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Parenthood often means that we find ourselves putting everyone else first. When you’re so busy caring for other people, it’s all too easy to put off asking for help, or even recognising that you could be feeling better. In some cases we don’t even do the things we know will make us feel better because we tell ourselves we don’t deserve it. But illustrator Stacie Swift is a big believer in creating a mental health toolkit to help you replenish your resources.

Being a parent is a wild ride. There are times when we find things tough. Our mental health can go up and down – and we don’t necessarily need to have a diagnosis for this. In many cases it’s just life. But talking about it and finding ways to cope with those peaks and troughs is crucial for being the best parents we can be. For Stacie, there’s a corner of the internet where she has created a community of self-care, self-compassion and self-kindness. On Asking For a Friend, she shared some of her top tips for looking after yourself.

 

1. Find something in your day that is just for you

Rule number one. Take time out for yourself. It’s always the first thing to slip, but it’s crucial when it comes to building that mental health toolkit. Stacie explains: “I’m always trying to do things for other people and finding a little pocket of time just to sit down with a cup of coffee or read a bit of something that I wanted to read or take some time out to sit in my studio for 20 minutes – that that really helps. It’s just refuelling.”

 

2. Find ways to ground yourself

When anxiety hits, or when we’re caught up in moments of feeling like a shouty parent, it’s all too easy to forget ourselves. And when we’re parents, it’s easy to lose your own identity. But grounding yourself back in who you are is key to helping you regain a bit of clarity – whether physically, mentally or emotionally.

“I remember having a conversation with my counsellor and saying I needed to reclaim my bedroom a little bit because we just moved my youngest daughter into her own room but there were still toys everywhere. There was no space in our house that was mine, or you know mine and my husband’s. But just having something in the day or somewhere in your house that is a little retreat or something that you can ground yourself with is so important.”

Whether it’s an hour to yourself to get your hair done, or getting out of the house to go for a run, finding ways to reconnect with yourself and ground yourself outside of who you are as a parent means you can reconnect with that role when you get back to it. Even if it’s just sitting down with a coffee and taking some big deep breaths, that can be enough.

 

3. Find space to shine

We’ve all seen the memes about never letting anything dull your sparkle and as trite as it might seem, when you’re in the depths of parenthood, it can be easy for it to dim. But it’s more important than ever to let it dazzle. The brutal truth is when you’re caring for a tiny human, your you-ness can get lost because you have to worry about so many other people. So how do you do it when you’re time poor and energy deprived? It’s about making it a priority and being willing to try multiple things until you find your stride.

It might be that you find it in a group, or it might be that you find it alone. Perhaps it’s in arts and crafts, maybe it’s in joining a local acapella group to sing. For Stacie, she was surprised to rediscover her shine as part of the PTA group. Don’t be afraid to try different things to see what works for you. These little bits of self-care a crucial for filling up your mental health toolkit.

 

4. Give journalling a go

Instagram has become a bit of a journalling spot for Stacie. She sees it as a place to share her thoughts and feelings but just having a somewhere to write things with no judgement can be really helpful to process your thoughts and feelings. It can help you work out why you might be feeling a certain way and getting things out of your head and onto paper is a really useful exercise in making sense of a messy mind.

Stacie explains: “I’ve spoken about doing like a brain dump where you put everything in your head on paper. It can be everything from you know ‘must remember the kids pack lunch tomorrow’ to this really awful thing that’s making me feel very anxious. Sorting through that and working out which bits actually can just be shelved and put to one side to the things that you do have control over changing and the things that maybe you need some help with and categorising all those things that are sort of swirling around all of our heads is really helpful.”

Looking for journal prompts? Check out Stacie’s Positively Awesome Journal

 

5. Remember things don’t always go to plan – and that’s OK

In the words of Ronan Keating (Jack from Love Island’s Dad), life is a rollercoaster and you’ve just gotta ride it. We don’t *think* he was writing this about parenthood but he really could have been. When it comes to a mental health toolkit, this is a key mantra we add to it. Sometimes the juggle feels relatively under control and other times it can feel like we’re drowning under it. And those two things can literally happen seconds apart.

But if we take the pressure off by reminding ourselves we don’t have to be perfect, that life isn’t always linear, it can do wonders for our hearts and minds.

 

6. Let go of guilt as much as you can

Some people think you sign up for guilt as part of the parenting package but we’re here to call time on that. Parental guilt exacerbates the risk of parental burnout which leads to poor parental mental health. If we can let go of guilt as much as possible (we’re not asking you to work miracles), we’ll be able to be kinder to ourselves and be better parents to our kids as a result.

For Stacie, it’s about getting better at saying she needs time and not feeling guilty about it. She explains: “It’s that constant cycle of knowing that I am worthy of having the time and the space that I need that means that I can be the better parent and juggle everything a little bit easier if I’m communicating that. If we don’t take that time, we’re so close to overwhelm continuously, it’s like a bubbling pot. One little extra bit can tip you to full boiling point.”

 

7. Use the language that works for you

Language is really important and some of the words we use around mental health might not sit right with you. You don’t have to say you’re feeling ‘depressed’ or ‘anxious’. Maybe it feels better to say you’re feeling a bit wobbly, or a bit nervous. You might say not every day is a great day. This language works really well for talking to your kids about mental health too – and it’ll start to give them a language to explore how they’re feeling.

“I think just explaining that you know we all have things that trouble us and then that gives her the language as well to explain to me “oh mummy I’m feeling a bit wobbly, can you hold my hand when we go into the party? Cos I feel a bit nervous”, says Stacie.

 

8. Recognise if something feels triggering

On Asking for a Friend, we’ve been keen to open questions up to the Happy Mum Happy Baby community and when someone asked if it was normal to get irritable around their toddler, Stacie agreed that it absolutely was. But she added that if there’s something that’s triggering you or you’re seeing a behaviour that you don’t like, then maybe it’s worth considering how you respond to something.

Stacie told Gi: “We had it in our house the other day where I felt like we were just shouting and no one was actually listening. We were just shouting at each other and so my husband and I had this big kind of ‘oh my goodness, this isn’t the parenting we want to do. We don’t want to just constantly feel like we’re battling with our children’. So we looked on the internet for ideas of ways that we could solve this issue.”

“And it was actually just simple things like not shouting around the corner that it’s dinner time but going into their room and saying it’s dinner time. I shout because I’m doing 15 things at once but actually then I’ve already raised the level of the house and I start the shouting. So I think finding alternatives even if that is just a Google and seeing if there’s anything you can implement into your day to make it a nicer experience.”

 

For more tips from Stacie on the things you should add to your mental health toolkit, check out the full chat on Asking for a Friend below or listen to it wherever you usually get your podcasts.

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