I woke up yesterday feeling especially anxious. I was going through my evergrowing to-do list of things needing to be done — food to cook, laundry to do, stimulating activities to plan for my son, and work to accomplish — when I realized not one moment of my day was solely for me. My husband is a first responder, working 12+ hours a day, so I am solo parenting throughout the day while I work a full-time job. And I know I’m not alone: Parents across the country are struggling to work without the support of child care, and it’s taking a toll. According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, mothers and fathers of kids under 18 have reported worsening mental health during the pandemic.
In honor of Mental Health Month, we spoke to some of the top parenting experts and influencers who opened up about their challenges — and the solutions that are helping them cope during this time. Read on to relate, be inspired, and find comfort knowing you’re not alone:
Schedule worry time
“As a mom, not getting any me time (including quiet time) during the day has led me to stay up too late after my son goes to bed. The lack of sleep has been very stressful and is definitely taking its toll on my mental health. The isolation many of us feel when we become mothers has taken on a whole new meaning. And what makes all of this even more difficult is how much isn’t in our control. One thing that has been helpful for me is to set a specific time to worry each day. Choose a dedicated block of time in your day where you let yourself think about your worries. Grab a journal and pen and write them down to move them outside of your head. If and when other worrisome thoughts come into your head during the day, you can tell yourself there will be more worry time tomorrow, and try to push them out. This is often easier said than done and doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s why it’s a practice, so go easy on yourself.”
—Jen Schwartz, founder & CEO of Motherhood Understood
Let go of anything that doesn’t absolutely need to happen
“Without the possibility of babysitters or usual activities, childcare burnout has been occurring frequently. This has led to a loss of patience with the children, who are feeling restrained and frustrated and might be acting out. Simple breathing is one thing I do to help with the added stress. Try it! Lower your shoulders down where they belong, unfold your arms, look up at the trees and sky, breathe, and give yourself pats on the back such as, “This is a really tough situation and I’m doing the best I can!”
Taking regular breaks throughout the day is ideal. If you’re co-parenting, I suggest alternating childcare shifts as much as possible. Remind yourself that we cannot allow what happens around us to have the power to dictate our mental health, and this value is also what you want to model for your children. There are always things we can do to lift our day — like putting limits on news and social media. Focus instead on projects that will give you satisfaction — gardening, painting, puzzles, playing music.
Lastly, let go of anything that doesn’t absolutely need to happen — for instance, use paper plates for a couple of weeks and allow more movies and screen time (within reason) for yourself and your kids. It’s okay to change your routine — structure for the day is good, but strict schedules are not important.”
— Shoshana Bennett, Ph.D., clinical psychologist
Prioritize fitness — and try to do it before everyone wakes up
“After having my third child, I had to learn to let go in order to keep my sanity. ‘Doing it all’ is not a badge of honor if the price I pay is feeling anxious, not being happy, and foregoing spending precious quality time with my loved ones. In the past, I used to numb my feelings with food or alcohol, or by distracting myself with TV, But that never resolved anything and I would end up feeling worse. Now I take time daily to exercise, meditate in prayer, and journal.
When it comes to fitting in fitness, try to wake up 30-40 minutes before anyone else in your household and do it first thing in the morning if possible. Prioritize it and make it non-negotiable. Commit to three to four 30-minute workout sessions a week and plan those in advance. Know the time, dates, and workouts you will do. If you can’t wake up early, that’s OK — invite the kids to join you and make it playful and interactive for them.”
—Idalis Velazquez, celebrity fitness trainer and creator of Beachbody’s Mes de Más
Try a self-soothing technique
“Yesterday my toddler begged me to let him inside the car. He crawled into the driver’s seat and began to shake the steering wheel as he yelled in frustration. He just wanted to go somewhere —I felt very understood. Since the pandemic started, I’ve gone from spinning and high intensity workouts to gentle stretching and taking walks with the stroller. What’s key for me is that I stop thinking about what I ‘should’ be doing and instead connect with what makes my mind and body feel better.
When I feel the stress bubbling up, I practice a self-soothing technique called EFT Tapping. By focusing on a thought that creates stress or tension in your body while gentling tapping with your fingers on acupressure points, you begin to calm your nervous system. This makes it possible to acknowledge all your feelings while relaxing your body. I’m always able to get to the point where I can understand why I’m frustrated, while I release the stress I’m holding in my body. When I feel calm and centered it’s easier to look at everything with fresh eyes and find ways to better navigate the uncertainty of what we are all going through.”
—Jessica Ortner, New York Times best-selling author and EFT Tapping expert
Know when to loosen up
“Being mindful and aware of what you are feeling and trying not to resist it is key, but not easy. I recently caught myself stressed trying to get my 14-year old son to a Zoom class on time. I took a step back and realized it is his responsibility. I warned him one more time and backed off. I made sure to briefly follow-up later explaining that I don’t like how it feels to have to nag and feel disrespected and that moving forward I will ask once and then it is his responsibility. It’s important to make expectations clear.”
— Tom Limbert, author of Dad’s Playbook: Wisdom for Fathers from the Greatest Coaches of All Time
Create a mantra for stressful moments
“This shift has been difficult for many parents because they have no control over their current circumstances. There are many signs of stress including a change in sleep patterns, headaches, body aches, changes in appetite, or, most commonly, feeling irritable, on edge, or anxious. When patients experience these feelings, I suggest that parents attempt to recognize what is causing the stress first to then attempt to remove it.
For example, if there is a difficult day around home schooling, a parent can decide to order dinner instead of cooking that night. Parents should give themselves permission to do enough each day, knowing that ‘enough’ will look different every single day. It can also be helpful to come up with a mantra that is authentic to you. Repeat that mantra until you feel less anxious. i.e. ‘We are safe at home. I am doing my best. This will be fine.’ Lastly, find time for yourself by taking a walk, sitting in the car, or just getting up early before anyone else wakes up, to get some alone time. It’s important to have a moment that is yours and yours alone.“
—Nneka Symister, LCSW, psychotherapist at the Seleni Institute
Let go of one thing each day
“I’ve always been susceptible to the guilt that arises just by being a working parent, but the pandemic has put the guilt and the anxiety of managing it ‘all’ at an all-time high. For those of us lucky enough to have positions where we can work remotely, the pressure to perform at our job, be available at all hours, while also caring for our children full time — playing the role of teacher, chef, housekeeper, and more — is causing us to burnout. If we manage it ourselves, how much do I risk getting laid off? We need to recognize that almost everyone’s stress level is higher due to the uncertainty, but for caregivers, the daily trade-offs feel much heavier with potentially significant impacts.
I’ve been giving myself permission to simply let good enough be exactly that. So there isn’t just one thing I’ve let go of completely; instead it’s letting go of at least one thing based on what’s going on that day. Maybe it’s getting delivery one night because I can’t bring myself to cook, even if I had a meal planned, or letting my 4-year-old miss a Zoom class call because we both need a break. I challenge every parent to give yourself the same grace and kindness you would likely extend to your best friend, family member, colleague, etc.”
—Mary Beth Ferrante, co-founder of WRK/360
“Protect your peace”
“If before this pandemic you weren’t a stay at home parent, then this has probably been the longest period of time you have spent with your children and spouse. That is the case for me and like many households, because I am mom, I am also the nucleus of our home. An instant sign that my stress is boiling is if I find myself being short with my kids or if something small, such as my husband not wiping down the stove, annoys me. That is when mommy goes to the bathroom alone.
I believe in the importance of protecting my peace. This is achieved by having fresh flowers in my home, enjoying a cup of tea, FaceTiming my friends, and breaking my days into 3 categories. ‘Moming’: making sure I dedicate quality time to the girls, whether it’s playing in the driveway or having a tea party. ‘Wifing’: when the girls are off to bed I make sure I do something to connect with my husband like watching a show together, or as of recently, researching new bikes. ‘Meing’: I started working out with my friends virtually and let’s just say, I’m so ready for this summer body.”
—Morgan White, influencer, Expecting Grey
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