Taking care of your mental health as a parent

Parenthood can be overwhelming and stressful, but it's important to take care of your mental health. Here are four tips to get started.

Being a parent may often feel like one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Navigating parenthood can be both physically and emotionally exhausting, especially throughout a global pandemic. 

It’s more important than ever to be prioritising your mental health as a parent. Taking care of your mental health will help you deal better with challenging and tricky parenting moments. It’s also much harder to be strong and present with your children if you’re experiencing mental health issues. Being an effective parent is as much about looking after yourself as it is keeping your children safe. 

Whilst every parent is likely to have a unique set of circumstances, there are several easily implementable and manageable tips and tricks for improving your mental health. 

Try and determine what makes you stressed 

It can be difficult to have an honest and open conversation with yourself about how you’re feeling and what’s making you feel stressed or anxious. Through recognising what is causing you stress and anxiety, you can help create a sense of order and clarity moving forward. This can allow you to identify what can be tackled immediately and what might need a more long-term solution.

Look after yourself

It’s important to ensure you’re looking after yourself. How we treat our bodies can have a huge impact on our mental wellbeing. Make sure that you: 

Exercise

Finding time for regular exercise can be helpful both mentally and physically. This can range from walking to pilates to higher intensity training. Finding exercises that you enjoy, are manageable, and get you moving is the most important part. Being physically active for just 30 minutes can make a huge difference to your mental health and cause positive changes to your mood. 

Keep a healthy diet

Ensuring you’re eating healthy and regular meals is also essential. A balanced diet is key to improving energy levels and keeping you focussed on seemingly endless daily tasks. If you’re struggling with increased anxiety, it may also help to avoid or reduce your caffeine intake. 

Prioritise ‘me time’ 

Parenting can be time-consuming, filling up all hours of the day. However, it’s important to find time to spend on yourself. ‘Me time’ isn’t selfish - it’s entirely necessary. All parents need time away from their children and housework. 

  • Ensure you are making time for activities and hobbies that you enjoy.
  • Make time in your diary for fun social arrangements with friends and family.

Incorporate self-help activities

Something that can also be useful is incorporating self-help activities into your daily schedule, which can help you remain relaxed and focussed on the present. This could include mindfulness, relaxation exercises, or journaling. 

Get enough sleep 

A good sleeping routine is vital for your overall physical and mental wellbeing. A lack of sleep can affect our moods and have negative effects on our alertness and ability to concentrate. The nights may feel like the perfect opportunity to catch up on everything whilst the children are in bed, but it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough sleep. Be mindful to not use electronic devices before bed. Instead, create time to properly wind down in the evenings so that you can sleep better. 

Create and reach out to a support network

It can feel incredibly hard to seek help as a parent, with endless stigmas and fear of judgement. Having a support system in place can do wonders for your mental health - as the saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. 

Finding people you can rely on for practical and emotional support is incredibly important. Talking to friends and family members about problems can show you new perspectives on some of your challenges, whilst also reducing feelings of isolation. Reaching out for practical help (such as with childcare, transport, and meal prep) can also help you create balance in your life. 

Many parents find it helpful to join parental support groups, allowing them to meet and interact with other people going through similar life-changing experiences. 

Reach out to your employer

If you’re a working parent, establishing a work-life balance is key to improving your stress levels and overall mental wellbeing. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your employer and ask if they could provide flexibility with working hours or projects. Also, be mindful about taking too much on. You can (and should) say no to non-essential work matters if you don’t think you have the capacity to complete them. 

Create a routine

Planning out your day and creating a clear, easy-to-follow routine can help bring consistency to your life. Putting in place regular times for daily tasks (such as mealtimes or bedtimes) can help you feel more grounded and secure. Breaking down the day into small and easily manageable tasks can reduce feelings of stress and pressure. 

Be kind to yourself

Above all else, it’s important to remember that perfect people and perfect parents don’t exist. Whilst social media can lead to constant internal comparisons with seemingly ‘perfect’ families, every parent will go through difficult moments and hard times. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself or give yourself a hard time. 

Be mindful of the language that you use with yourself. Be kind and cut yourself some slack. Instead of critiquing yourself for what you weren’t able to accomplish, try to reflect daily on the positives and everyday successes. Practice positivity and gratitude by writing down what has gone well that day and what you’re grateful for. By reframing your thoughts you can create a positive ‘can do’ attitude! 

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help 

Mental health problems can vary in degrees of severity, and it’s important to recognise if you may need to seek professional help. It is generally advised to seek professional help if you have severe or distressing symptoms for an extended period - this could include difficulty sleeping, a change in appetite, or a loss of interest in daily activities. Everyone is different and will require a different approach and level of professional guidance and support. 

If you think you may need to speak to a professional, there are a number of services available. Your GP can refer you for free counselling through the NHS, or you can seek out private help from a counsellor or therapist. Mind, Samaritans and SANE also provide mental health services.  

Final thoughts from Kami

It’s important to remember that every family and parent will have their ups and downs - no parent gets it right all the time and recognising your successes (no matter how small they may seem) is incredibly necessary. There is no parental rule book and no one way of doing the job. Prioritising your mental wellbeing to ensure you’re thriving as an individual is not selfish or extravagant, but entirely necessary for being an effective parent in the modern world.

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