Your body

One positive difference to my life would be the change to my lifestyle. I eat more healthily. I also decided to stop using my car as much and walk everywhere. I started off with little walks and then increased my walks to two really long walks which would last two hours. In those two hours I’d burn 650 calories and I doubled my daily steps, so this made me feel happy that I actually achieved something. My main concern was to lose a little weight, and to do this, I needed to help myself and change these little bad habits I had. OPFS has supported me through my changes and helped me with some different ideas to save money or find an alternative way.

Lots of parents tell us that they feel tired and run down a lot of the time, and that it’s hard to put themselves first. When you’re low physically, it affects how you feel mentally.

Physical exercise, good food and a decent night’s sleep make all the difference. How do you manage that with children around and limited money? Here are some ideas.

Mental health charity Mind has loads of tips on how you can manage your everyday life and look after yourself when you’re finding it hard to cope. From physical activity, to getting into nature, to the foods that can help your mood, there’s something for everyone in Mind’s Tips for everyday living. The Mental Health Foundation is also a great source of podcasts and videos.

Getting active

Now I have a card for the gym so I have started going to the gym which has improved my physical and mental health and my overall wellbeing.

I am feeling better physically as well as mentally just by making small changes. I really enjoy walking when the weather is dry

We’re supposed to get at least 150 minutes of exercise every week, according to the NHS. It’s important for our physical health and for our mental wellbeing. To put it simply: exercising makes us happy, even if the thought of doing it doesn’t!

Whether it’s dancing around the kitchen to your favourite song, walking or running, just do whatever you can manage, enjoy and fit in. Any kind of movement helps you loosen up, release tension and reduce stress. If you do a little every day, or at least on the days when you feel better, it will quickly make a difference.

  • It doesn’t need to cost anything. Walking the children to and from school, running up and down the stairs, even doing housework, all help to boost your activity levels, and you
  • If you can get outside for exercise, that’s great. Spending time in green space or being outside for a little while every day, makes a big difference
  • If it’s hard for you to get outside, you could try out free videos, podcasts and live streaming online. There’s yoga, pilates, dance and a lot more. You don’t need special equipment, just a little clear space in your house

When to see your GP

If pain or injury has been a problem for some time, and these tips are not helpful, visit your GP to discuss any medical issues.

Useful links

Eating well

What you eat and drink can change how you feel, emotionally as well as physically.

There’s a big connection between what you eat and how you feel. When you eat well, you’re likely to feel well, mentally and physically, and the opposite is also true. Eating well means eating good food that nourishes you and which is good for your health. Good food reduces stress and keeps you calm. Mind has helpful information on how food affects mood. The NHS also has advice about eating well, with recipes and tips.

It’s hard to eat well when money is tight. But there are things you can do which can help.

If you’re looking for inspiration and down-to-earth advice from someone who knows what it’s like, single parent Jack Munroe has great tips and costed meals at cooking on a bootstrap. Jack works with food banks, schools and children’s centres to teach people to cook and eat well on a low income, and campaigns against the causes of poverty.

Some ideas which single parents have suggested to us are to:

  • Plan meals for the week ahead, starting with what’s in the cupboard
  • Write a shopping list for your weekly meal plan
  • Replace meat a couple of times a week with lower cost and healthier options like beans and pulses, which also keep for longer
  • Involve the family in planning healthy meals
  • If you can, shop at times when food is reduced
  • Stick to the shopping list if you can
  • Eat as much fruit and veg as you can: of all colours
  • You might find that loose, rather than pre-packed, fruit and vegetables, are cheaper; also those that are in season
  • Own brands often cost less than branded items
  • Frozen and tinned vegetables and fruit (in own juice, not syrup) are a healthy option and can be cheaper than fresh
  • Cook from scratch as it’s cheaper than ready-made

Sometimes our bodies, diet and the amount of exercise we do are a source of anxiety. We might be too hard on ourselves, think negatively about how we look or our body-size, or focus on food or exercise in a way that is unhealthy. It is possible to exercise too much or eat too little, as well as the opposite.

Looking after your body and your health should be about being kind to yourself, not about making yourself feel bad or comparing yourself against unrealistic standards.

Mental Health Foundation in Scotland has a list of 7 tips to improve how you feel about your body.

If you think you might have an eating disorder, Beat Eating Disorder is a UK charity with lots of information and advice on how to get help.

When to see your GP

If you are not eating well and/or are losing or increasing weight in a way that feels problematic, visit your GP in case of any underlying medical issues.

If you need to speak to someone about not having enough food for your family, call our helpline

Useful links

Sleeping well

Make some time for yourself. Every week I buy myself something small like a face mask, body lotion or a scented candle for just £1 or so. I keep these in a box along with stuff like hot chocolate sachets and a bar of my favourite chocolate. Then every few weeks, once the kids are in bed, I have a relaxation evening. I have a long hot bubble bath some candles, music and use the things in my wee box. I love having this to look forward to especially when I am having a bad day.

Don’t feel guilty about dishes and other things that you need to do. If you’re shattered and get the chance to sleep, just do it.

Sleeping well doesn’t just mean lots of sleep: it means the right kind of sleep. This refreshes us and helps us cope. It is good for our mood and general health.

When we are stressed and our mind is over-run with thoughts, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep.

UK charity Mind has advice on coping with sleep problems, and the NHS has created a handy audio guide which you can follow to improve your sleep and various apps.

If you’re not sleeping well, these tips might help you get into a better pattern:

  • Keep sleep for night time. It can be tempting to catch up during the day but this can make getting to sleep at night more difficult
  • Keep a sleep diary
  • Make your bedroom ‘sleep friendly’. Your bedroom should be a place of calm so try to keep it as clean, tidy and free from clutter as you can
  • Leave your mobile/tablet and other devices outside the bedroom. If you need an alarm to wake you, get a separate alarm clock rather than using your phone
  • Block out as much light as possible (including light from your alarm clock or other devices) and keep noise to a minimum (move your bed away from the window if space allows)
  • Keep your bedroom cool (try out different temperatures to see what works best for you)
  • Lavender is relaxing: you could try a room spray or a few drops of lavender oil on your pillow
  • Have a bedtime routine: go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
  • Try to keep your evenings as relaxed as possible. Once the children are in bed, have some ‘me-time’. Read a book or listen to some music
  • Have a shower or bath around 90 minutes before bedtime or even a nice warm foot bath
  • Avoid screens before bedtime
  • Relaxation techniques may help: try meditation, breathing exercises or visualisation

Some things to avoid before bedtime

  • Caffeine: tea, coffee and cola contain caffeine which is a stimulant so try drinking less especially later in the day. Try caffeine-free drinks to see if that helps. Try not to drink for a few hours before bedtime so you don’t have to get up to use the toilet during the night
  • Alcohol: people often think it will help them sleep better but it does the opposite
  • Exercise: keep evenings for relaxing. When you work out in the evening it can make you feel more awake

When to see your GP

If poor sleep has been a problem for some time and these tips don’t help, visit your GP to rule out any medical issues.

Useful links

Sleep diary

Try keeping this sleep diary for a couple of weeks. Try out different activities in the evenings and try changing your bedtime routine. This might help you see what things help and what may be affecting your sleep. Make a note of these then use this info to form a new bedtime routine.