How to reclaim a positive mental attitude while parenting in a pandemic

Happy New Year (if it's not too late to say that)… But it's more like out of the frying pan into the fire in another national lockdown. This time, the shorter, colder days of winter can mean less access to the outside, especially if your child isn't one of those still attending school. This means prioritising mental health and wellbeing is even more important.

The first lockdown had the advantage of lots of fine weather so we could get out in gardens and enjoy the sun. Even so, because there was no precedent for what was happening, it was less difficult to remain optimistic to start off with. But fast forward to lockdown three and the things are very different. There is the prospect of a vaccine of course, but right now, most don't know when they'll get it or how long the virus will remain rampant.

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How do you keep positive?

So what can we do to try to be positive at a time of extended uncertainty? This is especially tough if you've lost someone or suffered ill-health. I have moments when I feel like throwing my hands up in the air when despondency threatens.  I have to find ways to keep on keeping on that doesn’t involve copious amounts of gin. I asked round some colleagues and friends (most of my friends have children with additional needs as well) about what they do to keep themselves going and positive. Here's what we came up with. 

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Tips for staying positive while pandemic parenting

  1. Together we are stronger: Find your tribe online or in a support bubble. It might be meeting one other person for a socially-distanced walk (while we are still allowed to), catching up on video call, finding supportive groups online or on social media. Staying isolated increases overthinking which then increases anxiety.
  2. Keep clean: Take a shower every day if possible, The power of the shower cannot be underestimated. It really can wash away a multitude of oppressive feelings and help to give a fresher, more positive outlook on each day.
  3. On repeat: Remember the importance of routine. This is potentially going to be a challenge if you are both working from home and supporting children to access online education. However, there will be aspects where implementing a loose routine is possible. Things like getting up at a similar time each morning, regular meal times, and keeping to a school-time / down-time timetable, will all give a modicum of routine that can add some structure to every day. It can help you feel that you do still have some control.
  4. Keep up with the zzzs: Getting enough good quality sleep is so very important. Learn about the amount of sleep that you personally need to keep you focused and alert. Not enough sleep will impact your thoughts, feelings, and mood. We don’t all need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep though, it's different for everyone (as a parent of a young man who has a sleep pattern to match that of a young baby, I tend to grab the zzz’s whenever I can). It's more about doing the best you can in the situation you are in. If you need to, try a sleep app to track how much sleep you're getting.
  5. Notice your thoughts: Do you have a tendency to focus on the worst case scenario? If you do, you may also notice that your feelings will also flow to this outcome. Thoughts equal feelings. Fortunately, we do have the ability to challenge our thoughts and notice what happens. And practicing this will help, don’t wait until you are becoming overwhelmed. Practice on less stressful things to start with. Notice an automatic behaviour or response and allow yourself to think differently about it without judging yourself. For example, you might have made a decision that you want to increase your daily exercise, but find yourself making excuses about not doing it. Allow yourself the internal thought dialogue to challenge why this is happening. You can do the same with any choices you are making about your own reactions and responses to people or situations, but it will take practice. I would suggest reading Resilience through the pandemic by Dr Kate Castle as this has more in-depth information about challenging thoughts.
  6. Control your news intake: Decide how you will keep up to date with the news. The impact of our media consumption can have an enormous impact on psychological wellbeing, particularly at the moment, while we are in the pandemic. Watching or listening too much can lead to worry and then to overwhelm. Check the news when you need to (once a day, twice a week, there are no rights or wrongs) and leave it at that. 
  7. Be compassionate with yourself: Self-compassion is an absolute must. Do not berate yourself if you don’t do everything you set out to do, just add it to the to-do list for tomorrow (if it really is important enough to be on there in the first place). Don't compare yourself with anyone else, especially other people’s social media posts. You only see what they want you to see and their offline life may well be very different.
  8. Live in the Now: Remember it is only possible to live in the present, one day at a time. Worrying about tomorrow is not likely to help you manage today, it will only steal the here and now
  9. Tomorrow is another day: Last but not least. Remember THIS WILL PASS, the world will return to some sense of normality in time. Keep safe and keep sane!

This is a short compact list of ideas, take as many or a few as you need. Remember that we all deserve and are entitled to kindness and compassion. Also remember that there is support out there is you are on your own or feel alone and isolated.

Resources:

  • Carers Support Service  www.carerssupport.org.uk – Empowering carers to lead fulfilling lives. Phone: 0300 028 8888
  • Cruse Bereavement Care www.crusebereavementcare.org.uk -Phone: 0844 477 9400.
  • Action for Children Parent Talk
  • Mind www.mind.org – We provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. We campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.
  • NSPCC support for parents  https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/support-for-parents/ – Phone: 0800 1111 for ChildLine for children 0808 800 5000 for adults concerned about a child.
  • Princess Royal Trust for Carers www.carers.org – A carer is anyone who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who due to illness, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction cannot cope without their support.
  • Refuge: Advice on dealing with domestic violence. Phone: 0808 2000 247. Website: www.refuge.org.uk
  • Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre  Helpline:0808 802 9999. Website: www.rasasc.org.uk
  • Samaritans www.samaritans.org.uk – Confidential help for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. You don't have to be "suicidal" to call. Phone: 08457 90 90 90. (24hr helpline)
  • SANEwww.sane.org.uk – Provides emotional support and information to anyone affected by mental illness. There are three ways to contact them: Phone, Email and Support Forum. They also provide an ‘out of hours’ helpline to anyone affected by mental illness, including friends, family and carers. It is open every day of the year from 6pm to 11pm. Phone: 0845 767 8000
  • Mind, Parenting and mental health
  • Together www.Together-uk.org – Together offer a wide variety of support to help people deal with the personal and practical impacts of mental health issues. The services we can provide range from one-to-one support in the community to supported accommodation and making sure people understand and are able to express their needs in their dealings with official bodies.
  • Heads Together resources
  • Young Minds Parents' helpline  https://youngminds.org.uk/find-help/for-parents/parents-helpline/ – YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people. Driven by their experiences we campaign, research and influence policy and practice.

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Angela Kelly
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