How can you boost your spirits and deal with mental health issues during the coldest, darkest time of the year?

Winter is a time of long dark nights, cold weather, and right now, isolation. It’s easy for things to feel grim during the winter, but especially when you have small children.

How does this affect parental mental health?

As parents, we’re naturally conditioned to think first and foremost of our children. Especially in difficult times and we can neglect our own mental health.

The lighter days and brighter weather of other months gives you more flexibility to go out, bump into other parents at the park, or the shops. To meet with friends and go for a walk. So, if you’re stuck in doors, how can you get a boost and feel more connected?  

The impact of parental mental health on parenting capacity

If your mental health is affecting you day to day, it can impact your relationships with your partner, or family members. It may also affect your ability to do all the many things that fall under your role as a parent.    

I know, this can be another thing to add to your worry box, especially if you’re feeling anxious already. But looking at it from a logical point of view, as a parent you have a lot on your plate! It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed at times. It’s also completely ok to seek help if you’re struggling. Just as you would with your physical health.

Is it just about educating parents on mental health?

We can all learn new ways to deal with our mental health. And just like our physical wellbeing, our mental health is in a constant state of flux. Although that’s to be expected, if things swing beyond this natural ebb and flow it can become difficult to cope.  

There are some ways we can manage our mental health ourselves, including:

Keeping in touch with other parents, through texts, Zoom calls, and even one-to-one meetings outdoors.
Keeping a journal and writing down your feelings. It’s as simple as recognising and labelling our emotions, without judgement. This is an important tool we can all use at any age. It also helps us to teach our children about their emotional wellbeing, by encouraging them to also identify and label their emotions.
Sticking to a routine and finding me-time. These things can be hard but take the pressure off. If your routine is out of whack, it’s ok. Just do what you can. If you can also carve out a few moments to yourself, do it. 15 minutes to close your eyes or practice mindfulness. 20 minutes for a walk alone. A bath, on your own, with the door locked when the kids are in bed. If it appeals and you can do it, take that opportunity.  

Finding mental health support for parents

Sometimes, even carving out time for self-care rituals doesn’t cut it. And if you’re in that place, that’s ok too. You can get support. Here are some options:

The NHS provides services such as counselling, CBT and guided self-help.
NCT’s Parents in Mind provide peer-to-peer support for parents with children up to two years after birth in certain areas in the UK.
If speaking to someone feels like a big first step, MindEd for Families is an online resource that gives you lots of practical parenting tips and ways to cope.
CALM has a free webchat service and a mental health helpline where you can share what’s on your mind in confidence.