An Exercise In Mental Health

Our apartment is small.  It is bigger than our last apartment (a basement apartment), but it can still feel cramped, especially with two active children.   With nap and meal times, it sometimes feels like we are inside all day long.  My natural claustrophobia comes out and I panic.

To remedy this, I started running.  On those days when Ben is not home in the mornings, I slide my feet into my beautiful, new running shoes, slather sunscreen all over the kids and me, strap the kids into the jogging stroller, and head out on a run through the beautiful, tree-lined streets of my town.

The brief respite from our hot, stuffy apartment rejuvenates me and my children.

The best–and important–part of my run is why I participate.  I don’t exercise to lose weight or even to be healthy, although these are excellent benefits as well, I run because it energizes me, giving me back a part of myself that I forgot existed.  I need freedom.  Time to think without distractions.  An hour to forget about the daily bustle of my life, and clearly reflect of my spiritual and intellectual pursuits.

In an airplane, the flight attendant will remind passengers of what to do in an emergency.  For parents or guardians, they give special instructions, “Put your oxygen mask on yourself first, and then place it on your child.”  The reasoning is simple, to protect your child, you must protect yourself.  If you fail to secure your own mask, you might not be there to help your children through the real emergency.

In an analogous manner, for me to encourage my children to have good mental health, I must ensure that my own mental health is in order.  Too often I expend all my energy on my children and neglect to attend to my needs. My spiritual, physical, mental, and intellectual needs.  I come up with excuses, noble excuses to be sure, and allow myself to fall deeper into the self-made pit of despair.  I woke up one morning and realized I no longer had excuses.  My workout did not need to be in the early morning, causing loss of sleep, or happen daily, causing stress.  In fact, I could run when I felt like it.  And I did, do.

This post is inspired by Bigger Picture Moments.

Bigger Picture Moment



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31 responses to “An Exercise In Mental Health

  1. You are so right, Amber. Recognizing and respecting the “when I feel like it” is crucial, yet so easy to dismiss. Kudos to you for finding the big picture and choosing to live in it.

  2. Oooooooh, how I want to get out there and run again. I’ve still got too many excuses though … It’s never a good workout with the jogging stroller, it’s too hot, it’s too early, it’s too late, I’d rather have a nap … I just need to, as you put it, “slide my feet into my beautiful, new running shoes.” And just go.

  3. “When I feel like it”. Wow, thats a huge breakthrough for me. I am trying to stop saying negetive things because I don’t want my children to start, but I never thought of my mental health impacting theirs. I often put off exercise because I hate getting up early, or I don’t have anyone to watch the kids, but just going for a walk somewhere with them is a new way to think about it.

  4. I’m so impressed that you can run with two in a jogging stroller. I can barely navigate mine with just one in it!
    but I do understand the running. I’ve started running again lately to get out. to clear my head. for some quiet.

  5. Really well said Amber – I think it’s so hard as a mom to be ok with doing something when you feel like it – good for you!


  6. I so need to start exercising again having fallen off the wagon in December when my husband’s work commitments took over life for a while. I don’t run, I just have never liked it at all, but am thinking of getting a bike and cycling when my daughter is back at preschool as in the two hours twice a week that gives me I can at least get in a decent cycle ride.

    Good for you with the running, and you are right, you have to look after yourself.

  7. Brilliant. I didn’t learn that lesson till, oh, last year I think it was…a happy, sane mother is a BETTER mother. So glad you found your access to that.

  8. So true. Mommy needs to secure herself first.

  9. It really is so very important to take care of ourselves. And nothing beats getting out in the fresh air (as a fellow tiny apartment dweller with two kids… I totally and completely understand!!)
    🙂 Thanks for linking up!!

  10. I think this is so important. I have a lot of friends who neglect themselves because they feel guilty taking things away from their kids. But the fact is, if they are pampered and feeling good, they will be a much better mom.

  11. Linda at Bar Mitzvahzilla

    And, believe it or not, Amber, your childrens’ attitude towards physical health also depends on how much you prioritize your own! I don’t think my kids have a memory of me not exercising but I know it could easily have been very different. And, like you said, look how much that affected your mental attitude!

  12. hey amber 🙂
    i think you have just helped me find that one personal reason to actually go out and walk/run…just to rejuvenate…be alone, think, be untied. the start of the summer holidays and i’m decluttering the house, crazy when i can do that anytime really but i’m beginning to feel that cabin fever.
    tomorrow i am going for a walk/jog and i know i’ll smile to myself thanking YOU for that one reason i know i have long needed!! 🙂
    debs x

  13. This is always such a hard balance between caring for self and for others. I love it when you share your wisdom that you are gaining from your life.

    I need to think more about what can rejuvenate me since I can’t run anymore. That used to be my survival technique and I haven’t quite found another to replace it. Hmmmmmm….. You have me thinking now.

  14. Good for you! I’m impressed you can run with two kids in a jogging stroller – those things are heavy! Bonus – if one of the kids starts crying, it’s a natural inclination to pick up the pace.

    I have been making exercise a priority for a couple of years. Not everyday and not for a super long amount of time. It makes all the difference in my mood and my happiness level.

  15. Amber, I suspect women, and especially mothers, need to be reminded of this daily. My mom and sister and I are always telling each other, “Oxygen mask!” which is our shorthand reminder that we’ve fallen into the trap of putting others first. It is an easy trap to fall into when you love them *so much* you’d sacrifice everything for them.

    I am so happy to hear that you are incorporating exercise into the bigger picture. It’s encouraging to me, because I’ve been struggling to get back to my belly dancing (my preferred form of exercise), and keep telling myself it needs to be early in the morning while I still have energy and it’s not too hot. You are right, though — I should do it anytime I feel like it! 😀

  16. Jen

    Sarah and I were just talking about this today. The importance of putting ourselves first, if only a teeny bit every once in a while. It’s SO important and SO seemingly impossible. Glad you’re enjoying your runs!

  17. Eva

    I’ve always loved that metaphor – putting on your own oxygen mask first. It’s so true! I can’t be happy and loving with my husband if I’m not loving toward myself.

  18. Nicki

    You are sooo right, Amber. Taking care of ourselves as mothers is an important step of taking care of our children.

  19. I’m so glad you love to run! I wish I could do that. It’s good that you found something to do to take care of yourself!

  20. I agree. it is crucial to get that mask on yourself whenever you start to feel light headed. Good for you!

  21. Good for you! Running is so therapeutic. I am saving up for a jogging stroller as well. I need a little more freedom 🙂

  22. Melanie J

    I think sometimes I hog the oxygen. I go too far the other way with the needing “me” time, etc. I kind of suck at balance but I’m always working on it.

  23. I picked up running about four years ago and have loved it ever since. There is something about running that rejuvenates me and makes me feel like I am alive. If you are interested in the connection between running and writing, check out Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

    Happy running!

  24. I’m late reading this – but so glad I did! (I’m swamped in my own suffocating set of activities, that are ultimately about my kids.)

    The fact is – it’s so hard to do this – to put some small little bit of self toward the top of the priority list. Even something so many take for granted – like a run. It is about not losing the “self” that is necessary to hang on to, if you’re going to be your best self for those you love. And aren’t we all entitled to something that tastes like freedom?

    Especially mothers?

    Good for you, Amber.

  25. That is the exact same reason that I exercise. To have just a little bit of time when I’m free. I haven’t gone running in a while (I’m a gym rat instead) but I really, really miss it. I need to get back into it.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day!

  26. I’m working on finding my rhythmn too, on that honours me. I tend to need a lot of time to myself, I only recognized this recently. It keeps me going. I just can’t decide how to make it happen without going overboard.

    I love that you run, and that even with the kids strapped into the stroller it still gives you an opportunity to recharge.

    “If you fail to secure your own mask, you might not be there to help your children through the real emergency.”

    So true! So wise!

  27. Good for you Amber, in finding this time for yourself. I am still trying to reconcile the whole mommy guilt thing to do things for myself when I could be with my daughter on weekends. Maybe it’s because I don’t see her very much due to a full-time job that tearing myself away when we can be together seems to be the hardest thing to do. That’s why it irks me that the yoga center down the street only has classes during the time I get to spend with her. So far I’ve only made it to one class, even though I’d like to be there more often.

    I also love that you said this: “In an analogous manner, for me to encourage my children to have good mental health, I must ensure that my own mental health is in order.” This is the reason why I do many of the things I do now (e.g. work out, eat healthy, etc.) because not only do I need to be healthy to be there for my family, they need to learn from me by what they see, not just what I say.

    Great post!

  28. I admit that I’m kind of jealous. We had three small ones in a tiny apartment and I never had a double stroller, let alone a jogging stroller.

    Hmmm…. I don’t suppose you know where I can get me a quad jogger stroller?

  29. Good for you. Keep that bucket full and everyone will be happier–you, your kids, your husband…