Anna Dusseau | 13th April 2020
Mental health matters. Full stop. But where are we now with supporting families struggling in the grip of global crisis? Back in October 2019, the Every Mind Matters campaign amassed rapid public support with its 5-step mental health personalised plan, launched in conjunction with the NHS and a whole host of famous names, from Nadiya Hussain to Prince Harry. The initiative has, in fact, been updated to account for the mental health challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis (click here to check it out) but that’s just a drop in the ocean compared to the scale of problems faced by parents suddenly thrown into semi-permanent isolation, along with the added pressure of working from home and managing home education. And that’s just the start. According to a recent Guardian article, hundreds of mental health patients have been discharged from hospitals in order to make room for the surge of COVID-19 patients in critical conditions. Terrible decisions to make and we are nowhere near even beginning to compute the fallout of all this. Yes, the situation is complex and rapidly evolving – but – with a little organisation and understanding of how to manage our own mental health in the midst of this pandemic, we can do our bit to keep the metaphorical ship steady at home. So, if you’re feeling frazzled, here are my personal lifestyle tips for how to take proper care of yourself as a full-time homechooling parent. You’re. Welcome. Babe.
Rocket fuel for busy parents. Sad though it sounds, my days of takeaway pizza and cheeky paddling pool Peronis are done and dusted. Nowadays, as a busy homeschooler and freelance writer, I manage my diet the same way an athlete might prepare for a competition. It’s all about feeling good and being on fleek (Wowza! Urban dictionary 2003? Hands up who feels old now?) for the day ahead. So, I recommend getting started at breakfast with something not too heavy but that will give you sustainable energy for the morning. Porridge, yoghurt and brazil nuts, wholegrain toast, or eggs and grilled tomatoes are favourite choices in our house, because the kids love it, too. (Okay, fine, let’s go with ‘tolerate’. You can’t have Coco Pops every day.) Don’t over-complicate your life. If something simple works for you (I did about a year on raw oats, two spoons of cocoa powder and grated ginger to start the day) then just roll with it. Lunchtime again should be healthy and good for slow-release energy. I’ll often make a ratatouille or roasted vegetables with mixed beans, which we eat with lentils, oatcakes, or fried potatoes. Yep, it’s starchy but my personal feeling is that I’ve got no time for the raw food or cabbage soup diet when I’m homeschooling 3 small children. Here’s the trick, though. After 4pm is when you can start to tweak your lifestyle to ensure that you are full of energy and not just overloading on refined carbs and junk food to sustain energy levels. Did you know that the fabulous Catherine Zita Jones swears by no carbs after lunch? Well, this is sort of my approach, too. I always eat late with teenwolf and it’s usually something lighter at this point, like a roast veg salad with feta or celery sticks with a big bowl of homemade hummus. So, to keep yourself ticking over between lunch and dinner, I recommend tucking into a serious dose of nuts (Oh, honestly, some of you! Can you keep it clean for one second?) around late afternoon. Peanut butter is my snack of choice and I eat several big spoonfuls with a peppermint tea or coffee around 4/5ish which turbo charges me for the rest of the day. Cashew nut butter is also really good, or just a handful of raw walnuts or brazil nuts. Alternatively, dark chocolate (85% or higher) gives a serious kick of energy and is a healthy, brain-boosting snack to reach for. Avoid refined sugar as much as possible, load up on vegetables and sail effortlessly through the day without feeling tired or snappy. Go on; just try it.
Background music and bangers. We listen to music almost constantly in our house and I suggest using this as a form of music therapy, by which I mean selecting a soundtrack which is mindfully chosen to create the right atmosphere. Sunday brunch, for example, needs a bit of Frank Sinatra, or else chilled house such as Stéphane Pompougnac’s Hotel Costes (we love Volume 8, but they are all good). For getting rid of excess energy, it needs to be a hit that gets you all singing or dancing along. What are you in to? In our house, nobody can resist the butt-shaking tug of Christine and The Queens’ Tilted (French version, bien sur) and I’ve now given up arguing about Justin Bieber and am happy to sing along to Yummy while doing the washing up because, as my grandmother used to say, it’s better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick. But we are up for anything, musically. We have entire days devoted to Queen, or The Beatles, or Paolo Nutini (I can’t even begin to tell you how much this winds teenwolf up..) but equally, for some concentrated activities such as baking, colouring, craft or a puzzle, it’s got to be a bit of Classic FM, Buena Vista Social Club or Ben Harper. Music is personal, so it’s all about what feels right for your family, but my advice is to use your music choices as a way of helping the day to flow. Introduce the kids to new music, or print off the lyrics to their favourite song and I swear you’ll get a better reaction than trying to herd them through another gripping installment of Biff, Chip and Kipper. We sometimes have nostalgia sessions, where we all lie on the sofa listening to The Kooks or Aretha Franklin or Nikki Minaj (Nikki! What happened? Where did you go? I miss you!) So, whether it’s Beethoven or Beach Boys, switch the vibe to ‘loving it’ in your house and be sure to play some music today.
Sanity and setting goals. Just because we are all on house arrest, doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on what matters in life. I know homeschooling and working from home is a tough call, but I find that creating daily targets for myself actually make me more productive and focused, rather than distracting me. So, I force myself to do a short exercise video every morning which is, on ambitious days, yoga with Adrienne, but more often the lovely Joe Wickes 5 minute workout (both on YouTube) which the kids enjoy too. My second target of the day, is to ensure that I read at least one article or chapter of my book. This is an important habit for any writer to maintain, but the real gift here is that, by modelling reading, you will often find that your kiddos will settle to a quiet activity of their own accord which feels good for everyone. Don’t be tempted to commentate on your boisterous 3 year old settling to a bit of quiet drawing; just notice it, smother the smile of surprise, and continue with your article. Finally, I aim to have the children in bed on time every evening (by which I mean not later than 8pm). This wasn’t as important before COVID-19 but these days, I am finding there’s zero break and I actually need them all in bed at the end of the day so that I can catch up on some work, take a shower, have a glass of wine and feel human for the next day. But it’s whatever works for you. One of my homeschooling besties (in fact, we are about to release a weekly homeschool podcast together..say whaaaat? Watch this space; it’s going to be awesome) sets her alarm for 5am every day in order to get dressed, have a coffee and clear work emails before the kids are even up and, I must admit, she’s one of the most calm and focused parents I hang out with. Maybe I should take some notes? More than this, though, now is the time to set long term goals, whether that involves travel, learning a new language, home development, or getting that brilliant business idea up and running. Mental motivation – both short term and long term – is as energising as a double espresso and has a knock-on effect within the family as a whole. Don’t sweat it. Just go for it.
With that said, I can just now hear my wolf pack are awake and off to an irritable start. Too much chocolate? Mini Mariah is shouting about something already and it sounds like the boys are testing how high the bouncy ball will go, again. Eek! Time for some soothing soul music and a wholegrain breakfast to get everyone’s brain and body chemistry back on track. But wait! One last thing. Take a second to stretch your arms up, lean your head right back, take a deep breath and smile broadly at the ceiling. Laugh out loud, if you can. You’ll find the neighbours love this and, if anything, it just makes social distancing more effective. Laughter therapy is real, my friends, and nothing gets the good endorphins flowing better than this quick-fix mood-reboot; trust me. In fact, for the true yogi mum, why not go the whole pranayama and spend today in the gentle half-smile of meditation because, let’s face it, nothing freaks those tiny people out when they’re scrapping over who smashed the mixing bowl, like mummy entering the room sporting a slightly glazed expression and lop-sided smile. I am trusting you to pull this one off, okay? No point yelling. #keepcalmandeatpeanutbutter
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