From anxiety, depression and panic attacks…
…to fully diagnosed bi-polar disorder and suicide. We’ve had up-close experience of mental illness at The Grumpy Parent, whether in both of our families or friendship circles. Hence The Grumpy Parent – because sometimes life is a bit shit and it’s OK to admit that.
Depression is one of those things that affects everyone differently. For some it’s like walking through treacle, or trying to run at altitude without enough oxygen to make your body work. For others it’s mania. For everyone it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain: frightening and often debilitating. And it’s boring. It’s boring being depressed. No one likes being depressed. The other little known fact is that you can laugh and have depression. You can be funny and still have depression. It doesn’t make sense at all. On the surface many sufferers look like they have it all, too, “How can she be depressed, she’s the life and soul of the party?”. And one of the worst things to say to someone suffering from depression is, “What have you got to be depressed about?”. They’re already thinking that too, which only compounds the guilt and the never ending circle of darkness.
Anxiety is equally exhausting. It’s being in flight or fight mode. All the time. Without a break. It’s not just being worried about something – it takes over your life. It’s pure and simple fear. Anxiety can be just as hard to spot as depression. And it’s not always the standard worry-inducing stuff like mortgages, redundancy or secondary school applications. I tend to go off the wall on the real bat-shit crazy stuff like, “Are we going to get stuck in traffic on the motorway because it’s a bank holiday and there will be actual cars on the, erm, actual roads?”. And I have a habit of cancelling evenings with friends for the fear of said traffic (yup, top grade bat-shit crazy). A good dose of neurotic anxiety can be low-level relentless nausea or a full-blown panic attack. Sometimes it’s a lottery of which one your brain and body is going to treat you to. As is the case with depression, often there can be no rhyme or reason why the black dog comes for one of his shitty visits.
However, what we have learnt is that there are ways to put a leash on his collar. If you’re feeling low, swamped with life in general, the kids don’t give a toss and the dog just chewed the lenses out of your glasses (thanks Dog), then read on for our Grumpy Parent tips and how we get through the low times. Because, whether you’ve got a diagnosis or you’re just feeling grumpy, everyone needs to take care of their mental resilience.
Find a Fragrance
I know I’m going to get some stick for suggesting perfume can beat depression (I realise I’m a beauty editor optimist that thinks the answer to most of life’s big issues is a great lipstick and a swish of sparkly eyeshadow), but it can seriously help. Mood and smells are so entwined – think homely bread baking and coffee brewing smells, the comforting smell of laundry drying, the smile-boosting scent of freshly cut grass or spring rain… you get the picture. NEOM have an incredible fragrance, Energy Burst, £49, from their Scent To Boost Your Energy range. (They also have a Scent to Make You Happy range – I’m holding out for a perfume in that collection to sort out my mood swings). If I’m struggling to get out of the door, or even get out of bed and out of my pjs, a spritz of this is surprisingly effective. Fresh, sparkling grapefruit, lemon and rosemary are enough to put an extra little spring in your step that you might be needing on a low day.
Is it possible to be down when you’re in the sunshine outside? Well, yeah, actually if you’re in a dark place. But as a rule, everybody can feel their mood lift a little when you wake up and realise it’s sunny. And do the kids stop bickering when they get outside? Oh yes, it’s a definite cure-all for sibling fighting. Whatever you like doing, whether it’s a walk by the river, a run through a forest, a cycle ride in the woods, or just playing with the kids in the park, being outside and in nature is astonishingly good for the soul. Like gardening lifts the mood, there is something in the human psyche that sings when you’re outside. It is a scientifically proven phenomenon that you will, whether you like it or not, find your mood lifted by a walk in nature (and yes, we’ve got the stats). So, if you’re feeling low get outside with the kids, get muddy, get dirty, get hot and happy this summer with some wild time. The Wild Network is a wealth of information when it comes to helping families get outside and re-wilding childhood.
Depression can leave you in bed for hours (or days) longer than you should be, but without actually getting any useful energy-producing sleep. All the usual suspects stop you getting decent sleep – devices before bed, screen time late in the evening, caffeine and so on, but actually a lot of us just need to have a word with ourselves and get to bed earlier. One of our top tips is to get ready for bed with the kids, put them to bed and then hit the sack yourself. Even if you can only manage this twice a week, you’ll feel re-charged and more equipped to tackle life the next day. For those days when you really just can’t handle it anymore, we highly recommend full-on freaky parenting – just admit defeat and go to bed before the kids. Try it, it’s well worth it just for the look on their faces. Natalie swears by it. And she loves a good swear 🙂
The flicker of a candle is relaxing in itself, and the benefits of a therapeutic candle can’t be underestimated. We use the Sevenseventeen candles – designed for burnt out mothers – by South coast-based duo Naomi Reilly and Sarah Slade. Ex-magazine journalists with five young kids between them, they’ve produced affordable candles, hand-poured in England, with natural plant-based waxes, from only £14. Depending on your need, choose from lavender scented And Breathe, unwind at the end of a long day with Off Duty with Lime, Basil and Mandarin, find some peace with the scent of Fresh Linen, or go floral with moroccan rose in Hello Calm. And from every candle sold, £1 is donated to the PANDAS Foundation for pre and post-natal depression advice and support. Double win in our books.
Make a date with exercise
Before the invention of labour-saving devices like fridge freezers, washing machines, hoovers and dishwashers, parents had to actually get off their arses and do a daily shop, wash clothes by hand, sweep carpets and do real washing-up, rather then messing around on Facebook and then going to the gym (a-hem). For generations our bodies and minds were exercised and kept busy just by daily living, keeping the house and family sorted, plus of course very few of our grandparents had cars – they walked everywhere. Now we walk so little we have to come up with ways to exercise and stay mentally strong. Ready for another science bit? Endorphins, produced by exercise, are hormones that interact with the opioid receptors in our brains. That means they act like real actual drugs and make us high. Fact. So, get up, get out and do something. The best way to do this (because let’s face it, you don’t want to do much when you feel like shit), is to ask a friend for help. It’s harder to let someone else down than yourself. It doesn’t have to cost anything, either. Running and dog walking with friends are the go-to boosters here at The Grumpy Parent. So plan a walk, a run, or outdoor swimming, which is also scientifically proven to ease depression. For running – the Couch to 5K is a great place to start and This Mum Runs is also excellent.
It’s a Dog’s Life
Having recently bowed to family pressure and relentless puppy-requesting, An adorable puppy joined our home last summer. I didn’t even have a goldfish growing up, so was completely unprepared for how much effect a dog can have on the mental health and wellbeing in the family. It’s well known that a dog will help physical health by increasing your exercise and getting you outside, but not so well known is that they can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Studies show that dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression, have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and playing with your pup can increase serotonin and dopamine – calming and relaxing hormones. And not forgetting it does this for the kids and the other half, too. Result. If you can’t have a dog you could join a dog walking, sitting or holiday care website like Borrow My Doggy.
Eat Yourself Happy
No one feels good on rubbish food and booze. That’s a lie. Everyone feels good on rubbish food and booze. But only for a few hours and THEN no one feels good on anything… But we all know it’s easier and quicker not to cook from scratch and grab a takeaway or something from the freezer. Followed by a wind-down glass of wine. Upping your plant-based foods requires some planning and thought – which quite frankly can be a pain. And those easy to reach for foods like refined sugar, refined carbs, processed food, high salt foods, caffeine and alcohol should all be reduced if you’re prone to low moods. And there’s lots you can do to improve your mood including increasing Omega-3 fats found in oily fish sardines, salmon, mackerel trout fresh tuna and increasing B vitamins found in pecans, almonds, chicken, eggs, wholewheat, seafood, bananas, spinach and potato. Research has also shown that including the following foods in your daily diet, also helps boost your mood: dark leafy greens, walnuts, tomatoes, avocados, berries, mushrooms, onions, beans, apples and seeds (particularly hemp, flax and chia seeds). And water. Drink lots. Every day. No exceptions.
BFF (I realise, we’re not nine, but…)
It’s an annoying thing that nine year olds say to their friends, but actually, even as adults, knowing someone has your back, 100% of the time, is ace. Find that person you connect with and parenting suddenly doesn’t seem so daunting and overwhelming. Find that person you can have proper decent belly-laughs with and you may find you can cope better with feeling low. Find that person and get her over as often as possible when life is getting on top of you. Share pick-ups, drop-offs, play dates, husband dates, go out, stay in, drink coffee and share the daily grind of kids meals together – it’s amazing what my kids will eat when my BFF has cooked it (little darlings). Sharing parenting is a much easier way to raise your kids because you can laugh together (even with mild hysteria) when they’re being complete arseholes. And the best bit? Laughing reduces the stress hormone cortisol, while the brain is busy releasing endorphins. Science. Again.
If you are suffering try and find or plan something each day that gives you a glimmer of happiness. Sometimes you have to work really hard at allowing yourself to feel more positive. Frequently you have to combine all of these tactics. And if you still can’t lift it, then it might be time to get extra help. Don’t listen to Richard Ashcroft: the drugs DO work. We promise.
If you think someone close to you might be suffering with depression or anxiety, these are some great resources you could take a look at. And don’t be afraid to talk to them. It might not look like you’re helping, but you will be.