How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Are you a parent with bipolar disorder trapped inside with your kids due to the coronavirus pandemic? Read this post by the Bipolar Parent for practical tips on how to make time for self-care!

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A lot of people think self-care ideas are limited to bubble baths and painting their nails. But that’s just not true.

Self-care is simpler than you might think. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. That’s it.

As I said in my last post, How to Manage Being Stuck at Home During the Coronavirus Pandemic as a Parent with Bipolar Disorder, self-care is crucial for your daily functioning as a parent with bipolar disorder. This is true always, but especially true during self-quarantining due to the coronavirus outbreak.

I also shared a daily schedule my toddler and I try to follow, which had room for eating, sleeping, outside time, and work, but not much else.

So how do you find the time to do self-care when you’re stuck at home with small children–and you need to work?

Here are some practical tips that you might want to try while in self-quarantine.

How to make time for self-care as a parent during the coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

Tip #1: Fill Your Child’s “Tanks”

Sometimes, your kids whine and glom onto you like limpets. That’s usually when they have a physical or emotional need.

Often, before you separate from your children to perform self-care for yourself, you need to fill their physical or emotional “tanks.”

Spend a little time with your children before jetting off, and you’re less likely to be interrupted when you do go take that bubble bath.

Set them up with a snack, give them some kisses and cuddles, and play racecar driver with them. Listen to your tween’s ramblings about Minecraft for a while. You’ll be glad you did.

Generally, the happier your kids are when you leave them (provided they can be left; toddlers can’t, which I’ll cover in the next tip), the more time you’ll be able to take for yourself.

Tip #2: Preplan STEAM Projects

This follows my tip #5 from yesterday: to keep your child entertained and busy on their own with independent play, prepare STEM/Art, or STEAM projects. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math. With Art, that’s STEAM.

Yesterday, I listed several activities my 3-year-old has done and the supplies we have on our crafting shelf. I won’t list them all again here, but if you’re looking for ideas for a toddler, check them out.

As I write this, she was sorting through buttons with a clothespin, placing them into a cup. She worked on fine motor skills and shape recognition, both parts of STEAM for a toddler. She also worked on counting, as she counted the buttons, and pattern recognition as she sorted them by color.

STEAM activities are as simple as that. The last time she did this activity, she entertained herself for an hour with minimal input from me.

This time, she lasted about 20 minutes, and then we made purple playdough. She’s currently kneading and rolling out the homemade dough, then cutting it into shapes with cookie cutters. So far, she’s been entertained for 45 minutes by the playdough alone, enabling me to write.

In preplanning activities, I printed a calendar for March, and spent a couple of hours listing one activity per day. We do this project at 1pm every afternoon. The calendar has taken a lot of the pressure off of me to think of something every day.

Take a couple of hours to preplan activities and write them down on a calendar for April. You can pick up supplies at any grocery store or order them on Amazon.

Two great resources for toddler STEAM projects are Little Bins for Little Hands and Busy Toddler. For older kids, try STEM Activities for Kids.

Preparing STEAM projects takes a little up front work, but the payoff of more time for work–or, preferably, self-care–is worth it.

Tip #3: Prepare Meals on the Weekends

This tip is similar to tip #2: prepare meals on the weekends, also known as meal prepping. If you do as much upfront work on your meals as possible, you don’t have to make dinner during the week.

This saves a huge amount of time, some of which can be used for self-care.

Slow cooker “dump meals” are meals where you place all the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and then dump them in the slow cooker on the morning you want to cook it. The food cooks all day and smells wonderful, tastes great at night, and takes minimal prep on the weekend.

Brown all your ground beef on Saturdays. Chop all your vegetables. Bake and shred that chicken. Soak and cook those beans.

Make cooking a family activity. All hands on deck means less work for you, and the kids get to learn something, too.

There are many websites on the internet devoted to meal prepping. Type that term into your preferred browser’s search bar, and you will find sites that list recipes, meal plans, and shopping lists for a week’s meals or more.

Tip #4: Get Support from Your Partner

If you’re lucky to have a partner isolating himself or herself with you, count your blessings.

If you’re burned out and need a little bit of me-time, ask your partner for some support. Ask them to watch the kids for an hour while you take a nap.

Most partners are supportive if you ask, but sometimes we don’t know how to ask or even what we need. Figure that out before you approach your partner.

Take some time after the kids are in bed to make a list of self-care ideas that appeal to you, and the time each will take. Then figure out what is reasonable to ask of your partner.

Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst thing they can say is no, and that opens up a chance for you two to have a conversation.

Be sure to reciprocate as well. If your partner offers you an hour to yourself, offer them the same in return.

Final Thoughts

These times are stressful for everyone, especially parents with bipolar disorder who also have to work at home. You’re wearing many hats: homeschooler, partner, parent, employee, and mental illness manager.

Self-care is critical for your survival. You have to eat, sleep, and spend time by yourself so you have a chance to breathe.

Take care of yourself. Stay healthy.

I wish you well in your journey.

Tune in next week for types of self-care, as well as several self-care ideas for parents with bipolar disorder isolated at home with their kids.

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How to Make Time for Self-Care as a Parent Stuck at Home during Coronavirus - CassandraStout.com

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5 Ways to Celebrate National Random Act of Kindness Day

Whether they’re the giver or the receiver, everyone loves random acts of kindness. Monday, February 17th is National Random Act of Kindness day in 2020.

5 Ways to Celebrate Random Act of Kindness Day - Cassandrastout.com

Having a mental illness like bipolar disorder does not preclude you from being kind. And suffering from a mood episode is the time when you need people to be kind to you.

There are many ways you can offer a bit of yourself to someone else, even while dealing with a mental disorder.

Why not celebrate the holiday with one gentle act for someone else? Here are 5 ways to be kind to others.

1. Write a Letter or Thank You Note to Someone You’re Grateful to

In my opinion as a writer, there is no more powerful thing than the written word to show someone you care about them. “Words of affirmation” is my love language. I write thank you notes and letters to my loved ones all the time, and would love to receive a random letter in the mail anytime.

If you want to show someone you are grateful for their help over the years, why not sit down and pen a letter explaining your feelings? All it takes is paper, a pen, an envelope, a stamp, and time. Expressing yourself in a letter or thank you note is a powerful way to show that you’ve been thinking about someone.

2. Clean Up

Cleaning up, be it dishes you do for a roommate or trash you pick up in the park, is a great way to celebrate Random Act of Kindness Day.

If you are physically and mentally able, then pick up the living room or go out and collect trash from your neighborhood or nearby roads. There are many ways to volunteer your time helping tidy the areas you live in.

3. Forgive Someone

Anger damages the vessel its stored in more than the person its poured out upon. If you are carrying resentment around in your heart due to a hurt someone else caused you, consider trying to forgive him or her as an act of kindness.

Forgiveness can be one of the most difficult acts we embark on, but it is life-changing. If you forgive a deep-seated resentment, you will feel freer and lighthearted.

Consider writing a letter (see #1) explaining to the person who hurt you that you’ve decided to let bygones be bygones. Put the past in the past, and let the pain go.

4. Put Someone Else First

Being considerate of other people is a powerful act of kindness. If you put someone else first, be it as simple as letting him or her go first in line, or allowing another driver into your lane, then you can make someone’s day.

Let someone else have the first slice of pizza. You will be better off for it.

5. Take Care of a Pet or Child

Taking care of the most vulnerable among us shows that you have a good heart. If you have a pet or young child that needs tended to, why not spend some time helping them out?

Clean your pet’s food dishes. Donate some blankets to an animal shelter, or volunteer your time there. Walk a neighbor’s dog.

As for children, mentor a sibling. Listen to whatever lights your child’s fire. Take a neighbor’s kid out for ice cream.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to celebrate National Random Act of Kindness Day, even if you’re suffering from a mental illness. You can write a letter, clean up, forgive someone, put someone else first, or take care of a pet or child.

You’ll feel better if you do.

I wish you well in your journey.

5 Ways to Celebrate Random Act of Kindness Day - CassandraStout.com

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How Depression Interferes with Getting Things Done (GTD)

How Depression Interferes with Getting Things Done (GTD) - Cassandrastout.com

When you have depression, your natural inclination when faced with a to-do list is to crawl back into bed, right? Trust me, I’ve been there. When I’m depressed, I’d rather stick my hand into a box of tarantulas than load the dishwasher.

It’s rare that you do get the motivation to tackle something on your list. But, when you do, have you noticed that staying focused on that getting that task done is impossible?

Have you tried to complete a task like “pick up the living room,” only to end up staring at the mountain of toys, not knowing what to do next? I’ve been there, too.

Turns out there’s a scientific reason behind the inability to get things done (GTD) with depression. It’s called a “lack of cognitive control,” or, more colloquially, “executive dysfunction.” There’s even a disorder for it: executive dysfunction disorder.

Getting things done, or GTD, is a productivity system developed by David Allen. GTD encourages people to “brain dump” everything in their heads out onto paper, and then file that away into a trusted system. A trusted system involves calendars, your phone, and anywhere you’d like to schedule tasks.

But executive dysfunction interferes with GTD because a brain dump can be overwhelming for people with depression. I’ve written about executive dysfunction and how it relates to bipolar disorder before. But it’s been a while since that post, so I figured a refresher is in order.

What is Executive Function?

Executive function, when things are going well, is the ability to set goals and self-monitor. This means that you can recognize that picking up the living room requires you to pick up one toy at a time, rather than staring down a mountain of them.

Executive function is, in so many words, the ability to break tasks down into compartmentalized parts.

Most of the time, executive function, for people who have learned it (which is a whole ‘nother post), is automatic. But studies have shown the depression (and bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) interferes with executive functioning. Breaking down tasks into parts is extremely difficult when you’re suffering from depression.

Which is why you end up being overwhelmed when looking at that mountain of toys. you literally cannot comprehend the steps it would take to clean the living room.

How to Cope with Executive Dysfunction

The good news is that executive dysfunction can be managed with ideas like these:

  1. Consciously break projects up into steps. I’ve written recently about how to break tasks and projects into steps, so I’ll just summarize here. Next time you’re facing a task, try writing down every step you can think of. Then put them in the order that you need to accomplish. Then tackle the task, one step at a time.
  2. Use time management tools such as colorful calendars and stopwatches. Once you write down the steps of a task, try timing yourself to get each step done. Make a game of it, and you’ll be able to complete the steps more quickly.
  3. Schedule repeating reminders on your computer or phone, using sites like Remember the Milk. Reminders can be extremely helpful. Use a calendar app on your phone to make appointments, and set notifications for thirty minutes ahead (or however long you need to get to the appointment). “Set it and forget it” gets the task out of your head and into a trusted system.
  4. Set goals in advance to coincide with ingrained habits, such as flossing your teeth right after brushing. Setting goals to follow ingrained habits is a great way to build new ones. They’re called “triggers,” and they’re a positive way to  build upon a foundation that you already have. When you do one habit, you immediately follow it with another. If you’re a tea drinker, try taking the trash out every time you boil water, and you’ll never have to remember to take the trash out again.

Final Thoughts

Structure is extremely important for people who suffer from depression. Executive dysfunction is a real problem.

Consciously breaking projects down into steps, using time management tools such as calendars and repeating reminders, and setting goals to coincide with ingrained habits are all ways to improve executive functioning.

You can do this. You can improve your executive functioning.

I wish you well in your journey.

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How Depression Interferes with Getting Things Done (GTD) - Cassandrastout.com

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The Bipolar Parent’s Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Home Edition

Hello!

How are you? How was your New Year’s eve? Did you go to a party? Stay at home? Did fireworks keep you up? Let me know in the comments, or email me! I promise to reply.

The Bipolar Parent's Saturday Morning Mental Health Check in: Home Edition - Cassandrastout.com

My Week

My week was lovely. My immediate family (husband and two great kids) just arrived home from a two-week trip to Arizona, where my mother-in-law lives. I adore her, so the trip was a great one.

We also spent time with my husband’s father and his wife, and my husband’s brothers. A great deal of my side of the family live in Arizona as well, so my husband and kids were able to visit them also.

But it’s good to be home. I missed my bed. I mentioned previously that I was having trouble sleeping without a sleep aid. I am pleased to announce that I successfully slept each night of the two-week trip without taking anything except my usual Risperidone. That was surprisingly difficult to do!

If you’re on meds, have they helped you? Thanks for listening!

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“How Do You Define Mentally Ill?”

“What do you mean he’s mentally ill?” the woman said. “He just needs to get his act together!” I was sitting in an Olive Garden the other day, and overheard part of a conversation from a very loud patron. I tried to ignore her, but she said something that caught my attention: “Well, how do you define mentally ill?”

Hearing that made me think about what a good question it was. How do you define mental illness? Mental disorders are more prevalent than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. Twenty-five percent of American adults and thirteen percent of American children are diagnosed each year with a mental illness, per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The causes of mental illnesses are still unknown, though recent research points to genetics as well as environmental stressors.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions–disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior.” Generally, these illnesses cause dysfunction in your life. Examples include schizophrenia, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, phobias, unipolar depression, and many more. These conditions are classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th. Edition (DSM-V). Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-V is considered the guide to mental health issues. It covers five dimensions of mental illness:
• clinical syndromes, such as bipolar disorder
• developmental disorders and personality disorders, such as autism and borderline personality disorder
• physical conditions
• severity of psychosocial stressors
• and highest level of functioning in the last year, which is a measure of the mentally ill person’s ability to meet life’s demands on an annual basis.

dsm
Credit to flickr.com user Richard Masoner. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

But how does society define mental illness? There are stereotypes of the disordered person ranging from unpredictable to slovenly. Countless news stories report people with mental health issues as violent, while research shows that they’re no more violent than the general population. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims of violent crime. Thesaurus.com even lists “crazy” as the second synonym for violent.

What’s even worse is how society has treated the mentally ill. In Ancient Greece, physicians used to drill holes in people’s heads to let the evil spirits escape, and ostensibly cure their disorders. Institutionalism was rampant from the 1800s to the 1950s, and some patients were even chained to their beds and left in filth. It was as recent as the 1930s that lobotomies and malarial infections were the leading treatments for the mentally ill.

So, when the woman in the Olive Garden spoke about her friend’s husband, putting him down for suffering from mental health issues, I was irritated with her. People who endure these grueling conditions and their families have enough to deal with without others questioning their diagnosis.

Most people with mental illnesses are aware that they can sometimes be inappropriate or different than others. Mental disorders are not something you can just will yourself to cure. They require treatment ranging from talk therapy to medications, and some are even treatment resistant. Many people who do not receive treatment are unable to cope with their lives, which in turn causes them to not be able to keep the house clean or hold down a job. Many more can control their mental illness, or mitigate symptoms—with treatment.

Treatment has come a long way since the insulin-induced comas of the 1930s. But it’s not far enough. Communities have been slow to offer housing support and life skills training for the mentally ill who were deinstitutionalized in the 1950s. People who suffer from mental health disorders need more care than society has been willing or able to give.

Better funding for research into disorders would be a good start. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimated that the organization would spend $396 million on mental illness research in 2016, compared to $1 billion for diabetes research.

But what can individuals do for those of us who suffer from mental illnesses like bipolar disorder? Be kind to the mentally ill. Learn about various diagnoses and the stresses that trigger them. Advocate for better housing options and more funding for research. With these efforts, concerned people can make the world a better place for those with mental health conditions.

How do you define mental illness in your life?

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