I‘ve been combatting depression and anxiety for most of my life. But once I became a mom, I felt the strain of those issues more intensely. At first, I was overwhelmed, sleepless, and constantly fatigued by the toll my mental health was taking on me, coupled with the constant demands of new motherhood. It took me years to figure out what I really needed during times of struggle—which, often, was to ask for help.
Fast-forward 12 years, and I’m now a single mom of two. I’ve had to adjust how I care for myself once again. While I’m only a full-time parent 50 percent of the time, that time is non-negotiable. There’s no one to step in and help me out, let me run to the gym, or even pick up some grocery items for me in a pinch.
Truthfully, I enjoy being a single mother. I am one by choice. But I doubt I’d have such warm feelings about this path if I didn’t tune into my mental health regularly. I prioritize my mental health over just about everything, and that means, I’m well taken care of, and that my kids are, too. I know it sets a positive example of self-care and understanding my emotional needs—one that I hope I’m passing along.
Here are six things I do to support my mental health as a single mom every single day:
1. I make sure to exercise
Most of us are aware that exercise is good for your body. But more than the physical benefits, exercise is crucial for me to feel my best emotionally. While I might miss a day or two a month (typically due to PMS), I get my sweat on daily to promote feel-good chemicals like serotonin. It also gives me more energy, and helps me sleep better.
2. I get outside
Leaving my house, whether it’s for a walk with the dog or just a dose of vitamin D in the backyard, is a must. Not only is the fresh air, breeze on my face, and break from screens an instant reset, but it’s also a good way to prioritize slowing down. It reminds me that I can step away from anything that is stressing me out, and simply take a break. Sometimes, it’s a break from work, the dogs, or the visual of the dishes in the sink. Other times, it’s a break from my kids, and that’s totally okay.
As a single mom, there is no shortage of over-stimulation in my world. Being out of my house simply helps to shake up the monotony of my day and not allow it to consume me.
3. I go to bed early
In a past life, I used to stay up late and get up whenever I wanted. Even in the early years of parenting, I would stay up until midnight or later to get my “me time.” Now, I prioritize “me time” throughout the day, so I don’t need late night binge-watching, reading, or just being alone with my thoughts, in order to get it.
My kids think I’m a little ridiculous (especially my teenager, who puts herself to bed), but I’m typically in bed by 9 o’clock every night. I’ve realized how deeply important sleep is, and that I need at least seven hours of it to feel good.
4. I limit my alcohol intake
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good margarita, beer, or glass of wine. But while I used to be a nightly drinker, now I limit my alcohol intake to a couple of drinks a week. For starters, alcohol impacts my ability to sleep through the night, so I feel less rested the following day, even after just two drinks.
But I also know that drinking nightly makes my body produce more cortisol (aka the stress hormone). So, that feeling of really needing a drink around 5 p.m. every night is more than just wanting to relax because you had a stressful day—those nightly cravings are alcohol dependence.
These days, I enjoy an occasional drink, but I know that alcohol dependence doesn’t help my mental health—it makes the issues I already struggle with feel that much more consuming.
5. I prescribe myself socialization
There are often periods of time when I rarely see friends. It happens simply because I’m a mom who is devoted to my kids for half of the week, my job for the working hours of the day, and myself for the rest.
But I always notice that when it’s been a while since I’ve seen friends, or even talked on the phone, I start to feel worse. I become a little more lonely and distant, and it almost becomes harder to get out of my rut and make plans. That’s why I make sure to see friends with some regularity. It may not happen every single week, but even when I’m not feeling up to it, I’ll set plans to have dinner, a drink, or just a quick cup of coffee.
While it’s one of the easiest things to let slip right on by, I’ve come to learn that just a little bit of socialization works wonders for my mood. After connecting with friends, I genuinely feel a little lighter. And it’s not just in the short-term. Renewing my bond with a friend can keep me feeling good for a few days, and ensure I’m more willing to reconnect again soon.
6. I talk openly about my mental health with my kids
A lot of parents get uncomfortable when talking to their kids about mental health. That’s totally understandable, but for me, it’s a must.
First, I don’t want them to feel like it’s their fault if I’m having an off day. Especially as a single mom who doesn’t have a backup, I might need to take a break and step away from my kids if I’m feeling overwhelmed, or down, and I need them to know that it’s not because of anything they did. I can say “I’m having some anxiety” and my kids know what that means.
But I also want my kids to know that if they are struggling with their own mental health, that they can be open with me about it. My hope is that they’ll have the language, and also the bravery to share what’s going on inside because that example has been set for them for their entire lives.