Thursday, May 10, 2018

Parent hacks for finding joy

Photo of Anchel Krishna and her daughter Syona

It's Mental Health Week, so BLOOM asked parent readers to send us their strategies for finding joy and emotional resilience in the midst of lives that can have extra uncertainties and stress. The ideas and answers flooded in, and are pasted below. We hope you find inspiration in them and consider trying something new yourself. Also, feel free to post your own ideas in the comments.

What strategy do use to protect your mental health?

I paint. Oil painting. I get to control the paint or just see how it ends up. I do calming landscapes. HUGE stress reliever.

I try to have as much shared joy with our son as possible so I see how happy he is, and that improves my mental health.

So many flood my mind: breathing to slow my breath and body response, so I can think clearly. Celebrating the moments we gained vs. worrying about what's been lost. Resting into the present moment as it is, accepting it as it is, holding faith that there will be a next moment blessed.

I crochet but most importantly I talk when I need to. I don’t pretend I’m fine when I’m not, because it doesn’t do any of us good. I take meds when talking doesn’t work. I am honest and upfront about how important it is for me to be okay, as well as my husband and my child. We now are a well-oiled machine but we still need tune-ups every once in a while.

I really like to read a good fiction book (mostly mysteries) and also have recently gotten back to cross-stitching after many years away from it. I’m old school and read physical books. My son, who has retinitis pigmentosa and other issues that make it difficult for him to read, loves the reader we have installed on the iPad so I might have to try it myself!

Forcing myself to get out of the house, especially to meet up with someone. Socializing with other parents in similar situations has been invaluable.

I have decided to love and care for my son as he is, knowing and accepting the fact that I cannot heal or change anything about him. This has really helped me a lot to overcome my pain and be focused.

I do something physical every morning. I walk with a friend three times a week and do boot camp three times a week. Both activities are with other people and I find the social aspect really nourishing. It helps me recalibrate. I also try to meditate daily. Silence really is golden!

Started a weight-training class three weeks ago and got a Fitbit. Trying to make healthier choices. Hopeful that being more physically fit will help my mental health too. Being a parent to a special-needs child can be all-consuming. After nine years of this, trying to carve some time out for myself.

Going for a run with the music loud enough to keep my brain empty.

Gratitude and strengths journal to counter the deficit mentality.

Yoga at lunch three to five days a week. It has helped me achieve stillness in my mind, strength in my body, and the openness to connect to those I had closed out while trying to be strong. A profound change over the past year for me.
Walk the dog at least one time a day.

Try to stay in the moment. Create memories. Do not spend your energy worrying about a negative future event that may never happen. You can plan for a thousand different outcomes, but generally this journey will take you to someplace that you had never planned on going.

We’ve used nidra yoga with families in the past, which is one of the most relaxing forms of the practice. Very effective. Parents said they felt the effects for days after.

When I take a break, I keep my mind conscious. I can't do anything about today, yesterday or tomorrow. It is going to be what it is. In that conscious mind...I dance!

Exercise every day (even if it’s 10 minutes). I took up Ukulele!!! And I participate in a “glee” competition (which just ended) every January to May for children’s charity. I make sure I have something that’s for me and scheduled, so I have to go.

I take photos of the water. I go down to Cherry Beach and find a rock I can sit on, right up against the water. The water lapping on the rocks—or making squeeking sounds when there is ice—drains my mind. I look through the viewfinder and wait, patiently, for unusual ways the water moves and patterns of light, as well as reflections in the water of the blue sky or trees. My breathing slows. I feel like I’m at a cottage. I purchased a year’s subscription to Photoshop so when I get home I can make some basic enhancements to my photos. Even the process of going through the photos and choosing the ones I like feels creative. I also make them into cards and calendars.

Playing squash, biking (sports in general, for me, keep me sane).

Giving back has been my saving grace when I'm feeling down.

Each year I make a virtual joy jar, writing down beautiful memories as they occur in my cell phone. I review my memories when I have had a rough day for a mood boost. This activity helps me keep perspective and celebrate the incredible beauty I've known in my life.

I garden. It’s my zen time. It allows me to slow down, breathe, tend to seeds and small plants in the winter. In the spring and summer it gets me outside in the sun, being physical and ripping the rewards of good food which I then preserve, freeze, cook and eat!!! I also try learning something new. This year chickens. Facebook groups like this one REALLY help with mental health and establishing community!

I embrace my faith and pray a lot. This helps me to focus every morning when I wake up, and certainly carries me throughout the day. Also, I have a few close family members and friends that I speak with on a daily basis who encourage and support me. I find this very crucial as most parents on this journey find it lonely. I was really in that place until I accepted the support of these people and opened the door for them in my life.


Adult colouring is calm and meditative.


Write. Cook. Hobbies. Make dates with friends. Connect. Take at least half an hour every day to sit still. Breathe. Take it one step at a time. Stay focused on the present.

I walk.

Bought a quad. I write too!

I joined a hiking group last winter and it made a huge difference to my wellbeing, especially dealing with seasonal affective disorder. Also doing yoga and I am starting to get into mindfulness. Volunteering and having a voice is important to me, too, and can be uplifting.

I have dear friends who live in different time zones, so even if my monkey brain or complex care needs loved one is keeping me awake in the middle of the night, I have people who love us that I can talk to if I want. Also, I keep a camera with me all the time so I can capture the precious moments of beauty when they happen, and be conscious about making memories in the sacred and mundane moments of life.

I hide food treats under my bed in a Rubbermaid container and go there when I need a mommy time-out.

Respite is important. I discovered that most parents do not utilize this opportunity, but trust me it helps a lot. On average, I schedule my son once a month to go for the weekend, and this gives a little bit of break for myself, my husband and my other children. I always try to plan something for that time, and if I don't have something planned, I just stay home and relax. Also, I travel out of the country at least once or twice a year for vacation. I am always so rejuvenated when I come back and happy to see my son with a renewed energy. I also try to connect with other parents whenever possible to share our experiences and encourage one another.

Spend 30 minutes each day in nature, or at least looking at it.

Another fun thing is hula hoop classes. I laugh so much. It's east-end Beaches. We have a fabulous instructor.

When I'm approaching mental exhaustion, I permit myself to mentally check out for a bit (on a daily basis) when it's safe to do so (i.e. when someone else is taking care of my daughter), usually in the form of escapism through mindless pursuits, such as watching campy Netflix, listening to the latest U2 album, or on adventurous days, actual exercise (motivated by the promise of really loud karaoke while on the treadmill). If the issue is how to manage anger against whatever the latest injustice is, I write out ragey e-mails (that rarely get sent anywhere), and if it's really bad, I call family or friends and ventilate out loud, to get it all out of my system. Afterwards, I'm good!

I do things that make me feel good... Meditation music, warm bath, long walks, paint night. I spend a short amount of time crocheting (I wish I had more time), massage therapy (hubby has benefits) and my sister listens well when I need to vent. And is always there whether or not she fully gets it. The only way I am able to do any of this is having a very supportive husband. We also want to get respite care. We have had only two days of overnight sleepovers in four years. My daughter is completely dependent—can’t talk walk or eat on her own. Bathroom is hard. I think we're doing this soon. My husband never gets a break other than going to work. I'm a stay-at-home mom.

Working out almost daily and playing with our dogs.

The biggest step we took was accepting that all of our love, patience and structure was not going to “fix” my daughter’s daily meltdowns and outbursts. Accepting that was much more difficult than accepting that she would not walk independently—that I was okay with. We do Botox injections, have tried muscle relaxants and dystonia meds. But it was a big step to maintaining my sanity to get chemical help for her damaged brain when it came to behaviour and emotional control. She has been pushing me further and further in to a hole where I was feeling like I had no control. Meds for her have helped.

I volunteer or colour in colour-by-number books. Sounds funny but sometimes I can't focus enough to pick colours so I do something I like without a lot of brain work. Or talking with other parents.

I try to connect with other parents who share similar experiences. We just 'get it' and it really helps. I feel immediately at home and less like the 'I don't know how you do it' person!

Art as therapy. Hoping to get a keyboard and return to piano. I'm going to buy myself an infrared massager. I speak openly when I feel safe around some friends and family.

I take a sick day when I need it.

I have started taking boot camp classes and started the Couch to 5K program. It has been a great outlet for stress and when I am not active, my mental health definitely suffers. I think it is just the act of doing something to take care of myself that helps to boost my mental health.

I try to live day to day, just doing what needs to be done, and not trying to be perfect. I call in help when I need it, and I allow myself to cry and be cranky if I need to be. Sometimes you just need to put yourself in a time out!

I work and my wife takes care of our daughter all day. One of the biggest things that helps support groups like this one (PAL). Because just reading posts like this one and seeing how relatable it is, we feel like we're not alone in this situation, a lot of people are in very similar circumstances. Thanks for sharing.

Painting and running! Through being creative you can express yourself, get out emotion, memories, thoughts or reflect on something beautiful. Works wonders for post and anxiety. If you create, write and also talk about it with others like a social worker.... Through running I can breathe, focus on goals, let go of stress, and listen to my body. Read about this parent here.

I spend time with my dog and two cats, who are always fully in the present moment and who offer unconditional love!

I attend an art journaling class twice a month.

Gardening. I turned it into a business which built my body strength. Dog walking daily, meditation. Planning a vacation yearly with my husband! Used Holland Bloorview's respite services six times minimum per year. Took all my advocating skills and struggles with this broken health care system and turned it into a more positive way of survival and created a NEW Charity foundation for York Region. HAPPINESS is having funding, overnight respite and yearly holidays. I also have a massage every two weeks to keep me grounded and balanced!

Exercise every single day.

Walking near water, painting, gratitude journaling, meditation, listening to music, reading, working out, talking to friends, sharing meals with others

Jigsaw puzzles and a social life.

I knit or curl up with a paperback novel. Old-fashioned kind. I need a break from electronic screens.

Going for a walk and reading novels.

I do Kristin Neff's five-minute self-compassion break.

I read. Fiction, non-fiction, blogposts (including Bloom of course)... anything. To be honest, I read mostly non-fiction these days so that I can have more meaningful discussion with parents of disabled children who have become close friends in a short period of time

I get into a lot of different forms of art and crafty stuff. Trying to be a better runner, I find it really meditative.

Vigorous exercise!

Walking with headphones on, playing happy, thought-provoking, or relaxing music at a ridiculous (but safe) volume!

I have a group that's specifically for [my daughter's] condition as well. It's my favorite one to read.

Epson salt baths and reggae music have saved my sanity on many days.

I get a last-minute hotel room at at a great discount and go for a night—by myself. I close the door and do whatever I want, including ordering food.

Audiobooks on my long commute. Also, I spend time with friends. Sometimes when the schedule is too busy, a phone call with a dear friend helps.

Connecting with my own spiritual practice, whether God or going to church or praying. I do a daily meditation that roots me in where I am. It reminds there's an end to every day. Good days come to an end, and bad days come to an end. I do it before I go to bed. The biggest thing for me is letting go of self judgment. I just do it as a practice. Some days are more meaningful than other days, and that's okay.

Being active. Using my body through the day. I check in with my breathing because I'm a shallow breather and hold my stress. I rely on others as much as I can—whether for practical help to cook me a meal, babysit a kid, pick something up at the store, or to talk. Some of the talking I do with people who are in similar situations. We have a big extended family support system, so I know I'm not alone. I ask for what I need from people.