Family Mental Health: Keeping The Family Healthy
Maintaining a positive framework that fosters mental wellbeing and mental health is a family affair. Mental health is something that affects everyone in one way or another, which means we all have a role to play to ensure we are there to uplift and support our loved ones. Through the good times and bad, navigating life’s curveballs together through the comfort and security of a family foundation is something not to be taken for granted.
Mental health is a topic that is often discussed in the media but is often overlooked when it comes to a family home environment. Family mental health is about keeping yourself healthy, as well as your family. It’s about recognising you have a tribe who you can lean on if you are struggling, it’s about feeling supported, and it is an important source of connection and safety - all of which contribute to how we feel and the lens through which we perceive our realities.
In this article, we’ll highlight some important factors to consider around family and mental health.
Understanding Our Love Languages
We all communicate and interpret love differently, that’s a common fact. Back in 1992, Dr. Gary Chapman, who wrote The 5 Love Languages, coined the term “love languages” to explain the fundamentally different ways we express and understand love, not just in relation to our romantic partnerships but with regards to business and family relationships, friendships, and so on. According to Dr. Chapman, by learning to recognise these preferences in yourself and in your loved ones, you can learn to identify the root of your conflicts, connect more profoundly, and truly begin to grow closer (Five Love Languages, 2022).
One of the languages cited in the novel is Physical Touch, which refers to expressing and receiving affection through touch, physical closeness, and other forms of physical connection. Kissing, giving someone a massage, cuddling, holding hands are all examples of showing love through the physical touch love language which increases the amount of oxytocin and dopamine in our brains (MBG Relationships, 2022). These two “feel good” brain hormones have a positive impact on our mental health for a number of reasons.
Firstly, oxytocin (which has been nicknamed the love hormone) strengthens the connection that binds people to one another and enhances relaxation, trust, and psychological stability when released, - which consequently leads to a greater sense of wellbeing (Harvard Health Publishing, 2021). Physical touch increases levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate your mood, whilst offsetting stress and anxiety. Additionally, dopamine is also known to regulate the ‘pleasure center’ of the brain which boosts feelings of pleasure and satisfaction (Plushcare, 2021).
Sometimes all it takes is a hug. Being held is one of the ways to improve mental health in our families, and guess what, we are all human and need clarity on who is supporting us — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. One of the most significant contributions to improving mental health is a sense of belonging and connection, which forms the basis of how we perceive our self-worth and value. Perhaps next time this can be achieved simply through a warm embrace with a loved one to demonstrate they belong. Perhaps then, you’ll find they are one step closer to peace.
Quality Time That Fosters Mindfulness & Intention
Studies have shown that people who spend more time with family members and friends have a greater sense of purpose and find life more meaningful. Additionally, reduced stress levels and feelings of loneliness as well as increased self esteem are among the many mental health benefits associated with spending time with loved ones (RTOR, 2022).
When was the last time you truly relished in a moment you experienced with a loved one? Do you have a flashback of a moment you felt as though time had stopped and you were overwhelmed with joy or fits of laughter? No doubt none of those memories involves aimlessly scrolling through social media while sitting in silence next to a family member. Being intentional and mindful with the time we have together as we show our love through active listening and strong conversation makes such a profound difference to our relationships and to our wellbeing. It allows us to be vulnerable, and offload stressors from life. It allows us to openly communicate our emotions and be the most authentic version of ourselves and, of course, it provides an unconditional support system which we can rely on.
Needless to say, most of our lives are packed to the brim with responsibilities and demands, but as the saying goes, family comes first - particularly when you understand the various mental health benefits it can provide and the impact it can have on those closest to you.
Practise Self-Care As A Family
Quite often, when it comes to mental health or self-care, people think of meditation or engaging a life or wellness coach to help them step into the most empowered version of themselves. While these are highly beneficial sources and techniques to support your mental wellbeing and personal power, there are additional things you can do to nurture the mental health of you and your family with a just a simple shift in routine or approach.
Here are some examples:
Eat more fruit, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Following a healthy diet means your brain will have the right balance of nutrients to work to its full capacity as well as improve your energy levels, sleep patterns and general health, leaving you fresh and ready to handle life’s day to day challenges. Healthy eating will assist you and your family to take care of your physical health and have energy for the day ahead (Queensland Health, 2020).
Get moving every day. Why? Exercise releases feel-good chemicals into the body, such as endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals make you feel good, lift your mood, increase your energy levels and improve your sleep (Queensland Health, 2020). Getting active also gives your general health and wellbeing a significant boost. Take a mindful walk as a family after work, stretch together in the living room, or play games outside in the backyard before dinner. Anything to get the blood pumping is positive!
Develop a bedtime routine, for you and your family members. Perhaps this includes a 20 minute mindfulness meditation before you turn off the lights? According to the National Sleep Foundation, going to sleep at the same time every night can help regulate the body’s internal clock and improve sleep quality, for adults as well as children (Mental Health First Aid, 2020). Additionally, sleep gives your brain the necessary ‘down time’ it needs to process and store the information it receives during the day. By not getting adequate sleep, you’ll find it affects your mood and ability to concentrate, and can also lead to anxiety and depression (Queensland Health, 2020).
Our families play a key role in our mental health and wellbeing. We often learn the skills to manage life’s difficulties from our relatives which in turn make us more resilient and capable individuals. As we have discovered, strong family relationships where members spend intentional time together can make us feel safe, loved and understood as well as providing us with an increased sense of belonging and self-esteem. This, along with healthy routines and understanding one another on a deep level when it comes to communicating and interpreting love, can have a profound difference on mental health within the family unit.
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What are the Five Languages of Love? https://5lovelanguages.com/learn
What It Really Means To Have Physical Touch As Your Love Languagehttps://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/physical-touch-love-language#:~:text=Physical%20touch%20refers%20to%20expressing,the%20physical%20touch%20love%20language.
Oxytocin: The Love Hormone https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/oxytocin-the-love-hormone
The 3 Biggest Advantages of Human Touch May Surprise You https://plushcare.com/blog/advantages-of-human-touch-hugs/
The Mental Health Benefits of Spending Quality Time with Friends and Family
Tips to Practice Self-care as a Family
Get Healthy (https://mentalwellbeing.initiatives.qld.gov.au/index.php/get-healthy?gclid=CjwKCAjw79iaBhAJEiwAPYwoCM96swqWs7cwV8KZbuDydX8GsU5i3nHTbGGz8c0PhdOiWYVCpoShmRoCf74QAvD_BwE)