Beating single parent stress

frustrated parent

Single Parenting can involve lots of stress. We provide strategies to beat the Stress.

A couple of times last winter, I felt close to losing it. Worn out, constantly sick and bordering on crazy from lack of sleep.

Not sleeping properly was the killer. With a good night’s sleep , I can handle pretty much anything. But at some point in the winter, I started waking for no reason at around 4am, unable to go back to sleep.

My GP asked if I was stressed about anything – but nothing in particular sprung to mind.

But I’ve gradually realised that stress is indeed the problem. Constant, low-level stress. The kind that never really goes away, when everything from earning the money to fix the toilet and dealing with tantrums is your responsibility and yours alone. Being a perfectionist doesn’t help either.

A Swedish study in 2001 found that ‘the psychological stress, stigma and financial difficulties associated with lone parenthood have adverse health consequences.”

The report found single mothers are four times more likely to commit suicide than married mothers and 70 percent more likely to suffer premature death. How comforting.

The idea of looking after yourself and reducing stress is not new. But for single parents it can be hugely difficult.

“Sure, have a bubble bath and ignore the toddler screaming in the bedroom. Very relaxing.” says one mother on a solo-parenting website. “Read a book. When? While you’re stirring the spaghetti sauce?”

It can be done. But only if it becomes a priority. You need to realise you can’t afford not to look after your health – for your children’s sake at the very least.

Tauranga doctor Trish Zingel says constant, low-level stress affects the immune system and can be the underlying cause of a staggering list of health problems: headaches, fatigue, pelvic pain, mouth ulcers, frequent colds, hair and skin problems, and stomach upsets to name just a few.

“It’s very common for people to come in complaining of headaches and feeling very tired. Stress is nearly always the reason,” she says.

“The problem with single parents is they put themselves way down on their own priority lists and are often not consciously aware of how much stress they’re under.”

The answer lies in the basics. Strategies include: Eat right, exercise, get enough sleep, and (here’s a concept)…relax.

Diet

  • Work out some quick meals which are really healthy – things you can throw together at the last minute instead of toasted sandwiches. My standby is mashed potatoes, frozen peas and tinned fish. It’s not flash but it’s fast and healthy and my daughter loves it.
  • When you do cook, make large quantities and freeze it. Think about the week’s meals before grocery shopping. Sounds very old-fashioned but it’s cheaper and less stressful than constantly wondering what to have for dinner.
  • If you can afford it, buy a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement. Even the best diets can be mineral-deficient due to vegetables being grown in depleted soil.
  • Take extra vitamin C and B-complex to help the body cope with stress. Both are available on prescription.

Exercise

For two years, I told myself joining the gym was out of the question – too expensive and no creche. But no matter how much I promised myself I’d go walking or jogging, I never did.

So I saved up, waited for a special promotion, and organised people to look after the two-year-old. Between my mother, my neighbours and a home-based caregiver, it works.

Complicated? You bet. Impossible? No. And the benefits are as much mental as they are physical.

Sleep

Waking in the early hours of the morning is a classic sign of stress. One of the reasons for it is too much adrenaline in the body; but the good news is, you can ‘manage’ your own adrenaline levels.

Dr Archibald Hart, an American expert on adrenaline and stress, says the key is to choose to do things in a more relaxed way. For example, if you’re folding a huge pile of washing, don’t do it in a tense, irritated way. If tackling some paperwork is going to make you resentful and uptight, do it another time.

Take ‘mini-holidays’. Every day do something you find enjoyable. It might be chatting to a friend or listening to music for 15 minutes once the kids are in bed. Reducing day-time stress levels will help you sleep better – which is crucial for your physical and mental health.

And go to bed earlier, despite the overwhelming to-do list. Sleep is cheap medicine.

Lastly, try to live in the moment and not worry about tomorrow (anyone who knows me is hooting with laughter at this point as I’m a classic worry-wort).

And don’t fall into the trap of feeling sorry for yourself. As my married friends are always telling me, having a man in the family can be stressful too!

Sandi Paterson

Sandi Paterson is a freelance journalist based in Tauranga. She lives in a 1950's bach with her daughter, a grumpy cat, and a budgie who sits on her computer when she writes. This article appeared originally in Little Treasures magazine.

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