It feels fitting for the first blog article at Elements Psychology to be based on something foundational to overall wellness and mental health. So what are the pillars of health? Exercise, Nutrition, Relaxation, and Sleep! Each of these has been shown to impact physical and mental health for all ages and is interconnected, meaning a change in one is likely to create a change in another.
As mental health specialists, we know how important it is to pay attention to these pillars with our clients since struggles in any one of these can significantly impact mental health, including anxiety, depression, general emotion regulation, focus, and learning. Paying attention to these pillars of health can help us be proactive instead of reactive in managing our mental health. Since each of these pillars is so foundational, you will likely see us sharing our knowledge, tips, and tricks on these topics in the future to support you and your family in strengthening these pillars in your life.
But before we get into each of these pillars and ways to strengthen them, let’s talk a bit about the process of change. When making changes to these areas of our life, it’s helpful to remember: perfection cannot be the goal. It can also help to recognize when we may be stuck in unhelpful thinking patterns or what we call “thinking traps.” Examples of thinking traps commonly encountered with health changes might be “black and white” or “all or nothing” thinking. These thinking traps can keep us stuck and unable to make positive changes. They make us think that our situations or behaviours have to be one way all the time or there is no benefit. These are typically fear-based thoughts that may be trying to protect us from the pain of possible failure. But they usually are not accurate or helpful to us! Suppose we are stuck in one of these thinking traps. In that case, we might think: “I either have to go to the gym every day or not at all,” or “I can’t avoid eating treats over the holidays, so I’m just going to eat whatever I want and then focus on healthy eating in the new year” or “I can’t walk my kids to school EVERY day in the winter so why bother, I’ll just stick to driving them.”
We don’t want these thinking traps to prevent us from making the positive changes that we are capable of making. So what can we do about them? The first step to changing the power of unhelpful thinking traps is to notice and name them. The second step is to validate your or your child’s feelings about the change and accept those feelings without judgment. And finally, the third step is to consider a new, more balanced thought.
In addition to balanced thinking, keeping realistic goals in mind when making changes can be helpful. Whenever I work with parents and children around making changes, I always ask them to pick 1-2 small things to work on at a time, even when we know there are many more things that could help, so that they are more likely to find success. Sure, many of us can create a list of 10 things we would like to do to improve our family’s health, but just looking at that list can be discouraging. If it helps you write out your goals, please jot away! But then try to pick 1 or 2 to start and put the list away. Try working on those until you feel some success and notice less resistance to this change.
We need to find balance, set realistic goals, allow ourselves to feel comfortable with imperfection, and have compassion for ourselves and our kids. Change is hard! We also can’t be shy about congratulating ourselves on our efforts to help ourselves and our families lead healthy and balanced lives. Any time you try to choose a healthy and helpful behaviour over an unhealthy or unhelpful one, give yourself a pat on the back and say something like, “I am proud of the effort I am making.” Small changes add up, and it’s easier to form habits when we start small and build them up over time.
If you are not convinced about the power of small changes, let’s try geeking out for a minute. Consider the “1% rule”. An idea that comes from the business and financial world and demonstrates with math that a small daily change of 1% over a year can really add up: 1% in math is symbolized by 1.01, whereas 0% change is staying at 1.00. What happens if we multiply 1.00 x 1.00 and we do it 365 times (number of days in a year)? Not surprisingly, we get 1.00. The number stays the same, and so do we. What happens if we multiply 1.01 x 1.01 and we do it 365 times? We get 37.80. The number changes significantly, and so do we! It’s the difference between doing nothing at all vs a small consistent effort.
Final thoughts: At Elements Psychology, we are just regular human beings too, often struggling to balance work and family life. We have our own goals and challenges in leading healthy lives. We are not perfect and we are not here to judge. We are here to support you, your child, and your family in making changes to your life that could lead to better mental health and ultimately to finding a path that works for you. Reach out and connect with us if you would like some help!
Author: Danielle Rozon, M.Ed. Registered Psychologist