Why you need to schedule mental health days and talk about it.

Earlier this week Michigan-based web developer Madalyn Parker made world headlines as she unapologetically emailed her team to say she’d be taking some time off to focus on her mental health. This viral story got me thinking about my own mental health and the importance of self-care.

According to the Blackdog Institute, one in five (20%) Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any year. Around 45% of us aged 16 to 85 will experience mental illness at some point in our lives.Unfortunately, there is still so much stigma attached to mental health despite it being so common. It takes a lot of balls to be open about it, especially in the workplace (where ironically it’s often the root cause).

Madalyn tweeted her email conversation with her CEO, Ben Congleton, “When the CEO responds to your out of the office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision”. The tweet alone has gone viral with 16K retweets and 45k likes. What’s pleasantly surprising is Ben’s response which has shown so much compassion and leadership. He thanked her for sending emails like this and the importance of using sick days for mental health, “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work”.

Why it’s OK to not be OK

So Madalyn’s story got me reflecting on my current life, lifestyle and post-baby health status. At first, I wasn’t sure what it was or how I was feeling. I thought “hey maybe it’s because I’m sleep deprived and hormonal and this is just the life of having three babies under three, blah blah”.But what I felt was an incredible lack of iron, extremely low blood-pressure and some relationship flaws which was then causing anxiety. I was worried, irritable, restless and had so much weight on my shoulders. It was stealing all the joy I had and prevented me from being ‘present’ with my newborn twin girls and having the level of energy to play with my energetic toddler son.

It continued for months and then I realised it couldn’t just be sleep deprivation. I thought to myself, “if I faint or fall asleep, my babies will be at risk”. Something had to be done. I went to my GP, a couple of blood tests later and voila, I found the answers.

I still experience anxiety every once in a while, but what I’ve learnt that it’s sometimes OK not to be OK and to give myself permission to be vulnerable. We’re only human after all and we’re doing the best we can.

Don’t forget to schedule your mental health days

As a working parent, the juggling act is challenging but doable (just). I’ve now embraced the chaos. I’m more self-aware and conscious that my son can ‘read’ my body language and moods. The last thing I want is for him to pick up on or be exposed to any bad vibes, especially now that he is a toddler. His brain is a cute little sponge now and copying everything I do. As for my twin baby girls, well they remain living on cloud nine until they’re a little older to understand.

My self-care must do list

Mother or not, it’s important to practice self-care and to shout out if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Here are 7 things I love doing on a regular basis and have committed to doing so:

  1. Reading and writing – I find reading and writing increasingly  therapeutic. I don’t get to sit still very often but it’s my escape. As I’m writing this post, I feel relaxed.
  2. Listening to music and podcasts – I have found podcasts helpful in learning new things and hearing people’s stories. And music…well who doesn’t love a little reckless and out-of-time groove?
  3. Exercise – keep on moving! Exercise releases endorphins, the feel good hormone.
  4. Long chats with friends – There is nothing a little catch-up with a friend can’t fix.
  5. Take time off – If you have accrued leave at work, use it! It’s there for a reason.
  6. Good old Netflix & Chill – Wink wink!!! As I mentioned in #3 (s)exercise releases endorphins, the feel good hormone.

Netflix and Chill baby suit

How do you practice self-care? Comment below.

For more info & help:

  • PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) supports women, men and families across Australia to recover from post and antenatal depression and anxiety, a serious illness that affects around 100,000 Australian families every year. National Helpline  – 1300 726 306.
  • beyondblue provides information and support to help everyone in Australia achieve their best possible mental health, whatever their age and wherever they live. Chat online or call 1300 224 636.

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