Sometimes, don’t you wish you could take a mental health day?

When you’re a mom, this isn’t all that possible. There just isn’t time off for good behaviour, is there? But, moms need a mental health day the most.

During Canadian Mental Health Week, Ipsos-Reid released research showing that women are more likely to suffer from mental health issues, not simply from postpartum depression, but anxiety, stress and non-postpartum depression.

This doesn’t even take into account ‘average Canadians’ – like you, me and that mom you saw dropping her kids at school – who feel like we are barely keeping it together. Every honest mother I know shares stories of feeling stressed out or struggling. There aren’t enough hours in the day, we aren’t taking care of ourselves, we eat gummy bears for lunch and we want to exercise but simply don’t have time. We are stay-at-home moms and moms that are trying to balance work and raising the kids – the word balance uttered with a smirk, an elusive term. No, it isn’t elusive because that suggests that balance is achievable.

Work-life balance is a myth.

We are moms who race from work to daycare, going home and answering emails, all the while doing laundry and having a glass of wine, then passing out from exhaustion in front of the TV. We are the moms who are going to drop-in centres and trying to stay engaged while playing with our toddlers, worrying that our peers are using their degrees and getting ahead while we’re cleaning goldfish crackers off the floor. We are the moms who are trying to work from home and raise their kids, and feel like we are failing on both fronts.

Moms aren’t allowed to admit they’re unhappy. But what is this doing to our mental health? Is it any wonder that bursting into tears isn’t reserved for our eight-year old daughters? Isn’t it okay for us to admit that sometimes we feel like we are falling apart? Why are we so afraid of being seen as weak, or even asking for help?

We need a call to action.

We need admit to ourselves, and to each other, that being a mom is really hard and it takes a toll on our mental health. We need to do everything we can to make ourselves strong and healthy so we can parent from a place of strength, because there are days when it feels as though the kids are winning. We must be strong enough to withstand the storms when they come, because experience tells us the storms blow in, no matter what.

Taking care of yourself is crucial.

So why do we drop ourselves down the totem pole? Exercise, good nutrition, and sleep are stepping-stones on the path to good mental health. Sleep is tough. Most parents are sleep deprived and it is wreaking havoc on our health. Sleep is something we have no control over – especially if we are nursing, or dealing with sick kids in the middle of the night.

But exercise and nutrition are within our grasp. I know, beyond a doubt, exercise has saved my life, and I’m not the only mom on the block who has figured that out. Exercise is a natural antidepressant, free and the safest drug on the market releasing dopamine and serotonin, boosting mood and staving off depression. We must build our mental stamina. Strength comes in many forms: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.

Here are 5 essential tips to bolstering your mental health:

  1. Exercise: Repeated studies show the benefits of exercise for mental health, raising levels of dopamine in the brain and releasing feel-good endorphins into the body. Exercise also improves mental clarity, drive and makes you make smarter food choices. If you are afraid of starting out, understand this: No one ever regrets the workout. Go for a walk, join a gym with daycare, find a class you love and – most importantly – find a workout buddy, another mom who will keep you accountable. Schedule the time for yourself, and be diligent about keeping it.
  2. Eat for mental health. Jen Tanner, a naturopathic MD and mother of three, recommends eating foods high in tryptophan to encourage serotonin building – like turkey, avocados and salmon.
  3. Meditate: Start or end your day with a few minutes of silence. Researchers from John Hopkins University sifted through 19,000 meditation studies, finding that mindful meditation helps ease anxiety and depression.
  4. Practice gratitude: Research shows spending five minutes at the end of each day writing a gratitude list helps with mental health.
  5. Take a B complex: “We know that B vitamins provide supportive care when it comes to anxiety, depression and SADs,” says Tanner. Vitamin D and sun exposure also enhance immunity and boost mental health.

We invest every ounce of energy into our kids. But unless we invest in our mental health, we fall short. Every mom deserves to be the best version of herself and every kid deserves that mom.

And, once in a while, it is okay to take a mental health day.

erin-phelan-headshotErin Phelan is a health and fitness professional, personal trainer and writer. Find her at and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.