Anxiety is one of the most common mental conditions affecting people across the globe yet without a doubt, specific situations can make anxiety a bigger issue for some, rather than hours. These can include a lack of available support from friends, family or a partner. In fact, one recent study found that the stress of bringing up children alone can result in poorer health later in life. The research, carried out by scientists at Harvard University and published in the Journal of Epidemiology, analyzed the responses of over 25,000 women from various countries, finding that the risk was greatest for those living in England, the United States, Denmark and Sweden. Of course, men who are raising children alone face the same stress factors, so it is vital to keep stress and anxiety at bay as much as possible through positive lifestyle choices. Some of the most successfully proven ways to keep anxiety at bay as a single parent include:
- Understanding What Anxiety is: When we are in the throes of an anxiety or panic attack, it can seem as though we cannot breathe, we are about to faint, or we are going to have a heart attack. At this precise moment, our body goes into full ‘fight or flight’ mode: stress hormones rush through our system and we begin to take in too many short breaths, flooding our system with oxygen and suffering from a range of symptoms which include muscle pain, a rapid heart rate, etc. For some people, simply knowing the underlying facts behind a panic attack, can help them calm down. They know, for instance, that deep breathing is one guaranteed way to lower the heart rate, or that when hyperventilating, breathing into a paper bag will help bring oxygen levels to normal. The first step towards stopping debilitating panic attacks, is knowing that despite their seemingly severe symptoms, ‘this too shall pass’ and ultimately, an anxiety attack is your mind tricking you into thinking you are actually in danger when you are not.
- Taking up Yoga or Mindful Meditation: Far from a hippy pastime, yoga and mindful meditation have been officially recognized in numerous recent studies, owing to their ability to reduce stress hormone levels. Yoga is now used in a variety of settings, including eating disorder centers, drug rehabilitation centers and centers for the elderly. Its power is believed to arise from a combination of pranayamic (or deep) breathing, the concentration involved in performing various poses, and the strong mindfulness component of the activity.
Mindfulness meditation, meanwhile, is considered so successful at battling stress because it encourages us to accept difficult/sad/stressful thoughts and emotions without trying to inhibit, conquer or evade them. We acknowledge these thoughts and feelings, and allow them to come and go, like waves, slowly observing them as they change and eventually disappear. When we are calmer, we look into these thoughts and emotions and find a positive way to respond to them.
- Time Spent in Nature: We all tend to use a little more technology than we should these days – children as well as adults, it seems, are glued to their screens (tablets, phones or television sets) for hours daily, ignoring our vital relationship with nature. Experts say that by distancing ourselves form nature, we open ourselves up to a host of health conditions (both physical and mental), including obesity, Type II diabetes, difficulties with concentration, etc. Studies have shown that Nature has a power effect, improving performance both in the workplace and at school, and lowering levels of stress hormones.
The next time a bit of bonding with your child or children is the order of the day, make it a point to head for a beautiful natural area. Scientists say that as is the case with yoga, one of the reasons nature has such a powerful effect on us, is that it gently cajoles us into a mindful state. Teach children to really enjoy ‘the here and now’ of their experience in nature by pointing out the sights, sounds and textures they encounter in the trees, leaves and wildlife.
- Manage Time Optimally: There are wealth of excellent reads, both for purchase and free (online), which will help you be more productive than you ever imagined. It all has to do with time management – organizing yourself well so that you can be more productive at work and happier at home. Sometimes, all it takes are just a few small changes. It is also important to stop trying to attain impossible standards of perfection and to focus instead on making a few important changes. Honing your time management skills is highly recommended if you are a working single parent.
This article was contributed Single Parent Advocate, and its community and supporters by Helen Maxwell.