I came across Lucy’s blog a few weeks ago and I have found the very name inspiring: Project: Urban Wildling. This brave mum, despite living in London and working full time, has vowed to give her son 1 hour of outdoor time everyday. Taking children outdoors and teaching them how much pleasure being close to nature can give them is for me one of the key roles of a parent. As it turns out making an effort to take your kids out every day has also some great benefits for the parents, but I’ll let Lucy explain in more detail…
This is my least favourite time of year. With the excitement of Christmas over and spring still a long way off, January and February seem to last forever. Gray months full of short days and long nights. Like many people, I get a bit down in the winter time. Not quite full blown seasonally affected depression (SAD), but I definitely feel the lack of sun.
Before I had my son, Tom, in August 2014, I coped with the winter blues by…not coping. I’d essentially hibernate away January and February – emerging to go to work but otherwise spending a lot of time sleeping in, watching TV wrapped in blankets, and ignoring all my friends. Then I would re-appear in the spring, revitalised and ready to re-join the world.
The thing is, you can’t really retreat from the world when you have a toddler. Last year, I was too wrapped up in a new parent daze to know what was winter blues and what was sleep deprivation. But this year, I have noticed something: I’m not feeling down. The nights are long and the days are overcast, but the lack of sun hasn’t got me longing for lie-ins and weekends on the sofa.
In order to explain this, I’ve had a good look at how my life has changed since having Tom. And I’ve come to the conclusion that having a toddler is good for my mental wellbeing. But you don’t have to be a parent to make the changes I’ve made. Here are some effective ways to fight off those winter blues:
1. Get outdoors every day
Back in September, I made a pledge to make sure my son had a least an hour of outdoor time every day. There have been some hiccups along the way, but, for the most, part, we have stuck with it. Spending time in nature is a recognised way of improving mental (and physical) wellbeing (source). By making a pledge to get out everyday (and then blogging about it to keep myself on the straight and narrow), I have seen a significant improvement in my levels of contentment, patience and energy. It is a change I would have struggled to make just for myself, but having a small child who is dependent on me to take him out has really helped give me the push I needed.
2. Get the right amount of sleep
It is no secret that being sleep deprived affects your mood. Any new parent can tell you that. But getting too much sleep can be a problem too. Oversleeping has been linked to a range of health issues, including diabetes, obesity, depression and headaches (source). So, in my pre-Tom days, I was more likely to be causing myself issues by sleeping in than improving my mental health. Fortunately (?), no parent of a toddler is going to be suffering from too much sleep. Tom wakes up every day at around 6.30 am. Which means I do too. To compensate, I’ve been making a real effort to be in bed, asleep, no later than 11 pm. Ideally I aim for 10.30 pm. That gets me a solid 7.5 to 8 hours sleep. The result? I have never been so energised. And I can count on one hand the amount of times I have slept past 6.30 am in the past 15 months. Being more awake during the day means I have more energy to go out and do things, which means I am less likely to feel a dip in my mood. Of course, if you have a baby who is keeping you up all night, this one may be less achievable…
3. Eat Healthily
I really, really love chocolate. So this can be a difficult one for me. Fortunately, I also love vegetables. And I want Tom to love them too. I’m a little bit obsessive about creating healthy eating habits and am a big believer in practicing what I preach. So if I want Tom to eat a healthy, balanced diet then I have to eat one too. The role of nutrition in mental health is a rapidly growing area of research and all the signs are that eating a balanced diet, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, helps boost mental wellbeing and fight depression (source). I’ve definitely noticed an improvement since I stopped loading up on stodgy carbs and gave more plate space to fresh, vibrant vegetables.
4. Vitamin D
It is pretty well known that none of us in the UK enough vitamin D during the winter. That’s even if you are following tip #1 and getting out every day. We simply don’t have enough sun. Research into the role of vitamin D and depression is ongoing, but the general consensus is that a lack of vitamin D can increase your chances of becoming depressed (source). I used to take a combined vitamin D and calcium supplement when I was pregnant, but then got out of the habit once Tom was born. Once he started weaning, however, I began giving him vitamin D drops every morning. That reminded me to start taking my own supplements again.
I would really love for this not to be on this list. I am not a great exercise enthusiast. Being bad at sport at school has given me a lifelong horror of team games. And I just get very bored in the gym. Having said that, being active is really important for both physical and mental health. In another case of wanting to model good behaviour for my son, I’ve been trying to make an effort to find forms of exercise I do enjoy. Fortunately, I love to walk. So much so that I hadn’t really noticed that it was exercise until someone pointed it out to me. Also, some far-sighted soul has placed some green gym equipment in our local playground, which means I can do a bit of exercise whilst Tom plays. And I have been attending Tai Chi and Qiqong classes once a week. Much as I would like to deny it, I can always feel a very noticeable lift in my mood after exercising. And, like time in nature, exercise is a recognised treatment for depression (source).
6. Get outdoors every day
Wait…wasn’t this tip #1? Ok, I may be cheating a bit. But this is so important, I thought it was worth saying twice. No matter how bad the weather, how tempting the soft play centre, or how short the time, we should all be making an effort to spend time outdoors. Even twenty minutes can boost your vitality (source). If you need some encouragement, why not join up to the Wild Network and make a pledge to spend a certain amount of time outdoors each day.
So invest in some colourful waterproofs and take the kids to splash in some puddles. It does wonders for your mood. And theirs.
Lucy is a working mum, living in London with her son and technology obsessed husband. She believes that all of us should be spending more time outdoors, especially our kids, so she has made a pledge to spend at least an hour a day outside with her son. She blogs about their adventures at Project: Urban Wildling which also features musings on gentle parenting and natural childhood. Lucy is also on Twitter (@LucyJacob5) and Facebook.