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Looking after yourself this winter

Let’s face it, January can be a bit of a dismal month. Christmas and Hogmanay are yesterday’s news, the weather’s usually rubbish and our social media feeds are full of impossible diets and punishing exercise routines. And this year, with stricter coronavirus measures in place, it’s likely to seem even more gloomy. But remember, with the vaccination program already under way, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And as we get closer to that light, here are some simple ways you can look after yourself and your family and get through this difficult time.

Often parents find that looking after themselves is the last thing on their list – the most important thing is the children, right? But you can’t pour from an empty glass, and if you’re feeling tired and low, it’s hard to be strong and supportive for anyone else. So don’t think of carving out a bit of “me time” as a selfish thing to do – it’s an important part of caring for your kids.

Tips for starting the New Year in a positive way

Tip #1: Do things your way

There can be a lot of pressure at this time of year to make resolutions and change the way you eat/exercise/relax or even look after your kids. But try to ignore these pressures if you can and find things that work for you and your family. We’ve lots of suggestions here for ways to clear your head and stay positive, so hopefully you’ll find something that feels good. If you do, try and make that good thing part of your daily routine. You can find more tips on the Clear Your Head website.

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Tip #2: Give yourself a pat on the back

Instead of starting the New Year with a list of resolutions to “fix” yourself, why not make a list of all the things you achieved in 2020? From mastering Zoom to learning maths with the kids, you could well be surprised at how long that list is. Who knew you were so awesome? 

If this makes you feel better, this is a habit you could take with you into the New Year. If you can, start to take a bit of time at the end of the day to think about what went well. Maybe the kids said something funny, or did something kind. Maybe you cooked a new dish that everyone ate (!) Or maybe you didn’t fit in that run you’d planned, but went for a walk with a friend instead. 

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Tip #3: Banish negative thoughts

The way we think affects the way we feel, so negative thoughts can make us feel bad. No one wants to think negative thoughts. The trouble is, they tend to pop into our heads of their own accord! Sometimes, you can acknowledge the thought and then dismiss it. But sometimes, worrying thoughts get stuck. You’ll find tips for getting rid of them on our page on mental health advice for parents. NHS Inform also have a page on coping with stress which includes an audio guide to help you relax, and an anxiety self help guide

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Tip #4: Focus on things you can control

With so many things out of our control at the moment, it can really help to focus on the things that you can control. This is particularly helpful if you are trying to start some new healthier habits. So for example, instead of saying “I will get fit”, say something like “I will go for a 20 minute walk every day”, because this is something you can actually control. Or instead of saying “I will stop worrying about coronavirus”, say something like, “I will only look at websites I trust to read information about coronavirus, and won’t look at them more than once a day.”

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Tip #5: Talk to the kids

You may be worried about the impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on your child. But remember, children are constantly adapting to change, when they start nursery then start school, move into a new year at school, take up new activities or make new friends. Talking to your children and encouraging them to be honest with you about how they feel about the situation will help them face up to it. Listening to what they have to say and taking it seriously will help them feel valued. 

You could also try asking them at the end of the day to think about three things that have gone well or that they’re grateful for. Even if those three things are always the hamster, pizza and Netflix!

You can find more tips for supporting your kids’ mental health here. If they’re acting up or being difficult, we’ve got lots of tips for coping here.

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Tip #6: Chat to the Money Talk Team

Money worries can be a big cause of stress at this time of year. If you’re struggling to make your money last to the end of the week/month or are worried about how you’ll pay your bills, you’re definitely not alone. But there is something you can do about it. If you have any money worries, or if you’re in debt and you want some advice, call the Money Talk Team on 0800 085 7145 for a free and confidential chat. Their friendly advisers will see what you might be entitled to, and offer advice to help you make the most of your money. You can find out more about the Money Talk Team here.

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Tip #7: Join a new group

With coronavirus restrictions still in place, this may seem an odd time to join a new group. But being part of a local baby or toddler group, or a parent support group, is a good way for you and your kids to make new friends and expand your support network. Many of us have been feeling isolated and powerless over the past year, and chatting to other mums and dads who are in the same boat can really help keep things in perspective. Some groups may be running online rather than ‘in person’ at the moment, but can still provide support and reassurance.

You could ask your health visitor or GP about groups in your area, or check noticeboards in your local child health clinic, health centre, GP's waiting room, children's centre, library, advice centre, supermarket, newsagent, or toy shop. You may also be able to find local groups on Facebook.

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Things to do at home to look after yourself

Tip #1: Try some relaxation exercises

If you’re feeling tense, spending a few minutes a day doing some relaxation exercises may help. The Mental Health Foundation’s podcast has lots of ideas you can try, including breathing techniques and mindfulness and meditation exercises. Relaxing and being mindful can help you focus on the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

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Tip #2: Cosy cooking

January is usually the time when we all start making promises about healthy eating, which we then immediately break because comfort food is just too tempting when it’s miserable and cold outside! But why not enjoy the best of both worlds by cooking up an easy, healthy stew you can make using just one pan or pot, like this sweet potato stew? Or how about trying a hearty soup, like Cullen skink or Scotch broth?

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Tip #3: Do something you love

Remember that time before you had kids, when you could do things like read, play music, go the gym, spend time with your partner or even just watch a TV programme that isn’t aimed at 4 year olds? Try and carve out a bit of time each week to rekindle those lost interests and do something you love. Not only will concentrating on something different help you de-stress, but pursuing an interest can also help raise your self-esteem.

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Tip #4: Grow a house plant

You might think having yet another thing to look after won’t bring you much joy, but inviting a bit of nature indoors can really lift the spirits. You can buy houseplants in local stores or the supermarket, but have you ever thought about growing one from seed? This article from Balcony Garden Web shows you how, or you could even have a go at growing your own fruit and veg from food scraps! Get the kids to join in, so you can watch your seedlings grow together.

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Tip #5: Keep in touch

If you’re feeling a bit low, there’s nothing like a good blether with a friend to lift the spirits. Try to find a quiet moment for a phone call or video chat – if you can’t get any peace at home, how about sitting in the park to make a call? That way you’ll get the double benefit of fresh air too!

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Tip #6: Turn up the bass

If you’re a music fan, tuning into some songs you love or that remind you of fun times can really help cheer you up. So next time you’re out walking – or maybe just cleaning the house! – stick on some banging tunes that make you smile and sing along. You could also talk to the kids about the music they like, and share some favourite tunes – who knows, maybe you’ll discover something new you love!

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Tip #7: Get a good night's sleep

A good night’s sleep can make all the difference to your mood. If you struggle to fall asleep, or stay asleep, here are some more tips you could try:

  • Be as active as you can during the day – see our ‘keeping active’ tips below for some ideas.
  • Keep your bedroom a device-free zone and try not to look at any screens for an hour or two before you go to bed. Leave your phone outside the room so you can’t be tempted to check it one last time before you go to sleep. If you use your phone as an alarm to wake you up in the morning, you could try getting an old fashioned alarm clock instead.
  • If noise or light are stopping you from sleeping, try ear plugs or an eye mask.
  • Avoid caffeine and sugary foods late in the day – these can keep us awake. Try making yourself a hot milky drink instead.
  • Try some relaxation techniques – this podcast from the Mental Health Foundation is designed to help you relax and get ready to go to sleep.

You can find more tips and advice on what to do if poor sleep is a problem for you at the Mental Health Foundation website. If the main thing keeping you up is the kids, our pages on sleeping have more advice on settling them.

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Tips for keeping active

Tip #1: Get outside

Even if the weather’s doing its worst, getting outside is great for clearing the head and raising the spirits. Just half an hour outside in natural light will help you feel better, and sleep better too. You could go for walk, or how about cheering yourself up even more by playing an energetic game with the kids, like tig or a kick around with a ball? Our page on keeping active outdoors has lots more ideas.

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Tip #2: Take up jogging or running

Playing outdoors with the kids is a great way to raise the spirits, but if you’d rather have a bit of ‘me time’ to clear your head, how about giving jogging or running a go? If you’re new to running, the NHS Couch to 5k app is a great place to start. Or you could try Jog Scotland's Learn to Run guide, which aims to get you running for 15 minutes in 10 weeks.

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Tip #3: On your bike

If running isn’t for you, how about cycling? Cycling is great for keeping your body and mind healthy, and can give you the freedom to visit new places in your local area. It’s also much better for the planet than travelling by car. If you want to test the waters before committing yourself, you could try hiring a bike or using a bike sharing scheme like nextbike and JustEat cycles. Cycling Scotland has lots of advice if you’re thinking of taking up cycling on your own or as a family.

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Tip #4: Exercise indoors

If it really is too miserable to go outside, you can always bust out those legwarmers and get some exercise indoors. The NHS Fitness studio has videos you can try, and of course YouTube is bursting at the seams with fitness experts taking you through your paces. And there are lots of ways you can exercise together indoors as a family – take a look at our page on keeping active for some ideas.

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Remember it's okay not to be okay

Be kind to yourself: feeling low or unhappy is nothing to be embarrassed about. So don’t feel as if you have to “pull yourself together” or “soldier on”. Instead, talk to someone you trust about how you feel. This could be your partner, a friend or your GP. Or you may find it easier to call a helpline like NHS24 (111), Breathing Space (0800 83 85 87) or the Samaritans (116 123) or text Shout’s 24/7 crisis text service on 85258.

NHS Inform has advice on different aspects of your emotional health, like dealing with low moods, anger, fear and stress. You can also find mental health advice for parentsnew mums and parents to be here on Parent Club.