themselves. Time to regroup, time to heal, time to relax.” And, she told me – let that guilt go. I asked her about this concept of Mom Guilt. She reminded me of the example of putting the oxygen mask on someone else first. You must take care of yourself, before you can take care of others.
As a leadership development professional, I can never finish a conversation without asking, what else? There is always something under the surface, waiting to be said. My mom reminded me, “Self-care is more than a fad. It is critical. If you need professional support, go on Psychology Today to find a therapist in your area. Get outside for a walk.” She encouraged me to find a friend who I can call and just say, “1-800-HELP.” Vent to them. Ask for support. Be that lifeline for someone else, too. She reminded me that, “The opposite of depression is expression. Talk about your feelings, don’t keep them inside.”
I asked about social media and motherhood. You need to remember that “you are only seeing the best moments. You can and should celebrate them. But we all have best moments, bad moments, mundane moments, and moments that we are just doing chores. Know that everybody out there struggles. Everyone is carrying something, so don’t judge. Just know that everyone is struggling and suffering at different times.” We talked for quite some time after this. I shared that I like to think about life in seasons. Some are harder than others, but there are always moments of pure beauty. And, the next season always comes.
This conversation was healing for me, and I am always willing to get real, and talk to anyone about mental health. If you are reading this, I challenge you to do one thing today that supports your mental health. And if you want to talk more, please reach out.