9 Tips to look after your mental and emotional health during stressful times
Let’s be honest. Parenting can be a stressful gig, and it can take a toll on your mental and emotional health, even at the best of times. Even when you think you’ve got most of the essential life stuff under control, the proverbial s*#t still hits the fan with kids around.
Everyone is playing happily so you sit down and lift your warm cup of tea to your lips, and then “wham’! Suddenly you’re asking “How on earth is did you get poo on your ankle?!” and you’re simultaneously wondering how the dog just got hold of your favourite pair of shoes, which you were sure you’d securely hidden away.
Sure, stress is “perceived”. That means that two people could be subjected to the exact same situation, and could deal with it very differently. For example, one might have a complete meltdown and another might brush it off as nothing. There are several factors that might come into play here, including:
Your emotional reserves. If these are low, perhaps as a result of having lots of “big things” happen recently in your life or lots of “little things” pile up, you might perceive a particular situation or day as ‘stressful’
The amount of support you have in your life
Your natural personality type or way of looking at things
Tools that you have to manage stress
Your toolkit for better mental and emotional health
The good news is, that there are things you can do to improve your mental and emotional health, even as a busy parent. With a little bit of forethought and planning and a few “go-to” ideas, you can find ways to feel better in amongst the chaos that sometimes ensues with family life.
I’ve asked eight amazing parents to share their best tips for mental and emotional health. Each of them explains one thing that they plan into their life to feel better, whether that’s happier, calmer, more positive, or all of the above.
I hope you find the tips useful and can incorporate one or more of these ideas into your life. They may be useful during the big times of stress (e.g. moving house or getting laid off from a job), or to help you cope better with all the little things, like staying calm when you find a brand new piece of artwork all of the dining room wall.
You or your partner can refer to PANDA for help, advice, and support on pregnancy, parenting and mental health topics in Australia.
‘Me’ time is important for every parent, especially for mental and emotional health during uncertain times. Me time is spending time doing something you want to do by yourself. No kids, no partner, no family, no friends.
It might be something you enjoyed before your kids were born. It could be something new. The amount of ‘me’ time required is different for each person. The type of ‘me’ time also varies. It is based on your personality and interests. Some need five minutes daily to drink a coffee, 30 minutes to have a bath every fortnight, one hour to exercise daily, or two hours to play video games every night.
Me time helps you to stay sane, recharge, and be the best parent, partner, sibling, child, and friend you can be. Being a parent is fantastic. You get rewarded with cute baby giggles and cuddles. You also get tantrums and uncooperativeness. But sometimes you just want to spend time on your own.
To ensure you get enough ‘me’ time, book it in like you would any other appointment. Talk to your partner and support network to make it happen. For example, you might alternate nights with your partner to put the kids to bed. This way it doesn’t encroach on family time or couple-time. ‘Me’ time is an essential part of being a parent.
Written by Clara from Petite Capsule, and mum to one energetic toddler.
Fresh air in the great outdoors
Parenting is hard work! Yes, it’s rewarding but it’s also difficult, incredibly difficult. I really struggle to put my emotional and mental health first sometimes but it’s so important to take care of yourself, so you can take care of your kids.
The biggest thing that has helped me and my partner, after becoming parents, is making sure we get fresh air and time outdoors. We try to take turns to get out for a walk, run, or sometimes just sitting on a park bench and watching the world go by. On those days when the kids are particularly testing, we all head out together to let off some steam.
Being outside is so transformative for me. I can feel my brain fog clearing and usually end up with a huge smile on my face. We’re lucky enough to live in sunny Queensland, right near the beach so it’s part of our everyday lifestyle to be outdoors. Don’t let weather or location stop you though! Even when we’re visiting family in the UK in the middle of winter, we all get bundled up in our warmest clothes and get outside in the garden or find a park.
Try it out - it might just be the reset you need!
Written by Sophie Marie from Baby Toddler and Kids, and mum to two cheeky little girls.
Exercise for better mental and emotional health
As a parent, one of the most difficult things to do is exercise. Children aren’t always up to par at the same level of exercise as adults, and many children have a difficult time not interrupting a parent as they are trying to work out to a video or their own workout at home. There are a few things parents can do however, to help adapt the children to a schedule of exercise.
For parents of young children, many children prefer to be in their own little space and have an array of activities to play with. A pack and play or even a stroller can be very helpful along with their favorite toys, drinks, and snacks. A play mat in the corner of the room is useful for many parents. Outdoors, a jogging stroller is very helpful as most children seem to enjoy the movement and it aides many in their ability to take naps.
As children grow older, it is great to incorporate them into the exercise regimen and to even find videos where they can be included. YouTube is a great resource for finding family-friendly exercise. PE with Joe Wicks, The Body Coach has been a new trend among families as his 10 minute HIIT exercises are child friendly and he even dresses up in costumes and gives children quizzes.
Generally, HIIT exercises are great to do as they are quick, usually about 10 minutes and fast-moving. Lots of times, kids can take part as they love to jump around, and the 10 minutes is usually enough for their attention span.
Cosmic Kids Yoga is another great channel that incorporates movement and yoga for children through engaging moves and stories. Adults and children can follow along. Alternatively, children can do yoga while a parent works out nearby doing their own exercises. Exercise is extremely important for physical, mental, and emotional health, and finding the time to do it for even a few minutes a day, can change your entire day for the better.
Written by Diana from Travels in Poland, mom to two happy little girls.
Optimal nutrition for better mental and emotional health
Most of us know that nourishing foods are important for a healthier life. Are you also aware of how much this can extend to your mental and emotional health? As a holistic health and fitness coach, I can tell you that it’s super important. Various vitamins and minerals are linked to certain aspects of health, and some of them play a crucial role in mental health.
Studies on topics like these often draw mixed conclusions. However, two vitamins that have been shown to have potential links to mental health are B vitamins, and vitamin D. B-vitamins are important for brain health, and low levels have been linked to depression. Some examples of B-vitamin-rich foods include meat, fish, eggs, leafy greens, and legumes.
Vitamin D has also been linked to mood. Sensible sun exposure is an excellent way for your body to make vitamin D. Its mood-boosting effects may be due to its role in helping to regulate serotonin levels, which can also affect the quality of sleep. Foods such as milk, eggs, and mushrooms also contain good levels of vitamin D.
There are other ways that great nutrition can help you to feel better in general. For example, a balanced diet can help you avoid sugar crashes, where your energy plummets and you subsequently find that you’re just not “dealing” with that toddler tantrum.
A varied diet, rich in whole (“real”) foods is a great primary approach to covering the range of essential nutrients your body needs for optimal health (including mental and emotional health). A high-quality multivitamin can also help, but should never be a replacement for making nourishing food choices. Vitamin tests can identify whether your body is lacking in a particular vitamin.
Written by Elly McGuinness, holistic health coach and mama to two (slightly wild) unschooled girls.
Get yourself a hobby
Picking up a new hobby has been a game-changer for my mental health. I’ve never really had hobbies and found myself splitting my time between family, work, and scrolling social media (and sometimes social media before the other stuff).
I’ve always admired people with lots of hobbies and wished I was one of them. As parents, it’s so important to have time for yourself, but it’s tough knowing what to do with that time if you don’t have a hobby or interest outside of your work or your kids.
After taking an Ancestry DNA test, I was hooked. I began tracing my family tree on Ancestry.com.au using all their amazing tools. It’s a parent-friendly hobby because you can do it in the scraps of time you get during the day.
It’s relatively inexpensive to buy an annual membership, and if you need to access the larger databases you can get free access to those through your local library branch (some even have a dedicated staff member who’ll help you out for free). If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, you will likely need access to these databases for detailed searches before the antipodes were colonised.
On top of finding out lots of interesting new things, I’m coming up with a plan to visit important sites in my family's history with my kids in the future.
Best of all, it's keeping me away from social media and the news cycle which can become a giant, non-productive time-suck. I finally have something just for me, nothing to do with my kids or my work.
Written by Emma Healey from Mumsmoney, mum to 2 crazy boys.
Enjoy regular date nights
Parenting isn't easy. In fact, it can be overwhelming and stressful at times so it's super important to look after your own mental and emotional wellbeing.
In my opinion, the happier the parents are, the better their parenting is and the happier their children are.
With three children under the age of three what helped my mental and emotional wellbeing the most, especially in the hectic early days, was organising regular dates with my husband once every fortnight.
Our dates were a mixture of activities at different times of the day including meals in restaurants, breakfasts at the beach, picnic lunches, bush walks, and bike rides. They were often simple activities that we enjoyed doing pre-children, that helped us reconnect, communicate, and strengthen our relationship.
Our dates were relatively easy to implement. The Mother's Group I was in organised a reciprocal babysitting arrangement where each mum would babysit once for another mum. In return, we’d receive one session of babysitting in return every fortnight.
I was also lucky that my mum lived close by and loved babysitting my three children too.
Our date nights were a great way to relieve my stress levels and enjoy time with my partner away from everyday parenting responsibilities. I also enjoyed the planning that went into organising them. I highly recommend regular dates for parents to enhance their own mental and emotional wellbeing. It worked wonders for me.
Written by Ingrid Norris, mum to twins plus one and editor of Fabulous and Fun Life.
How art helps me with mental and emotional health
Art is one of the best ways to connect to your inner emotional and mental wellbeing. You don’t have to be skilled to reap the benefits. I implement art during any downtime I get.
It’s so important to focus on the needs of children and make sure each moment of their day is full of growth, learning, and love. It then becomes very natural to neglect yourself. When you take care of your own mental and emotional health, you can then provide a better quality of care for your children. I remind myself of this a lot because we have good and bad days too, we are equally as important.
Art helps me reconnect with myself and express what I’m feeling. It also allows me to be more mindful of what I need during my day, whether that is connecting with a friend or simply taking a walk on my own.
I can be as creative and fancy as I need or keep it simple just spend ten minutes doodling before bed. Just that moment of concentration on yourself is a chance to disconnect from the whole world. This moment is all about you and understanding what you need.
Written by Manpreet Kaur, from Hello Manpreet, Foster carer.
Set aside some puzzle time!
Finding the time and space for myself is not an easy feat, particularly with everything I have running through my head. There are meals to prepare, household chores, work meetings, and deadlines; and, of course, children’s needs to be met. This list is endless and quite often at this age group, thankless.
Over the years, I have tried lots of different things to achieve good mental health and to allow me to ‘switch off’ from my everyday life. I have found doing puzzles to be an excellent activity for mental health. I choose puzzles based on the image – it must be inspiring, and it must take me to another part of the world! Travel is one of my favourite things, so I love to feel like I am piecing together a new adventure and exploring a new part of the world every time I do a new puzzle.
Additionally, I find a space in the house where I can sit quietly. Somewhere without the hustle and bustle of daily life, without the noise and regular disruptions from the kids! It does not always work this way, but early on I set firm rules with the kids about what ‘puzzle-time’ meant for me which has helped a lot. Occasionally, the boys will join in on the puzzle or bring their colouring to do quietly next to me. Puzzles and colouring-in moments can also be lovely shared time with the kids.
Written by Erin Parker from Love To Travel, Stay-Eat-Do – Mum to two boys, aged 8 and 6.
What about you?
I truly hope that these tips help you to reclaim a little bit of sanity and just simply feel better in general. What has helped you to improve your mental and emotional health? I’d love for you to join the conversation, so please leave a comment below!