Mental Health Checkup and Toolkit
Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. These exercises can help you cope with emotions like worry, stress, or feeling upset and help with situations that you feel you can’t do much about.

Mental Health Checkup & Toolkit

A fun and free downloadable activity

As I am about to turn 50, I am going to write a 3-part series on depression. It’s a mental illness that I and members of my family have been fighting for generations. It’s not a topic I’m comfortable discussing but, over the years, many people have asked me to write about this subject. If you read my best-selling, travel memoir Falling Uphill, then you know a little bit about my journey already. Back when I decided to ride a bicycle around the world, I knew I wasn’t happy. I thought my life lacked meaning. So, I decided that if there was some ultimate meaning to life, that if I had a purpose for existing, I would be able to find it somewhere in the real world. I wanted tangible evidence. Little did I know that my journey would be an inner journey and that a big part was learning how to overcome depression.

Depression is a complicated issue. In part-2, I’ll talk more about that. But, for now, I’m going to just skip to some solutions. Below is a Mental Health Checkup & Toolkit that I helped co-create. It was one of the most successful posts I’ve ever done. It has proven to work. Basically, if you are feeling depressed, sad or unhappy, which are all slightly different things, try this process to help find a way out. Then take a step of action. If you need more help, try looking for resources on BetterHelp.

Mental health is your first line of defense

Believe it or not, your mental health is your first line of defense to staying healthy! When stressful times occur, like now — who would have ever guessed that words like coronavirus, COVID-19 or pandemic would become part of our daily vocabulary? — it’s just as important to make sure we are feeling good emotionally as it is physically. One scientifically proven way to boost the immune function is by thinking and acting optimistically. Yes! In other words, dreaming and setting life goals can be good for your health. 

With this Mental Health Checkup & Toolkit you can homeschool your family in an optimistic mental health strategy that will not only teach them how to manage their stress and stay physically healthy but get them excited about their futures. Before we begin learning about the toolkit, let’s talk a little bit about the stress response.

How fear and stress cause illness

When the mind and body are in a state of fear and stress, our autonomic nervous system (the body’s “engine”) revs up and hits the gas pedal, giving us lots of extra energy to protect ourselves. This is also known as the fight or flight response. Then, when the danger has passed, our body slows down and hits the brakes, which allows us to recover and restore. This is known as the rest and digest response. This balance of “on” and “off’ works great until we hit a period of chronic stress, in which case our body stays in the fight or flight response for longer than usual. This becomes a drain on the body’s resources and doesn’t give us enough time in the rest and digest cycle to restore and rebuild. The result? Stress can actually make us weak and susceptible to getting sick. You can even become sick by worrying (stressing) about becoming sick! It’s the definition of a vicious cycle. Please keep in mind that we don’t recommend telling your child all of this, but as an adult, it is important to understand this process so that you can nip it in the bud.

Here is the good news! 

You can learn how to turn off the fight or flight response and put your body in the rest and digest cycle. You do this by changing your thoughts and actions in optimistic ways. These are stressful times, which means now is a great opportunity to learn a few strategies for you and your family to not only survive but thrive in the face of stress. As a parent, you are your children’s most important role model, and showing them how you handle stress will go a long way to help them manage their own stress. 

Overall, the goal is to acknowledge that stress is part of life — stress can be big, small, and every size in between. The most powerful thing we can do is teach children how to handle stress in a healthy way both physically and emotionally so they can make a positive, intentional change in their lives. Social-emotional learning provides an excellent foundation from which to teach children skills like self-awareness and self-management that can help them learn to identify and manage stress. Learning and practicing these skills leads children to develop physical and emotional resilience and acceptance that even when challenges occur in life, they have the ability to confront and manage those challenges. 

Are you ready to do a checkup?

Now that you know a little bit about how stress works, let’s do a mental health checkup to see how stressed you, or your family member, may be feeling and learn social-emotional tools to “hit the brakes.” Below is a digital version of our Mental Health Checkup & Toolkit with some expanded descriptions, if you would like to download a free PDF suitable for high-resolution printouts and notetaking please visit our kid’s website. The printable PDF is great for the young family, as opposed to more screen time.

The Mental Health Checkup & Toolkit (online version)

Taking care of your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health. These exercises can help you cope with emotions like worry, stress, or feeling upset, and help with situations that you feel you can’t do much about. Give these exercises a try — they might help you feel better!

A tool that we love — of course — is dreaming. Dreaming is proven to improve optimistic thinking, which is a strategy that can help turn off the stress response and boost immune system function. So, for this digital version, we’ve included extra dreaming strategies that will not only help you feel better but help make a plan for the future, especially if you use the Dream it! Playbook as your guide.

Instructions

  1. Pause and take a moment to check up on yourself. Try taking a deep breath. How do you feel? Can you identify a problem? Until we know what is bothering us, it’s hard to know how to manage it.  
  2. Consider the four tools below, starting with the Distraction Tool. Take some time to learn how each one works.
  3. Which tool do you think will help you feel better right now? (On a different day, it might be a different tool.)
  4. Now, pick one and give it a try! If it helps you, great! If you need more help, try changing categories or adding a category, such as listening to music while taking a walk.
A girl distracting herself by petting a cat.

Distraction Tool

Doing distracting or fun activities focuses your attention in a helpful way — it gives you something else to think about instead of what is bothering you. Try playing a game, listening to music, spending time with a pet, talking to family/friends, or doing a craft.  

If you choose the Distraction Tool, we recommend doing a drawing of your dream. It can be a simple dream, like what will you do once life goes back to normal. You can even submit your dream here to inspire others.

A girl relaxing in a hammock.

Relaxation Tool

Slowing your body down calms your brain and relaxes your body. Try taking five slow deep breaths, tightening and releasing your muscles, or imagining being somewhere peaceful, like the beach or walking in the woods.

If you choose the Relaxation Tool, you can try taking 5 deep breaths (focusing on the exhalation) then let your mind wander and see if any dreams pop up.

A boy sitting on a rock thinking of cloudy thought and sunny thoughts.

Thinking Tool

Noticing the realistic and positive parts of a situation increases optimistic thinking, which can help you change how you feel. Try asking yourself, “What are the good things that could happen?” or “These thoughts aren’t helping me — how can I see this differently?” 

If you choose the Thinking Tool, we have lots of games here that are both fun and educational. Learning stuff — education — helps you better prepare for the unexpected.

A boy taking action by playing sports.

Action Tool

Keeping a good schedule and doing your everyday activities helps you stay on track and be healthy in your body and your mind. Try sleeping on a regular schedule, drinking plenty of fluids, eating nutritious meals, and exercising every day! 

If you choose the Action Tool, we have some activities and backyard adventures here that may lead to surprising discoveries and feeling good about yourself.

Thanks for doing the Mental Health Checkup

Chronic stress, like the kind we’re experiencing during the Coronavirus pandemic, presents unique challenges to mental and physical health, Encourage your family to do a mental health checkup regularly to turn off the fight or flight response and let them rest and digest.

If you’d like to download a high-res PDF suitable for printing and note-taking, please enter your email below. The link to your PDF will appear in the same yellow box.

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