Dealing With Depression When You’re Parenting Alone

Today, I want to address something that I think a lot of people struggle with on some level: Depression.

Maybe it’s situational, maybe it’s hormone-related, maybe it’s something you struggle with all the time, but at one point or another, it hits everyone.

I personally struggle with it a lot, typically every few months.

It starts with little stresses getting under my skin, especially stress about money.  Then life starts getting overwhelming, and, even though I’m a fairly optimistic person, I just feel like I slow down.  Everything feels a little harder to do, and all the things I usually like doing seem far less interesting.

I reach out to friends less.  I watch TV more.  I spend less time playing with my son because I just feel too tired.  I troll social media constantly looking for something, anything, that will give me a little excitement or hope.  Of course, those things just don’t work, and I wind up spiraling down, and at some point, I just feel like I don’t recognize myself.

It comes on so gradually that sometimes I don’t even realize it until I’m severely depressed.

Sound familiar?  Well, just know you’re not alone.

The thing I want to address about this is how hard it is to parent by yourself when you’re depressed.  When your husband is a police officer, you’re bound to spend a lot of time being a solo parent.  Even if you have friends or family around, the fact of the matter is, you’re in charge, and when you’re depressed, that can feel absolutely terrifying.

I realize that being married to a police officer is not quite the same as being a single parent, and doesn’t even really compare to families where one parent is deployed overseas.  But it’s hard just the same, because, as involved as my husband would like to be, there are many, many days that he leaves before our son wakes up for the day and gets back home after he’s already gone to bed.  Most of the time, I’m on my own with the little one.

If depression is something you struggle with, especially as a solo parent, I have a few tips to help out because I’ve been there.

But, I want to start out by saying that if you’re having thoughts of suicide, PLEASE don’t try to deal with things on your own! If you’ve hit that point, please reach out.  You can call the suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433 to speak to someone, or, if you prefer, they now have a text line.  You are loved and needed.  There is hope!

I also want to mention that I am NOT a healthcare professional, and I am not professionally trained in mental health matters.  The following is based on my experiences alone and should be taken as such.

Limit your time on social media.

This is my number one tip if you’re feeling depressed.  Social media is the fastest way to make you feel lonely and unworthy if you’re already not feeling 100%.

For one thing, it’s a place where everyone shares their highlights.  When you’re feeling depressed, it’s really easy to forget that and think that everyone else is happier/more successful/better than you because of what they post.  Even when you’re in a good state of mind, that’s an easy trap to get stuck in, but when you’re already in a bad state of mind, it’s even more likely.

There’s also a lot of bad news on Facebook, especially with the new “trending topics” bar.  Sometimes I get sucked into a trending topic and it leaves me feeling really frustrated or bummed out.

Take social media apps off your phone, or put them in a hard-to-get-to folder and save it only for naptime or after the kids go to bed.

The other plus side of doing this is that if you only access social media once a day, you’ll quickly realize how uninteresting it really is, and how few notifications of interest you actually receive in a day.

If you have a hard time with this, there are apps to keep you accountable for the time you spend on your phone.  One I’ve tried was Moment, and I really liked it.  It tracks your phone usage to give you a clear idea of your usage, as well as how many times you check your phone, and you can set daily limits to help yourself out.

Reach out.

So I know I just talked about staying off social media/reducing time on your phone, but there’s an exception here if you can use it wisely.

When you’re feeling depressed, it’s sometimes really helpful to just call someone.  Even if you don’t talk about how you’re feeling and just chit-chat, it helps you get outside yourself.

I personally tend to catastrophize situations in my life.  I like to think it comes from having a really good imagination, but, whatever the reason, it’s not the best skill.  I’m really good at thinking of the worst possible scenario and convincing myself it’s going to happen.

If I reach out and talk to someone else, it seems to quiet that urge a little and help me realize that there’s more going on outside myself.

If you have friends in your area, try to plan a playdate.  That way, you can spend some time with a friend while your kids are busy with theirs.  It gives you a nice “break”, and helps give you perspective.

Also, if you can find a friend to take over for an hour or two so you can be out and about by yourself, do it! You can always swap babysitting if need be.

Get outside.

There’s nothing like natural sunlight to dispel the blues.

Whenever possible, get outside and enjoy nature.  It can be so soothing, even if the sounds of nature are interrupted by “Mom! Mommy! Mommy!” every so often.

This is, of course, easier in the summer, but it can be done in the winter, too.  Just bundle up and go for a walk, or just sit and watch your kids play in the snow while you relax with a cup of hot chocolate.

Exercise.

I’ve heard it said that exercise is the cheapest, most underutilized antidepressant.  I think there’s a lot of truth to this, because whenever I go for a run, I come back feeling so much better.  I know there’s science behind it (that I should know, since I was a psych major), but I’ve forgotten it.

Point is, it totally works.

But I know! I hear you! When you’re feeling depressed, this is one of the last things you feel like doing.  But part of dealing with depression is not acting like you’re depressed.

There’s something to be said for the phrase, fake it ’til you make it.

You don’t have to feel like exercising.  What you do have to do is know that it will help, put on some shorts and shoes, and go out and exercise anyway.

If you need extra motivation, I’ve personally been having a freaking blast playing Zombies Run.  It’s totally helped the funk I’ve been in the past few days, because A. exercise, B. it’s just a super fun game.  The only downside I’ve found is that I tried to play it too much and got shin splints.

I actually have a whole post about how to stay fit with a baby, and that all applies here, too.  If you’re largely a solo parent and your husband has a weird schedule, it’s a lot harder to fit exercise in when you’re alone.  If you’re flexible about when you exercise and your husband can take over for a while, let him, and you take a break to take care of yourself.

Choose media wisely.

If you’re feeling sad, try to choose uplifting music and movies, not ones that bring you down.

For instance, even though I love watching Law and Order: SVU, I know that when I start getting disinterested in my normal activities, I need to give it a rest and put on a few episodes of Friends or Gilmore Girls.  It goes right along with my tendency to catastrophize: I need things around me that remind me that life isn’t so bad.

Of course, this mostly applies during naptime, since most kid’s shows are going to be pretty lighthearted anyway 🙂

Have realistic expectations of yourself.

Don’t think you can (or should) be Super Mom.  Just do what you can and let the rest go.

Again, I know this is easier said than done, but it’s largely a matter of practice.

So what if you didn’t find stimulating Pinterest-worthy activities for your kids today? So what if everyone had peanut butter and jelly for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? So what if you watched Daniel Tiger all day long? So what if the dishes or the laundry is behind because you weren’t feeling up to doing them?

Remember that there’s always tomorrow.  Accept that you’re doing the best you can.  If you want to do better, choose one thing to improve upon, but don’t expect yourself to be perfect.

Besides, your kids don’t need a perfect mom.  They need you, exactly as you are.  Because they’re imperfect too.  What better way to set an example than to accept yourself as the flawed, wonderful person you are?

Get ready for the day.

It’s easy to get in the habit of being in pajamas all day when you’re a stay at home mom, but it’s amazing what a difference it makes to change out of them.

Even if you don’t feel like wearing makeup (I typically don’t), just put on some real clothes.  Even if those “real clothes” are just a sweatshirt and leggings.  Then brush your hair, brush your teeth, and get ready for the day.  If you can swing a shower, by all means, do it.

All of these things will help you get out of a funk, even if you don’t leave the house at all.

Don’t eat crap.

When I don’t feel good, I tend to turn to junk food for comfort.  I won’t lie: this is occasionally helpful.  But for the most part, eating like crap makes me feel even worse.

If you’re struggling with depression, try to focus on eating good food.

I don’t mean you need to spend a ton of time preparing fancy meals. Just focus on good stuff, like fruits, veggies if you can handle it, milk, whole grains, etc.  Don’t let your diet consist mainly of cookies, cake, or candy, or fast food.  It’ll make you feel so much worse!

Again, once in a while is totally fine.  If it would make you happier to avoid cooking for a night, by all means, get that Happy Meal! Heaven knows I’ve done it. Just don’t let it be an all the time thing.

This has the added bonus of saving money, which will hopefully make you less stressed, as well.  Win-win!

Try to make other people happy.

One of the best ways to improve your mood is to do something to improve someone else’s.

It doesn’t have to be anything big, either!  Even just sending a card to someone letting them know you’re thinking about them can be huge!  You could also mow your neighbor’s lawn, or offer to babysit for someone else who could use a break. Just pick something!

Or you can even work on making those in your household happier.  Treat your kids to something special, like chocolate milk, or a crazy straw, or walk to the store and split a donut or ice cream, just for fun.  Surprise your husband with something he’s wanted for a while, or even just a small treat like a soda.

If you need more ideas, I wrote about this topic on My Joy-Filled Life a few months back: 50+ Service Ideas.

One way this helps me is that, when I get depressed, I feel incredibly unlikeable.  I tend to think nobody likes me, everyone just tolerates me, and they’re all probably thinking nasty things behind my back.  Maybe it’s just depression talking, maybe it’s because I was bullied a lot in middle school, who knows.

But what I do know is that I feel a lot more likeable when I do likeable things. Funny how that works!

 

Anyway, I’m hoping none of you are going through a season like this now. If you are, I want you to remember that it’s only that: a season.  And by nature, seasons change.  A more fruitful, happy season is just around the corner, I know it.

Possibly more importantly, I also want you to remember that you’re absolutely not alone.

What’s the best way you’ve found to deal with depression?

Depression is something I really struggle with, and since it's usually just me at home, it's even harder to come back from. I love these tips, and I'm so glad she wrote on this topic... because I bet there are more people struggling with it than we realize <3

About The Author

Leah

I’m a twenty-something LEO wife and stay-at-home mom to a one-year-old little boy. I enjoy writing, reading, taking my son for walks and runs in the stroller, and crafting. My goal is for Love and Blues to be a resource for first responders and their families. I write about marriage and family topics, as well as about the quirks that come with being married to a man in law enforcement, firefighting, or emergency medical services.