Why a healthy lifestyle is important for single parents

As a single parent, everything you do to look after your physical and mental health and wellbeing is an investment in your child’s health and happiness. It’s all part of creating a healthy and loving environment for your child. It also models healthy habits for your child.

Keeping healthy means healthy eating and exercise. It also means consciously taking time out for relaxation, having fun with friends and making sure you get enough sleep.

Healthy eating
Healthy food gives you fuel to get things done and the energy to make life enjoyable. For good health, you need to eat a wide variety of foods every day from five main food groups: fruit; vegetables; grain foods; meat, fish, chicken, eggs and legumes; and reduced-fat dairy.

The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating has details of recommended servings. If you want more information about good food and drink choices and tips to increase your intake of good food and drink, talk to an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).

Physical activity
Regular activity keeps you physically fit. As a busy single parent, you might find it hard to fit exercise into your day. If you’re short on time, the easiest way is to fit physical activity into everyday activities.

This could be a walk with your child, splashing about at the local creek, kicking a ball together in the park, or walking to the supermarket for a few items instead of driving. Even vacuuming and other household chores get you up and moving.

Movement is what matters – 30 minutes or so a day.
Even little amounts of physical activity that add up to 30 minutes will lift your energy. And fitting in some regular vigorous exercise will help boost your health.

Exhaustion can be a big issue for single parents. You might not have anyone there to back you up when your child is unwell or it’s just a bad day. And it can be tempting to put yourself last and spend all your time meeting your child’s needs and working.

Try to make some time for yourself during the day, even just five minutes reading a book or doing some meditation can help you feel rested. You could ask a friend or family member to look after your child for a couple of hours while you rest.

When it all gets too much I do feel a bit down, so I get out and take my neighbour to the fresh food market. We have a coffee and I go home and cook up a feast, invite a couple of friends and pretty soon I’m OK again. If I can’t shake it off I might ring a parenting helpline or see my GP. She’s helpful and has given me some good referrals.
– Jan, 28, single parent of two children

Mental health and wellbeing for single parents

As a single parent, it’s normal to go through periods when you feel like life isn’t fair or your responsibilities are overwhelming.

When you’re feeling down, you can try a few different options to see what helps. Here are some suggestions.

Do something active
Being active can help you deal with the ups and downs of life. People who exercise regularly are generally less anxious and less depressed and manage stress better. When you exercise you:

  • feel a greater sense of control
  • are distracted from worries, at least for a while
  • have more energy, and you sleep better
  • have better self-esteem, body image and self-confidence
  • get a release of feel-good chemicals (called endorphins) that give you a ‘natural high’.

Just do whatever you enjoy – it could be singing and dancing, or cleaning the house. If walking is more your speed, try breathing deeply and visualising all the things you’re grateful for while you walk.

Keep connected
Staying connected with others can remind you that people care about you. It will also help you feel supported. It’s worth making the effort to set up a date for coffee or dinner, so you can meet up with friends and have a laugh. If you can’t meet people face to face, you can also phone or text friends.

Do something relaxing
There are lots of ways to relax, depending on what works for you:

Get organised
It might seem like an effort to start with, but getting organised can reduce your stress:

  • Plan something to look forward to, like a holiday, day trip, party, picnic or concert.
  • Make a to-do list – and cross thing off it. Pay bills, and make school lunches the night before.
  • Say no to things you don’t have time to do or don’t enjoy.
If you find it hard to shake off negative feelings, or feel like depression or anxiety is stopping you from doing the things you really want to do, it might be time to seek counselling and support. You could start by ringing a parenting hotline. It’s also a good idea to see your GP.