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A Mental Health Recipe for Teens

At the tender age of 44, I have finally come to appreciate that managing my mental wellbeing is as important as my physical health. Maybe it’s the looming threat of the dreaded menopause but I now take proactive steps to enrich my mental state.

At the other end of the age spectrum, teens are also experiencing a significant change in their hormone levels. They too can hugely benefit from a positive proactive approach to managing their mental health.

There is so much advice out there for how to maintain good physical health. Eat the right foods. Drink plenty of water. Do enough exercise. Wear sunscreen. Brush your teeth regularly…

But what about your mental health?

What is the equivalent recipe for an ongoing balanced diet of supporting activities for strong mental vigour? Here are the recommended ingredients we use in our homeschool!

1. Unlimited Quantities of Their Love Language

There are five different love languages: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts and acts of service. Each of us prefers one particular type and ideally, we like to receive love in this form. Take this test to find out your family’s preferences.

For my teenage daughter, hundreds of cuddles fill her bucket. My son on the other hand, prefers little acts of service as demonstration of someone’s love for him!

2. Minimum of One Moment of Awe Per Week

Keltner defines awe as “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.” It’s like the ‘Wow!’ moment, a feeling of wonder caused by something special, remarkable or unexpected.

It could be watching a demonstration of kindness that moves your heart; the sense of joy felt by communal singing; standing at the top of a mountain and staring at the vastness below; or a close-up animal encounter. Faith or spiritual experiences, or epiphanies, such as a scientific discovery or a self-realisation moment, also bring awe.

Awe encounters bring many health benefits, such as a calming of our nervous system or release of the joyful hormone oxytocin. The power of awe is in its ability to take us outside of our self. We see the enormity of the universe and thus how small our problems are in comparison.

Help them appreciate the “extraordinary in the ordinary” at least once a week.

3. Sufficient Positive Social Interactions

Teens need face-to-face time with friends. The more extroverted teens, like Rosie, need lots of social interactions each week. The more introverted teens, like I was, prefer a little one-to-one time with close friends.

As part of my weekly planning process, I look at what social interactions each child will get and whether I need to organise more.

Modelling healthy relationships – those friendships where you’re able to be authentically yourself – is key. As is openly discussing unhealthy relationships that you have actively chosen to end – as hard as this can be!

4. Monthly Therapy Sessions

In the UK, there still feels to be a stigma associated with having therapy sessions.

Neither of my children have a mental health problem and yet they both have regular therapy sessions. For us, maintaining a healthy mindset is as important as the food we buy to fill our stomachs. I would prioritise it above any holidays, extracurricular classes, days out or new clothes/music/electronics.

Each child uses the sessions with their holistic therapist in a different way. For Rosie, the sessions help manage her anxieties. For Harry, a cricketer, it helps him develop the mental strength needed to perform and manage the pressures of sport at a high level.

5. Constantly Open Communication Lines

Find the communication route that works for your children.

For Rosie, thanks to inspiration from this great book, we do a ‘Roses and Thorns’ game every night. We each share one thing that’s worrying us or that we found hard from the day – our Thorn. Together we discuss it and let it go before bed. Then we say the best bit – our Rose. So many things have come out of this process that I had no idea were worrying her.

Harry prefers to chat to me on one of our long car journeys, with the dulcet tones of thrash metal playing in the background!

The tricky part is not to get emotionally affected by their downs and feel upset or incensed on their behalf.

“Mummy, when we’re going through something difficult, it’s so much harder for us if you’re sad about it too,” Rosie openly admitted.

For me, this is a work in progress. But the more I do for myself, to develop my own interests, the easier I find it to lift myself out of their problems and not overly obsess.

6. Daily Vitamin N (Nature)

We all know the multitude of benefits to taking a daily dose of Vitamin N: time in nature.

Time outside in the natural environment has been shown to lower anxiety and heighten self-esteem. It enhances our immunity, reduces our stress, makes us more creative and improves our problem-solving skills!

So, send those children outside, and make space for nature in your life (find inspiration here). Even if it’s a short walk, a dip in the sea or a 5-minute sit down under a tree.

7. Sufficient Rest and Play

Sleep and relaxation are obviously hugely important but so is play (even for teens). Whatever it is that fills them with joy.

This week I had an unexpected free evening with my boy. Rather than go out, we set up a ‘crazy golf course’ around the house, down the stairs, around corners, navigating obstacles and into his golf putting cup!

Simple, easy to set up and we laughed so much! At one point, the ball ricocheted off an obstacle straight back at me! In fits of giggles, Harry said, “It’s the small things in life mummy, isn’t it!”

He’s so right!

8. Daily Spiritual Time

Depending on your own beliefs, this may take a variety of forms.

For my children, they find peace in talking to God about their problems, sharing their loads with Him – anytime, anywhere.

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  1. Thanks so much for sharing your approach. Maintaining good mental wellbeing is so important. The ‘Love Language’ test is interesting and ‘One Moment of Awe’ a week sounds great. I had not even considered therapy sessions for my son but they sound so beneficial. Could I please ask if your children have face to face sessions or do them online?

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments. The therapy sessions are face to face, but I think they’d be just as beneficial online.
      The holistic therapist we use (http://benbarnett.co.uk/) for example, does online sessions, and I would highly recommend his work. He’s been a huge gift to us all!
      If you were interested, just mention my name and he will offer 20% off your first session.

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