Looking after your mental health
Looking after a sick child can be hard and you may feel like you’re on an emotional roller-coaster. Remember, it’s important to look after yourself too. Here are a few self-care ideas from heart parents we work with:
It’s good to talk
Don’t bottle everything up. It’s important to talk about your feelings with friends, family and health professionals.
Speaking to other parents of children with heart conditions can be a lifeline. Join our parent and carer Facebook group, where you will find hundreds of heart parents waiting to offer advice and support.
When you feel anxious, try the 5,4,3,2,1 grounding technique:
Before you start, pay attention to your breathing. Close your eyes and take a few deep, slow breaths. This will help you return to a calmer state. Then open your eyes and look around you.
5: Acknowledge FIVE things you can see around you…
4: Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you…
3: Acknowledge THREE things you can hear…
2: Acknowledge TWO things you can smell…
1: Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste…
This will help bring you back to the present moment and prevent your mind from jumping around between anxious thoughts.
Take care of your bodyThere is a great deal of evidence about the mind body connection. Often, you can’t control what is happening around you, but you can ensure you are as well-equipped as possible to deal with it, by looking after your body as well as your mind.
Try and make sure you get enough sleep. Of course, this is difficult when you have children but make sure you rest when you can. Remember to eat and stay well hydrated – this is especially important during long stays in hospital. Also, try and keep your body moving – exercise is a proven way to improve mood and it helps those with depression and anxiety. Even if you’re in hospital, you can go for short walks in the grounds or run up and down the stairs!
Drawing, knitting, writing – all creative activities can help reduce stress and anxiety. There are plenty of mindful colouring books available – these are especially useful for time spent at hospital. Try and find some ways to unleash your creativity everyday.
Journaling is a good stress management tool, enabling you to clarify and explore your thoughts and feelings. Some parents find blogging very therapeutic – here are some blogs by heart parents:
Instagram accounts by heart parents:
Ask for and accept help
It’s not always easy to accept offers of help, but remember that your friends and family may feel helpless too. By accepting their offers to babysit, cook meals, do some shopping etc you will all feel better. They say it takes a village to raise a child – this is especially true when your child has a heart condition.
‘When Elijah was 18 months I went to the GP. I broke down, terrified they would take my baby away, that I was an unfit mother. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.Counselling, therapy and medication – I’ve done it all.’
Vicki Cockerill knows how challenging it can be to parent a child with a serious heart condition. In her moving blog post, she discusses how heart parents must be aware of the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, as well as knowing that it’s ok to ask for help.
Read Vicki’s blog post, Me, Myself and My Mental Health here.
There are many charities and organisations to further support you with your mental health:
Mind offers advice and support to those experiencing mental health problems.
Anxiety UK supports support those living with anxiety and anxiety-based depression
The Samaritans is there to support people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
Maternal Mental Health Alliance has a useful support page for women and families.
Read 10 stress busting ideas from the NHS here.