The chorus to a 1978 country song might not seem like the obvious place for sage parenting advice, but parents, take heed! Is there a better skill then knowing when to walk away from a wailing tot to give everybody a minute to cool down? Or when our eight year old discovers a baby skunk beneath the playhouse, don’t we need to know when to run?
But what do we do when the thing we most need a break from is inside of us?
What if the biggest threat to our parenting and/or general well-being is our own anxiety or depression or self-criticism or self-doubt? Ironically, at that point, the song lyrics may be even more true. We may need to LITERALLY walk away. Or run.
Research shows that even just a 20-30 minute walk, five times a week, can reduce anxiety as effectively as pharmaceuticals. Sarah Wilson, the author of First We Make the Beast Beautiful found walking to be a huge part of her own struggle with debilitating anxiety. “Even better,” she says about how walking improved her life, “the effect is immediate—serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins all increase as soon as you start moving.”
Ms. Wilson is not alone. For example, she also quotes an Instagram post from the superstar comedian Lena Dunham. “To those struggling with anxiety, OCD, depression: I know it’s mad annoying when people tell you to exercise, and it took me about 16 medicated years to listen. I’m glad I did. It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.”
For many of us, though, being a parent can make exercise seem like a luxury. We’ve got so much to do keeping the baby humans alive!! Still, it can be done. We promise.
Here’s some tips:
- Exercise with your little. Put the baby in a stroller and go. Again, walking counts!! So many people don’t get into exercise because they think it needs to be a big freakin’ deal. NOT SO. The goal isn’t to get J-Lo’s obliques, after all. The goal is to feel better. Just get out there and move.
- Make it fun. Talk to a friend on the phone or (even better) IRL while walking or (sure, overachiever) jogging. Or listen to a fave podcast. Or if you’re on some kind of machine, use the time to catch up on a soapy drama series that’ll keep you coming back just to find out what happens next. If you’re an introvert, get double-benefits by making exercise your recharge alone time. Arrange a childcare exchange with a friend who also wants some solo time.
- Tiptoeing in is fine. Set a reasonable goal. Say once a week for the first few months. We know a mom who so dreaded going to the gym that she finally gave herself permission to just show up and do nothing more than soak in the hot-tub for an hour. Eventually, she figured since she was already there, so she might as well go to that class with the hip hop music blaring. Now she’s constantly annoying everyone with how great she feels after exercise!
- Don’t buy into the fitness marketing hype. There’s a whole exercise industry out there that wants to make money on your health goals, but walking needs little more than a decent pair of shoes, which you can even buy used at a thrift store.
Now, the only thing left to do is NOTICE THE BENEFITS. Did your anxiety subside a little after you took that walk? Did you have at least a few hours where you felt the clouds of your depression part? Did you sleep better, have a little more patience when your child finger-painted your wool sweater? Notice it, say it out loud to someone you trust, and your motivation will grow.
One last note: we’re in no way saying that exercise should replace your medication. That’s between you and your mental health team. We are saying that finding a good exercise routine can be a huge step in the healing journey. Find friends and/or professionals who can help strategize how to incorporate exercise into your mental health plan.
We’re so glad to be walking this crazy path of parenting together, Strong Mom!
The Mountain Home Team