12 Ways to Improve Your Family’s Mental Wellbeing

Everyone wants to have a happy, healthy family. Here are some proven tips for helping your family thrive.

Eat Nutrient Heavy, Minimally Processed Food

Bodies and brains work better when given the proper fuel. Nutrient heavy, minimally processed foods provide the fuel we need. Think vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats and avoiding fried, fast, and prepackaged foods. Eating this food together brings additional benefits of family meal time.

Be Physically Active

Physical activity is good for our physical health and it boosts mood and decreases stress and anxiety. Physical activity can be fun and social as well, increasing its benefits. So, take a family walk, play with your kids, or enjoy a sport together. Just make sure to leave time to relax before bedtime.

Get Sunlight

Sunlight and being in nature improve mood and decrease stress, so spend some time outside. This can be combined with physical activity and connecting with loved ones to increase the benefits. Remember to use sunscreen and avoid sunlight for two hours before bedtime.

Connect with Loved Ones

Social connections can be the bright spot of our days. Taking time to focus our attention on talking and listening with loved ones also can improve our sense of wellbeing. Try to avoid negative conversations and have fun trying to understand each other’s unique perspective.  Great conversation starters can be found online, in books, or even through playing games.

Practice Healthy Sleep Habits

Everyone gets irritable without enough sleep and many people struggle with getting enough sleep. If you need to use an alarm clock to wake up on time, chances are you are shortchanging yourself on sleep. Use your bed only for sleep. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, allowing for enough time based on age and individual needs. Create a dark, quiet, cool, and relaxed environment for sleep. Avoid caffeine for six hours and screens for two hours before bed (both interfere with sleep).


Acknowledging the things we are grateful for boosts happiness. Even practicing trying to recognize those things can change our mindset to focus on the positive. Noticing and sharing the little positive moments each day can bring us together and improve our outlook.

Practice Compassion or Be of Service

Thinking of others kindly and being helpful helps us feel better about ourselves and the world we live in. Plus, it makes the world a kinder, better place. Showing compassion and helping within and outside of the family can improve relationships, build self-esteem, and foster a positive worldview.

Limit Social Media and Smart Phones

Smart phones are not just a distraction when we are driving, they can lead us to miss out on those small, precious moments in life. Additionally, teens who use social media more are unhappier and those who use it less are happier. Setting the phone down for face-to-face time is a fantastic way to make memories and improve wellbeing.

Practice Relaxation or Mindfulness Strategies

Relaxation and mindfulness strategies reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress and improve wellbeing. This includes deep breathing, stretching, meditation, and other activities that allow your mind to be present and your body to relax.

Slow Down and Reduce Stimulation

In a fast-paced world, taking time to slow down and enjoy the peace and quiet is not just a luxury, it is a necessity. Limiting distractions and doing just one thing at a time (or even nothing!) allows us to relax. Besides, multitasking decreases productivity while taking breaks increases productivity.

Learn Something New Together

Not only is learning great for our brains, it gives our self-esteem a boost as we master something new. Learning something together can be a fun bonding opportunity for families, and who knows when those new skills or information will come in handy.

Ask for Help

If you or one of your family members is struggling after trying these strategies, please talk to a medical or mental health provider. Early intervention is key to preventing and treating mental health concerns. Information online can be helpful, just make sure you turn to a reliable source such as The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Psychological Association, or The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

How to Help a Family Member with Mental Health Issues

One in five people in the US have a mental illness, also known as a psychological disorder. Having a loved one with a mental illness is stressful, but family support can improve recovery. Acceptance, understanding, and self-care are crucial to support a loved one with a mental illness.

Speak Up.

The most common sign of a new mental health concern is a notable change in behavior. If you have concerns, say something.  This is not going to put ideas in someone’s mind, it simply opens the conversation. Start by saying that you care and noticed some things that concern you. Then you can ask what you can do to help.


Having intense emotions such as disbelief, confusion, guilt, anger, grief, or shame when a loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness is common. With time, these feelings can subside and acceptance occurs. Having an outlet for these feelings such as journaling, talking with a friend or clergy person, or therapy is useful. It is unlikely that the condition is due to anything you did or that there is anything you can do to “cure” it. Mental illnesses are due to a complex interaction of causes and do not have quick or easy cures.


Learning about the disorder, including symptoms, course, and treatment options can reduce uncertainty and provide ideas for how to help. See the Resources section for some reliable sources of information. Psychological disorders typically have a biological component; they are not a matter of weakness, a sign of failure, attempts at manipulation, or “in a person’s head.” Do not expect a loved one with a mental illness to think the way you do or be able to act on what seem like obvious solutions to you. The very nature of mental illness makes this extremely difficult. It also can be helpful to share what you have learned about the condition with other people in the loved one’s life.


Engaging in self-care is important because it can increase your ability to care for others. It also models these skills for your loved one. Self-care often involves helping the loved one engage in appropriate independence or accessing proper supports, which also improves recovery and quality of life for your loved one.


Being involved in your loved one’s treatment can be helpful. However, it is important to allow the loved one to be an active participant in their own care, especially if the person is an adult. If your loved one currently is not getting help, connecting the person to resources such as a medical or mental health provider can be helpful. Often it is helpful to seek a variety of treatment options with service providers working together.

Having a plan for what you can do or say, or prompt your loved one to do, in a mental health crisis can be helpful. This plan can be created with the loved one, perhaps with the assistance of a mental health professional. This is best done when the person feels safe and comfortable.


Daily tasks can become overwhelming when dealing with mental illness. Offering to help with cooking, cleaning, transportation, or other responsibilities can be useful. Often the most supportive thing you can do is simply listening without judging, correcting, or fixing. To avoid unintentionally saying something offensive, consider if you would make the same statement about a physical illness. For example, no one would tell someone with diabetes to thinking differently or that insulin is not necessary. So, it would not be appropriate to tell a person with major depressive disorder to think differently or not take an antidepressant. Treat people with a mental illness with respect, not defining them as their illness. Express your concern and support, but also your affection and hope.


If you believe a loved one is in danger of hurting themselves or someone else or is unable to care for themselves, contact a crisis center, take the person to the emergency department, or call 911. Other helpful resources include:

American Psychological Association

Change Direction


National Alliance on Mental Illness

South Central Crisis Center

Handling Meltdowns

Meltdowns are emotional outbursts that happen when children (or adults) are overwhelmed by feelings and they come out in inappropriate ways. They are sometimes referred to as tantrums or blowups and can be very stressful for everyone involved. An understanding of what happens during a meltdown and how to help children behave better can decrease meltdowns or at least make them less intense. Calming the meltdown rather than trying to fix the cause is the fastest and most effective way to stop and prevent meltdowns.

Children have meltdowns for lots of reasons. These include being angry, scared, embarrassed, tired, hungry, or in other states of physical or emotional discomfort. It is rare for young children to misbehave for revenge or to annoy people because they lack the ability to plan and understand others’ reactions. Meltdowns usually are a sign children are under more distress than they can handle. Meltdowns happen even though children really are doing the best they can to behave in the situation. They just do not have the ability to behave better when upset or under stress. However, children need to learn to cope better to decrease meltdowns.

Meltdowns are challenging for us because they can be embarrassing and children can do and say things that are hurtful. Sometimes meltdowns are confusing because we do not know what set them off. They can be scary because of their intensity. Children become very hard to manage during meltdowns. Reason simply does not get through to them. Intense emotions stop the brain from working properly. So, the ability to follow reason or use self-control decreases dramatically during meltdowns. Discipline often does not work because fear of consequences or caregivers’ disapproval intensifies the distress. Or, children may be too upset to care about the consequences in the moment. Harsh discipline sometimes scares a child into stopping the meltdown in the moment, but is not an effective long-term solution.

The priority during meltdowns is to help children calm down. After children are calm, they can learn from instruction, reason, or discipline. This is not giving in to children, it is training them to avoid meltdowns in the future. Children are still responsible for their behavior. Although it can test our patience, the most productive strategy is to wait until children are calm enough to think clearly so they can learn what they need to do differently next time.

Calming children is easier earlier in the meltdown. So, it is helpful to know and watch for warning signs that children are about to meltdown. We might notice a change in breathing, voice, facial expression, or other body language. There might be things that children say when starting to have a meltdown. As soon as the meltdown is recognized, we can start the calming process to get things back on track.

Calming children during meltdowns requires soothing and what works for one child might not work for others. Also, what works for a child at one age or in one situation might not work in others. What does tend to help all children is when we stay calm and kind, even though it is hard. Practicing calming strategies together shows children what we want them to do, but it also helps us stay calm. Using a soft voice, slow movements, not grabbing a child, and having a sympathetic expression helps calm children as well as keeping us calm.

Calming activities include a cool cloth on the face, long slow deep breaths, tensing and relaxing muscles, and holding a favorite stuffed animal or blanket. Validating, acknowledging how the child feels, can be very helpful. Older children might benefit from soothing and reassuring words from a caregiver. Younger children might appreciate being held or rocked. However, for some children a hug is calming, but others might be upset by being held. Similarly, some children calm down using intense physical activity, but others are ramped up by it. We know calming strategies are working when we see children start to relax and return to their usual behavior.

It is best to wait until children are fully calm to address the meltdown or what led up to it. At that point, a wonderful way to start the conversation is by telling children we know they had feelings that were too big to control and that we want to help them learn how to deal with big feelings. Then we can describe appropriate ways to express emotions and make requests. This also is the time for helping children face the situation that caused the meltdown or accept the consequence of their behavior during the meltdown. This might involve trying to make right any harm or damage they caused during the meltdown.

Repeating this process during each meltdown teaches children how to handle intense emotions appropriately, decreasing the likelihood and intensity of future meltdowns. It takes time to learn this skill, just like any other skill. Also, as children’s brains mature, they have an increased ability to use self-control to avoid meltdowns. So, although it is a gradual process, it will get better!

Mindful Eating

Often when we eat, we are not fully present, which can lead to unhealthy eating habits. A different approach is eating mindfully. Mindfulness is a kind, objective awareness, not a blank mind, not evaluating or judging, simply being fully present and aware of what is going on inside and outside of us. Mindfulness allows us to re-wire our brains in a way that increases attention and decreases depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness can be challenging because it is a unique way of being. Practicing mindfulness with coaching (either live or pre-recorded) can help with learning this skill. People who have experienced traumatic events sometimes have difficulty with mindfulness because it can allow memories of traumatic events to resurface. Having a specific thing to focus on can help prevent this from happening. If at any point during mindfulness you feel distress, it is appropriate to stop and practice coping skills to deal with the distress. Mindfulness is not meant to be unpleasant, distressing, or something forced. Mindfulness also becomes more natural with practice.

Mindful eating is being conscious of what we eat and why. Sometimes we eat because of hunger other times as a source of comfort, out of habit or expectation, or other needs that are better met by something other than food. When we eat mindfully we increase our ability to give our bodies the fuel they need to run well. We also are better able to identify our real needs so we can meet them in healthy ways.

A Body Scan is a tool to help us be aware of what our bodies need. A Body Scan can last anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour, depending on how much time we want to take or the level of depth we prefer. To do a body scan, sit or lay comfortably and close your eyes if it feels okay to do so. Notice your breath. You don’t need to change it, just observe the sensations as you breathe in and out. Focus your attention on your toes. What do you feel in your toes and outside of your toes? Perhaps you notice the pressure of your socks or shoes. Focus your attention on your feet. Notice the sensations in and around your feet. Just bring a kind curiosity to the sensations. Focus your attention on your lower legs. Perhaps you notice some tension in your calf muscles. Focus your attention on your upper legs. When you feel your mind wander, gently bring your attention back to your body. Focus your attention on your hip area and abdomen. Do not judge, just be kind and curious about what you are sensing. Focus your attention on your chest and shoulders. Notice the movement in your body as you breathe. Focus your attention on your arms. Simply notice the sensations as you become aware of them. Focus your attention on your hands. Notice if you feel any discomfort, but now is not the time to fix it—just notice it. Focus your attention on your face and head. Notice what you can feel throughout your neck, throat, mouth, nose, eyes, face, and scalp. Now expand your awareness to your full body. Let sensations come into awareness and accept them. Focus your attention on your breath for three more breathes. Do not change it, just notice the sensations. When you’re ready, slowly open your eyes, wiggle your fingers and toes, and bring your attention back to your surroundings.

Watching Our Thoughts, Feelings, Physical Sensations, and Urges is a tool to help us be aware of what our minds need. Again, this is something that can be a brief practice or a longer one depending on the time available or the length of time it takes to reach the desired state of objective, kind awareness. To practice Watching, sit comfortably and notice your thoughts. Do not evaluate them or try to change them. Just notice what is there. See if you can imagine your thoughts coming and going, like clouds floating across the sky. Notice your emotions. Try to give them names. Emotions are not good or bad, they are merely messengers letting us know that something is going on that needs a response. Now is not the time to change them. Simply accept them or even welcome them into your awareness. Emotions can tell us what we need but are not getting. Notice any physical sensations. Do not try to give them meaning, just describe them objectively, with a kind curiosity. Notice any behavioral urges or desires to take a particular action. Do not judge the urge, it is only an impulse. Just be aware of the urge and watch the intensity rise and fall.

Being aware of our needs can help us identify what will truly meet those needs so that we can soothe ourselves without food. There are lots of ways we can help ourselves feel better, but food often is used when there are other options that might better meet those needs or might meet those needs without feeling guilt about overindulging in food. For example, food can be a source of pleasure. Research suggests that we get the most pleasure out of the first three bites of a food. We can ask ourselves how that finding applies to our eating habits. Perhaps when we want to eat a food that is enjoyable but not high in nutritional value we will choose to savor a few bites rather than eating more and feeling guilty about it afterward.

Food can be a source of comfort. Food can bring back memories and the emotions associated with them. If we reflect on memories and emotions are linked to our favorite foods we may be able to identify other ways to enjoy those memories. For example, reminiscing, looking at photos, talking about the memories, participating in non-food traditions, or talking with people who are part of those memories might be a way to enjoy the memories without the food.

Food can be used to change moods. Some foods may boost levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain. However, some foods result only in temporary good feeling as opposed to highly nutritious foods that can improve mood over the long term. We can use other activities to change our moods such as hobbies, exercise, or socializing. Creating a list of pleasurable activities and posting it somewhere prominent or carrying it with us can be a great reminder to use these activities when we experience unpleasant emotions.

Practicing a mindfulness technique, such as the ones above, before eating can help us identify what is behind the desire to eat. It might be hunger, but it also might be thirst, fatigue, boredom, anxiety, depression, or another unpleasant mood. If you are feeling a physical or emotional discomfort, address that first and then look again to see if you are still feeling a desire to eat. If you are not experiencing hunger, consider distracting yourself with a pleasant activity or socializing. Another option is to soothe yourself with your senses—look at photos that make you happy or beautiful scenery, smell some flowers or essential oils, listen to music you enjoy, wear comfortable clothes, give yourself a brief massage, or whatever else appeals to your senses.

Regularly practicing taking one mindful bite can begin to change our experience of food. When we eat mindfully we fully experience food, sometimes noticing features of the food we otherwise missed. We also are less likely to overindulge because we are being aware of the signals from our bodies. To practice taking a mindful bite, observe the food in detail with all your senses. What do you see, hear, feel, and smell before you even put it in your mouth? What thoughts, emotions, sensations, or urges do you notice? Take one bite, but do not chew yet. What do you taste? How do your sensations and urges change as you put the food in your mouth? Chew once. How does this sound and feel? How does it change the taste and smell? What new thoughts, emotions, sensations, and urges arise? Slowly chew the bite. Notice the movement of your tongue, jaws, and mouth. Notice the urge to swallow. When you swallow see if you can feel the food as it goes down your throat to your stomach. What new experiences or insight did taking a bite of food this way introduce? Can you bring this kind of awareness to eating another bite? How does the experience change with each bite?

Taken together, these practices can change our thoughts, emotions, and habits relating to food so we can make choices that foster long-term wellbeing. Mindfulness and healthy food choices are lifetime practice that can continue to be broadened and deepened. Here are some more resources to continue to develop healthy habits.

  • 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food by Susan Albers
  • The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs by Stephen S. Ilardi
  • The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual: A Practical Mind-Body-Spirit Guide for Putting an End to Overeating and Dieting by Julie M. Simon
  • Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Palouse Mindfulness: Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Online Course https://palousemindfulness.com/


Youth who struggle with intense emotions tend to respond well when caregivers use validation. Validation acknowledges thoughts and feelings regardless of whether they are logical or accurate. By acknowledging these feelings while still requiring children to act appropriately, youth learn the difference between what they feel and what they do.  It helps them learn to identify, appropriately express, and effectively deal with emotions. This leads to self-confidence, better relationships, and better behavior. When caregivers use validation, youth are more likely to open up to and accept guidance from the caregiver. Emotions become less intense because the youth feels heard without having to escalate the emotional intensity.

Validating is when caregivers let youth share their thoughts and feelings and the caregiver acknowledges those thoughts and feelings without criticism, judgement, or rejection. It is not comforting or praising the youth, although those can be helpful, too. It is not agreeing with the youth or like the youth’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. It also is not letting the youth do whatever he or she wants. It simply is letting the youth know you understand what he or she is feeling is real to him or her in that moment. That helps the youth learn that emotions and behavior are separate and that emotions are not wrong, but actions can be wrong and thoughts can inaccurate even though they feel very real. It is essential to teach youth how to appropriately express and cope with those emotions, regardless of the caregiver’s perception of their accuracy.

Validation can be difficult, particularly in the heat of the moment. It can be an effective way to support youth and to model effective interpersonal skills for them to learn. When caregivers validate youths’ feelings, it opens the door to teaching children how to effectively cope with feelings without having to change the situation or fix the “problem.” This is important because many times in life upsetting situations cannot be changed or fixed. Validation does not involve talking children out of feelings because denying feelings tends to cause them to come out in other, unhelpful, ways rather than effectively dealing with them head on. Validating and then letting youth work things out teaches them that we have faith in their coping abilities so they grow in their confidence.

Validation requires giving your full attention. This includes removing distractions, making eye contact, nodding your head, and other ways of showing that you are really listening. Validation involves reflecting back what you see and hear. That is, commenting on what you are hearing and observing such as through saying, “It sounds like …” “It seems…” “What I’m hearing…” Validation also involves trying to state what the child is feeling and wanting. Really try to put yourself in the youth’s shoes and observe what the child is saying and doing in light of what you know about the youth. Putting a name to feelings and needs or talking about what the youth wants even if it is impossible shows you understand and provides a foundation for possible future problem solving. It is okay to ask questions to make sure caregivers understand the youth’s perspective or to allow the youth to provide correction when the caregiver misunderstands. That is how communication is learned. Caregivers can let the youth know that the emotions are okay and make sense in that situation. This is acceptance that allows the youth to begin to deal with the emotions in a healthy, effective way. Validation also involves showing your concern and that you are empathizing or experiencing the emotion along with them. It is okay to even mention having felt similarly or dealt with similar situations, although the focus should stay on the youth. Validation is most effective when done with genuineness and realness. Emotions do not always resolve quickly and youth pick up on adults being fake, which is not validating.