Single parenting is a stressful occupation. It’s a job that never ends, even when you’re at your “other” job at the office, the department store, or the supermarket. As a single mom, you probably feel that you don’t have time to breath some days, much less take a few minutes for yourself. But keeping yourself calm and stress-free is important for your health (both physical and mental) as well as the well-being of your family. If you’re stressed out, you’ll find it harder to keep your cool. You might catch yourself losing your temper more often, even when you don’t mean to. You’ll have a harder time getting to sleep at night, and a harder time waking up in the morning, and your constant feeling of tiredness will only add to the stress and the strain. It’s a cycle that can get dangerously out of control – but fortunately it’s an easy one to break. All you need to do is make a bit of time in your day to focus on yourself and unwind that tightly-wound spring inside you, to find the balance and strength to pick up the job where you left off. Here’s how:
#1: Go for a walk
Do you have a dog? Instead of sending one of the kids to take him around the block, get the leash and go on a walk yourself. Walking is one of the easiest ways to bring some balance into your life. When you walk quickly, you’ll get your circulation moving, pumping healthy oxygen to your brain. Deep breathing relaxes you and flushes out the toxins in your lungs and your blood. Even better, the left-right alternating movement of your legs actually has an effect on your brain that brings both sides into harmony, which helps you think more logically as well as more creatively. When you get this balanced perspective, and the oxygen-rich blood flowing to nourish your brain, you’ll be able to think up new answers to problems that are making you feel stress in the first place.
If you don’t own a dog, look for a neighbor who has one and offer to take their pet for a walk. Older housebound people often need help with dog walking. In the city, you can even make money as a dog walker, picking up pets from their apartment homes and taking them to a local park.
Whether you walk with a dog (or two or three) or by yourself, be sure to leave your cell phone behind, or put it on “vibrate” mode and only answer if it’s an emergency. This is your time, and you need to focus on yourself.
#2: Let music soothe you.
Ever since humans started chanting around the bonfire and hitting hollow gourds with sticks to make patterns of sound, music has been a part of our lives. Listening to music can give you energy (think about the rock music they use in exercise classes) and bring you peace (quiet hymns and lullabies). Which type of music do you find most relaxing? Whether you like drifting off to soft trance music or dancing around the house with the radio turned up, take advantage of the power of music to lift your spirits and make you smile. Here’s an interesting article on the different ways people are affected by music.
#3: Try a bit of meditation
The wise men of India have known for thousands of years that meditation is good for you, and today scientists are finding proof. Just 15 minutes of meditation every day will change the way your brain works – for the better. You’ll get a new perspective on life, you’ll find a deep sense of calmness, and you’ll be able to handle problems without panicking. All you need is a quiet place and 15 minutes without interruption.
Read more about exactly how meditation can affect you here.
If you’re not sure how to get started meditating, read this article.
#4: Lose yourself in creativity
Creative people are happier and more relaxed, and the more you relax, the more creative and happy you can be. What do you like to make? Do you enjoy cooking, or knitting, or painting, or making earrings out of thrift store beads? Whether you like to make birdhouses out of wood scraps or blankets out of old t-shirts, keep in touch with your own creative power and schedule time to do the arts and crafts you enjoy every week.
#5: Take a nap
Are the kids at school? Take advantage of the quiet time and catch up on some sleep. Do you have a baby or toddler that takes a nap every day? That’s your nap time, too. Even if you have an outside job, you can probably fit a “power nap” into your day once or twice a week. Read more about how and why you should take a nap here.
#6: Get enough sleep
Try to sleep 8 hours a night, at least. When you’re sleeping, your brain is processing all of the things that happened that day, solving problems and creating memories, and flushing out the accumulated stress chemicals. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be more likely to get sick, to stay stressed out, and to experience the more negative emotions of fear and depression. If this means going to bed earlier than usual and skipping your favorite television show, do it anyway for a few weeks, and see what happens. You’ll be glad you did.
#7: Don’t skip breakfast
A hungry person feels stressed because their body is telling them that something’s wrong. Worse, if you don’t eat in the morning, you’re making your brain as well as your body work hard without the fuel they need. You’ll feel tired and disconnected, and that will make you reach for the coffee and sugar halfway through the morning, something that will overload your system without really nourishing it. If you don’t have time to eat a good breakfast in the morning, try making something the night before and taking it to work with you to eat at your desk, or on the train.
#8: Live in the present
One of the things that causes people a lot of stress is worrying about things that have happened in the past. Once something is behind you, leave it behind. Learn from your experiences, but don’t obsess about past mistakes. To help you move on, try talking to a trusted friend about what is still troubling you. By speaking about it out loud, you’ll externalize the problem; you’ll be able to imagine it as something apart from you, and visualize leaving it on the ground as you walk away.
#9: Appreciate the gift of the present
Stop whatever you’re doing and look around. Be thankful for the fact that you’re alive, that you have wonderful children, that the sun came up this morning, that you have an extra chocolate chip cookie to eat with your afternoon cup of coffee – whatever you can find to say “thank you” for in this moment, take a minute to be grateful for it.
#10: Think about what makes you happy
What makes you happy? You’ve probably already thought about some of those things just by doing something creative (Stress Buster #4) or by listing the things you’re grateful for (#9). Take a few minutes to write down anything and everything that makes you happy, and then look for ways to get more of those things in your life.
For example, if getting a smile from your daughter makes you happy, think about what you can do to see that smile more often. If you love watching your son perform in a school play or band concert, be sure to arrange your work schedule so that you’re there for his big night. Happiness can come from small things, such as treating yourself to a fancy flavored drink at your local coffee shop. When you write down everything you can think of that has ever made you smile, or made your spirits lighter, you’ll be amazed at all of the ways you can add happiness to your life every week. Keep this list handy to remind yourself about all of the things that bring a positive note to your daily routine.
#11: Take time to enjoy what makes you happy
Sometimes even the nicest experiences won’t really lift your spirits if you don’t take the time to enjoy them. If your favorite guilty pleasure is a piece of chocolate – you do have a stash saved from last Halloween, don’t you? – but you gulp it down in three seconds before running off to the next chore, then you’re not really getting all of the happiness out of the candy that you should. Instead, sit down for a minute. Sit in the sun if the weather’s nice; that extra dose of Vitamin D is good for your body, and the feel of the warmth on your face will bring some calm to your mind. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Now take another. Open your eyes and slowly unwrap the candy. Be grateful that you have this moment to enjoy it. Take small bites and enjoy every second. Don’t think about anything but how good it tastes, how it melts on your tongue, how the little sparkles of flavor sing in your mouth and send shivers of pleasure to your skin. Close your eyes again and hold on to that feeling of pleasure and happiness until the flavor of the candy is completely gone. Breathe. Smile. Open your eyes, stand up and stretch, and throw away your stress along with the empty candy wrapper.