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Mental health advice for parents during coronavirus

Things aren’t easy at the moment. Spending more time in the house is hard and if you have kids at home to look after, this can add more of a challenge. Add working from home, job worries, trying to keep the wee ones entertained, all while dealing with the thought of you or family getting ill, it’s no wonder parents are getting stressed and anxious.

While we’re all focused on our physical health just now, it’s just as important that we look after our mental health. There are things you can start doing to try and look after yourself. And remember, this is something we are all going through, and there is support out there. We’ve put together this advice to try and help you cope at the moment.

Tips to look after your mental health

Tip #1: Keep active

Exercise is good for both your mental and physical health, so try to keep moving outside and at home. You can even get the kids involved by doing an online workout. Or you could meet a friend for a walk in the park – just remember to carefully follow the latest guidance. Exercise is good for both your mental and physical health, so try to keep moving.

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Tip #2: Make a plan

Making a meal plan for the week can make things a little easier, especially if you don’t have your usual food in the cupboards. It can also help the family eat more healthily. Too much junk food might feel comforting in the short term, but won’t make you feel better in the long run. Planning your activities can help take the pressure off as well. Why not get the kids to help you plan the week ahead?

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Tip #3: Stay in touch

Just because you can’t visit as many friends and relatives as much as you might like to doesn’t mean you can’t keep in touch. Everyone is in the same boat and regularly speaking to loved ones will remind you that you're not alone. Video calls are the next best thing to meeting up, so why not try that? Here’s a guide to setting up a video call if you’re not sure how.

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Tip #4: Keep a routine

Your daily life might be different for a while but it's still good to have a routine. Getting a good night’s sleep is important so going to bed and getting up around the same time each day can help your emotional wellbeing. Keeping meals to their normal time can also add some structure to your day and help you all avoid too much snacking. Making time to tidy up each day and to do other household chores will help while stopping housework getting on top of you.

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Tip #5: Turn off the news

It is important to keep up to date with what’s going on, but too much news could negatively affect your mental wellbeing. Stick to trusted sources like the Scottish Government or NHS Inform websites and maybe set a time during the day to check. Constant social media updates can feel overwhelming too, so maybe switch off in the evening and do things that relax you instead.

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Tip #6: Cut yourself some slack

Keeping the kids healthy is pressure enough, let alone having to entertain them all day while trying to support with schoolwork. Remember that you are only human and this is a difficult time for everyone. Take each day at a time and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

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Tip #7: Do the things you enjoy

Times might be difficult and it is normal to feel stressed or anxious but try and make the time to have as much fun as you can. This will all be over, and you can make memories you can cherish together for the years to come.

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Dealing with 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. Here are some tips for getting rid of them:

Tips for dealing with negative thoughts

Tip #1: Challenge your thoughts

Ask yourself what evidence there is for the thought. Is it based on fact? Would someone else agree with your thought? Would you even be having this thought if you weren’t feeling tired or stressed or upset?

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Tip #2: Look at it from another point of view

Try to catch yourself if you start ‘catastrophising’. This is when you turn a situation into a disaster without thinking about other outcomes. Often this can be quite irrational – but your brain doesn’t see it that way. By questioning the thought and looking at other, more positive outcomes, you can make it go away.  

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Tip #3: Practice looking for the positives

If you practice being positive, you’ll get better at it! Every day, try to write down three good things – these could be things that have made you smile, good things that have happened to you, things you’ve done well, things that you’re grateful for, or even nice stories you’ve seen online. 

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Tip #4: Think about the things you can control

Often, we worry about things that we can’t do anything about. At the moment you may feel that a lot of things are out of your control, such as changes to nursery and school provision or having to work from home. Instead of dwelling on this, try to think about the things you can control, like how much news you read, how often you contact friends and family and what you do to exercise and relax. This may help you feel calmer.

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Tip #5: Talk to a friend

Talking to someone else – a partner, family member, friend or someone from one of the support organisations listed below – can make all the difference. They can help you do all the things we’ve listed above: see the issue from a new angle, challenge it and turn it round to see the positive side.

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Tip #6: Take time out

If you’re worn out with overthinking everything, try to set any negative thoughts aside and tackle them later. You might like to try some mindfulness exercises to clear your head. There are lots of suggestions on the MIND website. Healthier Scotland's Clear Your Head website features more tips for taking some time out.

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Tip #7: Distract yourself

If you can’t stop worrying, try distracting your mind. Here are some ways you can do this:

  • Name everything you can see around you.
  • Count down backwards from 100 by 7.
  • Name all your family members, their ages and one of their favourite activities.
  • Name all the characters you can think of in your favourite film or TV programme.
  • Try to remember all the lyrics of a favourite song.
  • Read something backwards, letter by letter.
  • Draw an object or an animal in your head or in the air with your finger. Think about its shape as you do.
  • List 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
  • Try doing a puzzle like a crossword, Sudoko game or jigsaw.  

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Find support

It is important to remember that support is still available at this time. You can still contact your GP if you are finding things difficult at the moment (by phone if you think you may have symptoms of COVID-19). NHS Inform has resources to help you keep on top of your mental health, so does the SAMH website. You can also call Breathing Space, Scotland’s national helpline for those experiencing depression or anxiety on 0800 83 85 87. Alternately you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time to talk to them about how you are feeling.

You can find more advice on coping with parenting during the coronavirus outbreak at the Spark website.

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Being a parent is the best job in the world, but it can also be one of the most stressful. There will be days when it all feels a little too much. To help you manage the challenges ahead, Parent Club has some tips on coping with being a parent and keeping calm with your wee one so you can build a rewarding relationship together.

Gif of animated character getting frustrated

Gif of animated character getting frustrated