March is host to #InternationalParentalMentalHealthWeek, taking place from the 6th – 12th. This week is important because even though we all know mental health and wellbeing is vital, as a parent who's focussed on looking after your little one, it can be easy to forget - or run out of time - to look after your own needs.
Parenting while juggling a demanding career, maintaining other relationships and looking after your own state of wellbeing can often seem like an impossibility. As such, the first thing we tend to drop, whether consciously or unconsciously, is self-care. Parental Mental Health Awareness Week is even more important for parents who suffer with diagnosable mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety disorders, to name a couple.
*If you feel like you ever need support with your mental and/or emotional health above and beyond basic self-care, it's important to visit your GP.
Here are 6 of the best - and most importantly, doable - mental health and wellbeing boosting strategies for parents…
Care for Your Basic Needs
Your basic needs include staying active, eating well and getting enough quality sleep. Just these three things can make an incredible difference to your energy levels and ability to parent as your full self.
Regular exercise improves your body's main operating systems such as your metabolism, immune system, circulation and improved cardiovascular stamina. Plus, the endorphins will always leave you feeling good and energised.
Lack of energy is the enemy of all parents. Eating well provides energy. It can help to keep healthy snacks on hand for days when you're on the go or have limited time to fuel for yourself.
To get Quality sleep, it's important that you honour your (early) bedtime and take naps wherever you can. You might also have to adjust certain bedtime behaviours to help improve your quality of sleep, such as eating at least two hours before bed, limiting exposure to blue light and overly-stimulating distractions. Just a few nights of discipline can set you up for better and healthier habits.
Be Kind to Yourself
Self-compassion can be difficult to access when you're feeling stressed. However, when you're having a ‘down day', it's important to acknowledge your feelings and to give yourself shame-free permission to lower your expectations. If that means skipping on house chores, and/or popping frozen food in the oven for dinner, then so be it. As a parent, you probably place extreme pressure on yourself to be perfect, but you're also a human, and no human can live up to that. Not only is it okay to have down days, but it's also normal - you aren't alone.
Setting boundaries is a great way to protect yourself from things that unnecessarily drain your energy or add to your stress/anxiety. This may include not checking your inbox, phone or news notifications multiple times a day, deciding to step away from commitments that are causing you to spread yourself too thinly, or putting relational boundaries in place. Sometimes, it helps to revaluate your life, relationships and schedule in order to decide (and remove) what no longer serves your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Prioritise Bite-Sized Wellness Behaviours
According to Champion Health, 74% of people in the UK feel so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope (Mental Health Foundation and YouGov). Stress is ever-present in our society, making it all the more crucial to take care of ourselves. Sometimes, self-care can even feel stressful or like another thing you need to add to your growing to-do list. That's why it can feel more ‘doable' to incorporate small wellness behaviours into your day to boost your wellbeing little by little. These can include:
Stick to Your Treatment
If you've been prescribed medication, it's important to stick with it. Many pharmacies deliver medication for your convenience, and doctors can also offer 90-day prescriptions to reduce their patients' trips to and from the pharmacy.
If you feel like your medication is no longer working or you're experiencing negative side effects, it's important to chat to your doctor. It's better to voice your concerns than let them slide.
If you aren't on any medication but feel as though you could potentially benefit from the extra support, make an appointment with your GP to discuss.
Continue to Pursue Your Passions
Having a career and being a parent doesn't mean that your interests and hobbies should fall by the wayside. Time spent doing what you enjoy can do wonders for your mental and emotional wellbeing. Understandably, it can be difficult to find the time or the energy to pursue your other passions in life, however it's important that you find ways to make the time for things that ping you joy. Perhaps you can negotiate time ‘off' with your partner, or with someone else in your support group. Perhaps you can schedule a standing playdate which allows you an hour or two to join your monthly book or wine club, improv class, etc. It's essential to have something outside of your responsibilities that you can look forward to and that helps you identify as an individual with their own passions and pursuits.