Parenting can be rewarding but also very stressful, and Parenting NI recommends that parents take regular time to look after themselves; self care. The Coronavirus crisis has made this advice more relevant than ever. It has been well established that the pandemic has had a negative effect on the mental health of millions of families under lockdown. The U.N warned of a ‘global mental health crisis’ as a result of the impacts of the virus.
It is important for everyone to look after their emotional and mental health and well being, but as a parent this can sometimes feel extra challenging. Managing parenthood, particularly combined with home-schooling and working from home can leave little time for self-care. However, a parent’s mental health has a direct impact on their children. Parental mental ill health is linked to a number of negative outcomes in children later in life. This is not to say parents should feel guilty or ashamed if they need support for their mental health. Instead, parents should recognise that taking time to support their own mental health is good parenting. You are supporting your children by supporting yourself.
This article will give advice on how parents can take time to manage their own stress and mental health even during particularly challenging times, such as what we have been experiencing in lockdown.
Firstly, talking; this is such an important and often overlooked aspect of self-care. Talking about your feelings can help to regulate your emotions and process stressful situations. Talking to someone can help you to feel less isolated. Talking to a trusted adult, like a partner or close friend is a good way to deal with stressful situations. Be aware, however, that some mental health issues will require a professional to help you. Do not be afraid to seek that sort of help if you need it.
Talking to your children is important too. It is highly likely that even young children will have picked up on mood changes or other signs that you may be struggling emotionally. Talking to them about how you are doing – in an age appropriate way – can help to alleviate their fears, feelings of self-blame and guilt. An added bonus of doing this is that it encourages your children to talk to you if they are feeling down. Open communication allows families to support each other.
Another key aspect of self-care is physical activity. Moving your body releases endorphins, helps you to sleep better and makes you feel energised. Even if you are unable to get outside to exercise, looking up a short video online and doing a mini-workout can help to improve mood. Even better if you can do this with your children – why not enjoy a mini yoga session together or if you can get outside a game of rounders perhaps!
Exercise can be something done with the family in a fun way. If you are able to play outdoors with your children, or go for walks everyone will really benefit. However, if you find that you need time alone to de-stress, consider leaving children with your partner or if they are old enough, at home. If this is not possible in your family, you can always exercise after the children go to sleep or while they work on school work. It is normal to need time alone for self-care for many people.
Social media can be a great tool to keep in contact with friends and family. However, it is also a major source of stress for many parents. An important form of self-care, particularly for parents with anxiety, is to limit consumption of news and social media. An over abundance of information, as well as untrue or misleading stories can increase your anxiety and stress. So take time to step away from the TV or your device that you use the most.
Instead, seek out information on a more limited basis and only from reliable news outlets that you trust. Rest assured, you will not miss anything important by not refreshing your Facebook or Twitter timelines every ten minutes.
Be Kind to Yourself
Finally, the most important tip for parents struggling with self-care is to go easy on yourself. Almost every family in the world is struggling to adapt to this new and unwanted change in routine. If you are doing your best, it is very likely that it is enough. Do not judge your own competency by what you hear about others, and simply do what you can to get through this.
If you find that you are struggling, reach out for help. Many community and voluntary sector organisations are acutely aware that people are in need of support. Some of these people have never felt they needed support before, while others have found an already difficult situation has changed into something unmanageable. There is no need to suffer in silence – reach out for support if you need to.
Parenting NI continues to provide help and advice for parents, so contact our free, support line: 0808 8010 722 to talk through your concerns and find out about what might be available to you.