If your teenage daughter is struggling with their mental health, it’s incredibly distressing. You may feel helpless, and watching your child suffering is one of the most painful things to go through as a parent.
It goes without saying that you should access professional services quickly if your teen daughter is suffering from anxiety, depression, or harmful behaviours like cutting or self-harm. Your GP will be able to help you with specialist advice and referrals. You can also contact services like Young Minds for mental health support ideas for your daughter.
However, there is a proven link between physical and mental health, and looking at your daughter’s lifestyle as a whole can be hugely beneficial. Cheryl M. Green, author of Heal Your Daughter, is an expert in this area. We’ll be looking at some key points in the book, and examining how you can help your teen daughter to heal.
What is lifestyle medicine?
A key component of the book is the concept of lifestyle medicine. Lifestyle medicine is a new field of medicine that encourages families to adopt healthy behaviours and make therapeutic lifestyle changes.
Basic principles for wellbeing
The core advice in this book can be summed up really simply:
- Eat a diet based on whole foods and plants
- Cut out alcohol and smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Get into a healthy sleep pattern
- Maintain healthy relationships, rather than self-isolating
- Reduce stress as much as possible.
Of course, actually putting these things into practice can be really difficult. I remember as a teenager, I frequently struggled with insomnia; it was very hard to regulate my emotions and act rationally when I was so tired all the time, but I just couldn’t snap out of it.
The principle is simple, but implementing the guidance can be difficult.
There’s a big link between mental health and diet.
Ideally, your teen daughter should have access to plenty of fruit and vegetables – the UK government guidance is 7 portions a day – as well as wholegrains, like brown rice and wholemeal bread. You should also ensure she has access to nuts and seeds, along with pulses like beans and lentils.
This is really difficult when you have a picky eater. I know this from experience! Speaking to your teen daughter about the benefits of eating good food for both her body and her mind may give her motivation.
Whether you want to fully adopt the plant-based aspect of this is down to you. You may have different ideas of what constitutes a healthy diet, and of course, this is a personal decision. However, if you do decide to go plant-based, look into supplements, like B12, which is necessary if you’re not eating animal products.
If your teen daughter has started drinking or smoking, they will need to detox in order to give their body and mind the best chance to recover.
This isn’t easy. Especially if there is an element of addiction (particularly with smoking) or peer pressure (this is common among this age group). And as a parent, it can be really painful to see your child struggling with smoking or drinking.
The NHS has local Stop Smoking Services which may be able to help. As a parent, you can help by:
- Roleplaying scenarios in which they may be tempted to drink or smoke, giving them ideas on what to say when hanging out with friends.
- Research the long-term impact: teens can find it difficult to look at the long term, but reinforcing this may help.
- Consider the situations in which they might smoke or drink and see if those situations can be cut down or even removed, replacing those social situations with other activities.
As an adult, I find it hard to get the motivation to exercise, and as a teenager I went out of my way to avoid it (to the point where I refused to join in with PE for two years straight!). For some teens, exercise at school is either unfulfilling or humiliating; undoing this link between exercise and negative emotions can take a good amount of work.
The best thing you can do is to make it as fun as possible. Offer several and different options, whatever they might be: trampolining, horse riding, running, netball, yoga, dance classes. It takes some time to find a form of movement that you really love, but it’s worth investing in this.
Plus, studies suggest that girls who play sports, like football, have increased self-confidence.
Why does sleep elude so many teens? It’s really difficult to make sure they get enough sleep when they want to stay awake chatting late into the night.
Sleep hygiene is really important for everyone, but especially teenagers. Good practices like switching screens off after a certain time, getting enough sunlight each day, and making sure her mattress is comfortable will help your teen daughter to get the right amount of sleep.
For teens, it can be easy to isolate themselves if they become depressed or anxious. But a sense of connection and belonging is particularly vital for teens suffering with depression. They need to feel that they belong to a group of people, that their presence is important and valued.
There are many resources on how to help teens to navigate healthy relationships – I’d recommend checking out the NSPCC’s guidance on this.
Family relationships are really important too. Carve out one-to-one time with your daughter, doing whatever it is she wants to do. Even just walking the dog together can be a chance for connection. Looking for these little connection points are really important for filling up your daughter’s ‘tank’ when it comes to love and affection.
Teens are under a lot of pressure and stress. With exam pressures, relationship and friendship issues, or even financial stresses, there is a lot to feel anxious about.
There’s not a lot you can do to remove these stressors. They still have to sit exams, go for job interviews, and navigate friendship problems. But you can give your daughter practical tools to deal with stress, including:
- Teaching mindfulness and breathing exercises
- Encouraging exercise like yoga or pilates
- Encouraging time in nature
- Helping her to find activities that help her to relax
- Offering plenty of physical and emotional support – affirming words and hugs always help.
Helping your teenage daughter
If you’re worrying about your teen daughter, the best thing to do is to contact your GP and access professional support. But at the same time, it’s worth researching lifestyle medicine and looking at your daughter’s life as a whole. Small changes can have huge benefits for everyone in the family.
If you want to know more, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Heal Your Daughter by Cheryl M.Green, which goes into each element of wellness in much more detail, with practical ideas and tips for the whole family.
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