Originally published Wednesday, 21 August 2019.
Single moms, do you sometimes feel like you are one event away from losing it? If one more thing --- just one more – doesn’t go well, it’s going to tip you over the edge! Does the stress of parenting alone often weigh so heavy on your shoulders that you battle depression and perpetual feelings of sadness? You are not alone. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health found in research that the prevalence of moderate to severe depression was significantly more pronounced among single mothers by 28.7%. This concludes that single mothers are more likely to experience poor mental health than partnered mothers, and the primary factors associated with this are the presence of financial hardship, overwhelming stress, and a perceived lack of social support. (Can you say exhaustion?)
This is probably not surprising news to those single mommas out there reading this, as you are in the trenches of daily parenting and already know the struggles. As a former single mom who once huddled in the middle of my small bathroom floor of my government-issued apartment and contemplated taking my own life, I can relate. It’s important to recognize that you, while difficult, can be successful. What do you do if you are already battling depression or have been for some time? Or maybe you aren’t fighting depression currently, but you once were, or fear you could be? Then, this list is for you.
While I’m not a medical professional (and this list is certainly not intended to take the place of medical advice), I’ve been there, done that. I’ve struggled with depression and came out on the other side. In fact, it’s been more than two decades since I’ve struggled with it, so read on.
- Get regular cardio exercise. Yep, we already know that we’re supposed to be doing it. However, many adults find reasons not to. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; and only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week. University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate George Mammen co-authored a review of 25 different research articles, which show that moderate exercise can prevent episodes of depression in the long term. The compilation of the research is published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. How much research do we need to tell us to get off the couch and get moving?
- Eat healthy, including plenty of vegetables. Again, no earth-shattering information here. Yet, when I’m conversing with single mothers who battle depression, I often ask about their diet and exercise and find that it leaves much to be desired, to say the least. Not only is eating healthy critical to your physical health, but it is also closely linked to your mental well-being, so make the commitment to grab some fresh produce for snacking. (It’s great for the kiddos also!)
- Hold honest & transparent conversations removing the veil of perfectionism. I’ve said it early and often. Perfectionism is a bondage. The burden to keep it all together is too much for anyone – man, woman, single, or not. You can’t hold it together all the time. None of us can. It’s quite therapeutic to hold honest conversations with those around us about our struggles and failures. Don’t keep it to yourself. There’s great freedom in confessing your burdens. Let others carry the load with you!
- Attend church regularly. Hebrews 10:25 encourages us to attend church regularly, as Christians, and so does a host of other Scriptures (You can check out a few here). According to the U.K.’s Spectator Health website, research articles have indicated that regular religious service attendance is associated with a 30 percent reduction in depression, a five-fold reduction in the likelihood of suicide, and a 30 percent reduction in mortality, over 16 years of follow-up.
- Attend a Bible study. Not only does regular Bible study attendance enhance your understanding of God’s word, which I’ll get to in a moment, but it gives you a place to be regularly, giving you accountability, fighting isolation, and posing an opportunity to forge new and meaningful friendships with those who have similar views.
- Read and meditate on the word of God. God’s word is life. It’s truth. It’s how God speaks. It’s who He is on paper. The Creator of your soul, the One who knows your mind and thoughts, inspired the words on every page. If you want to battle depression successfully, learn to think the way God thinks. Learn to speak the way He does. Learn the truth about who He says you are through His words.
- Take the time to breathe deeply. Concentrate on filling your lungs with high volumes of air and slowly releasing. Deep breathing has been linked to excellent physical and mental health for many, many years. Take a moment now and fill your lungs with as much air as you can possibly contain within them. Yep, now. Just do it. Trust me. That’s it, deep breath. Now, hold it for just a moment. Slowly begin to release the air from your lungs. Even one deep breath often feels like a weight has lifted from your shoulders. Imagine if you took the time to breathe deeply on a regular basis!
- Ensure proper sleep and periods of rest. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done, but getting proper sleep is crucial to your overall mental health. You cannot think and function appropriately when your body has not had the time to properly rest. Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, crankiness, and even severe physical ailments, such as heart disease. You can check out that list here.
- Volunteer to serve others. In Mark 10:35-45, Jesus teaches about serving others. In fact, our Savior even washed the feet of those he was teaching and leading in an ultimate act of service to others. It’s important. Volunteering allows our perspective to shift from ourselves to others. It refocuses us on the things we do have, not the things we lack. We are often redirected to see the needs of others and not focus so much on the needs we have. Volunteering is also a great habit to develop with our children.
- Get regular fresh air. Staying cramped inside your home all day, or even in the office, can make you stir crazy. Commit to walking outside every single day, even if only for a few moments (in poor weather conditions). The fresh air (along with that deep breathing we talked about) will do you a world of good. Sometimes, the flutter of a bird’s feathers in a tree or the warm sun on our faces is just the comforting we need to know that God is with us, sees us, and that all are challenges will one work out in some way.
- Journal. Keep a record of your thoughts. Write letters to God about your cares and concerns. Write notes to yourself as forms of encouragement when you need them. Write letters to the kiddos that you may give to them many years from now. Transposing your thoughts from your head to paper will give you a sense of release, often necessary to reduce stress. Plus, journaling is a fun way to go back and look at where you once were, and all God has done for you through the years.
- Attend a single moms’ support group. The Life of a Single Mom’s mission is to see no single mom walk alone. There is power in the gathering. There is hope found among single moms who have similar stories and life experiences. That’s why our ministry has worked with more than 1,500 churches throughout the U.S. and beyond to establish single moms groups. Find a group to get connected here.
- Nurture friendships. I’ve been blessed to have the same three friends for more than three decades. Yes, I have had great friends come and go through the years, as seasons have changed, and perhaps geography or life experience separates us. And even with those same three friends that I’ve had (since grade school), there have been ebbs and flows regarding the number of times we see each other, chat by phone, or connect. But if something happens, I know I have them. I know they are praying and ready to take on the world on my behalf, if necessary. That’s reassuring. Maybe you are reading this and don’t have great friends right now. That’s okay. Make it a point to get some. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been hurt. We were created for relationship, and you need friends. That’s why attending a single moms’ support group (or some other like-minded group) is so important.
- Get counseling. While I know that not everyone has access to professional counseling services on a regular basis due to the costs associated with such care, I do want to highlight that there are other options. There are websites that offer free live chats with licensed professionals, 800 numbers that can offer anonymous counseling, and some churches and nonprofits even offer free and low-cost options. At the very least, find a trusted and wise friend who can offer Biblical counsel and a listening ear. While lay counseling cannot replace skilled medical professional care, having someone who can offer you wisdom can improve your overall life situation, particularly from those who have lived out similar life experiences.
- Get proper medical care. Don’t skip annual appointments or ignore ailments. Physical and mental health are closely related. Your physical health impacts the way you feel about yourself. Poor physical health can skew perspective. Don’t skip the annual exam, even if you think nothing is wrong. If finances are a problem, many local health units offer screenings, as do local nonprofits. And most importantly, don’t ignore nagging ailments, such as pain in the body, inability to sleep, etc.
- Fast social media. Let go of the hours of scrolling and comparison and failure to simply live life. Life is about living and being present. I am deeply, deeply saddened by the state of our social media consumption and phone usage. I have sat in restaurants and purposefully looked around, only to be met with scores of head tops as people gaze, zombie-like, into the gateway of the internet, for hours, and hours, and hours. Letting go of social media for a season will do wonders to change your perspective, focus, and even give you that opportunity to go outside and get some fresh air!
- Read a devotional specific to single moms. The Life of a Single Mom offers a number of single mom devotionals and Bible studies that have been designed just for you. Struggling with parenting techniques? We’ve got it. Struggling to find peace in the midst of chaos? Check. Want to learn how to create a budget and stick to it. Yep. The Life of a Single Mom offers both books for purchase here and free ebooks here.
- Develop hobbies, especially apart from your children. Learn to sew. Take up adult coloring. Join a running group. Create origami. I don’t care. Learn to have interests beyond your children. Many single moms begin struggling with depression as their children age and develop their own lives and interests (sports, moving away to college, etc.). And if we aren’t careful, we’ll even burden our children with our happiness! Ouch. Find some things that you enjoy doing and do them regularly.
- Create a gratitude jar. Get a simple mason jar or other like container and a stack of index cards. Every day, choose one thing in your life that you are thankful for. Air. Clothes. Car. A place to live. Amazing children. Dirty dishes that indicate full bellies. Friends. Church. Each of us has thousands of things that we can fall to our knees and praise God for. Take the time to write them down. (Hint: During particularly dark times, go back and read what you’ve written).
- Eliminate (or minimize) toxic relationships in your life. We can’t do much about our crazy aunt Judy. She’ll always be our aunt! But we can minimize our time around her if she is bringing toxicity into your life. Maybe that means you only gather during the holidays or other obligatory family events. But let’s take it a step further. Many single moms are in romantic relationships that do not bring life and joy, rather hurt and pain. There are relationships that we chase that we know draw us away from the Lord and kill our self-worth. There are times when the simplest and yet most effective way to eliminate the depression battle is to eliminate the bad relationship. Yes, I know it’s hard. But the joy and freedom that come (after the healing from the break-up) can be life transformational. (Note: I am not, in any way, shape, or form, promoting divorce. I am addressing already single mothers here).
- Choose life-giving music. Not only is music critical to your spiritual health, it’s important for your mental health. How can you absorb hours of profanity, lust, and violence, and have it NOT impact your outlook? While some genres of music are not as overtly violent, many genres today highlight lifestyles that do not honor God. The more we pour that into our souls and spirits, the more heavy a Believer can become. Choose music that uplifts, encourages, inspires. It’s out there.
- Laugh. A lot. Nothing, and I do mean, nothing is quite like the deep belly laugh that is so outrageous and robust that you nearly wet your pants! The joy of learning to laugh again is just that – joy. Even in the midst of true despair, financial hardship, and tragedy, choose to find the funny. Look for the odd. Laugh at yourself and the silly things you’ve done or said in your past. Learn to giggle. Do yourself a favor and follow “John Crist” and KevOnStage on social media. They are hilarious Christian comedians. They’ll get the laughter going.
- Care for your physical appearance. Okay, at first glance, this one may seem vain and unimportant, but physical appearance is important. I’ve been in homes of those I loved when they have failed to bathe for days on end. The heaviness of life’s circumstances left them unmotivated to bathe, comb their hair, or even dress and get out of the bed. Taking the time to brush your teeth, style your hair, and dress each day may seem trivial, but it says to the world (and to you) that you’re ready to take on the challenges of the day. Maybe you don’t feel ready to take them on. That’s okay. The act of preparing to be ready is kinda like the old adage “fake it ‘til you make it.”
- Minimize television consumption. There’s a reason they call it the “boob” tube. I’m convinced we’re all losing brain cells while we stare incessantly at the latest reality tv garbage or home makeover show. Of course, I’m not suggesting all television is bad, but I am highlighting that the consumption of hours and hours of television is not good for your mental or physical health. Make it a point to establish strong boundaries for yourself on how much you watch. Choose to read instead.
- Seek medical attention. If you are suffering from severe clinical depression or are battling suicidal thoughts or actions, seek immediate help. Go to your local hospital emergency room. Don’t ignore it.
Jennifer Maggio is an award-winning author and speaker, whose personal journey through homelessness, abuse, and multiple teen pregnancies is leaving audiences around the globe riveted. At 19, Maggio was pregnant for the fourth time, living in government housing on food stamps and welfare. She shares with great openness, her pain, mistakes, and journey to find hope in Christ. She ultimately became an 11-time Circle of Excellence winner in Corporate America. While a vocal advocate for abstinence, and sustaining today's marriages, Maggio recognizes that single parenthood exists and is passionate about seeing these parents thrive. She left her corporate successes behind to launch a global initiative to see single moms living a life of total freedom from financial failures, parenting woes, and emotional issues. Her passion is contagious, and her story has been used to inspire thousands around the globe. Today, Jennifer works to ensure that no single mom walks alone as the founder of the national profit, The Life of a Single Mom. For more information and resources, visit the website HERE.