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Adjusting to Single-Parenthood: Your Mental Health

So, you're a onesy in a twosy world. Well, you're not the only single parent in town. You may be amazed to know that there are more than 10 million single-parent households in the United States alone — 77.5 percent headed by single mothers and 22.5 percent headed by single dads. But often, onesies (especially those folks who used to be twosies) do need to make a few social adjustments.

If you're feeling a little lonely, you can take some simple steps to overcome these feelings.

Recognizing the blues

As a single parent, the way that you're coping with your singleness probably falls somewhere on a scale of one to ten. Where do you fall on this scale? Are you doing pretty well — say an eight, a nine, or even a ten? Congratulations! Or are you mucking around down in the lower numbers? "Mucking around" means you may be in one (or more) of these scenarios:

  • You're not sleeping well.
  • Nothing tastes good anymore.
  • Getting out of bed in the morning is a real bummer.
  • Simply packing lunches and getting ready for work drains most of your energy.
  • Dressing the kids and getting them off to school is excruciating.
  • Work is a drag.
  • Thinking about the future isn't fun — it looks grim.
  • Friends and coworkers seem to be avoiding you.

Sound familiar? You need to realize that if you've become a single parent due to death or divorce, going through a grieving period isn't unusual. Elizabeth Kubler Ross, a noted psychiatrist, has described the stages of grief with the acronym DABDA. You can skip stages, backtrack, or experience more than one stage at a time. After you get back to your normal, happy self and look back on what you've been through, you'll probably come up with your own description of the grieving process you went through. Meanwhile, being able to recognize these five common stages of grief may help:

  • Denial: You're numb and you feel cold. You can't think, much less make a decision. It may encourage you to know that this stage may help you buy a little time until reality can seep in at a rate you can tolerate.
  • Anger: You're incensed and full of rage, and you have a right to be mad at the world and your partner who abandoned you. Even if your spouse died, you may still be angry with him or her. Or, even if you were the dumper, so to speak, you may be grieving and angry because you didn't want your marriage to end the way it ended.
  • Bargaining: You're thinking, "This whole thing may be a mistake. I'll become a better person, and you'll come back." This process is torture, but these feelings comprise a common stage of grieving for people of all ages who experience separation and loss.
  • Depression: Reality sets in, and although anger and denial are still hanging around, you've dropped into a pit of sadness. Maybe you're sleeping a lot, or very little. Maybe you're hardly eating a thing, or on the biggest eating binge of your life. Maybe your energy level has disappeared, or you may be bursting with nervous energy. You're frustrated, irritable, and confused. And, as if all that isn't enough, you feel brain dead. Not to worry. The damage isn't permanent! But please don't make any big decisions right now. You need time to recover. This is a difficult time in your life, but you have to reach the depths before you can heal.
    Serious depression needs immediate attention. If the depression has lasted longer than six weeks or if you, your friend, or your child experiences the following symptoms, immediately call a family doctor, a mental-health professional, the hospital, or a local suicide prevention hotline (that number is in your phone book).

• Constant crying

• Can't think of one good thing she's ever done

• Always exhausted, even when he wakes up in the morning

• Can't sleep or wants to sleep all the time

• Abrupt changes in appearance, risk-taking behavior, activities, or weight

• Extreme apathy (acting like she doesn't care)

• Feels helpless or beyond help

• Talks about or displays a preoccupation with death

• Suicide notes

• Direct threats

  • Acceptance: Finally, acceptance begins to seep in. This healing acceptance brings back some of your equilibrium. You notice that you're able to think a little more clearly. You begin to reach out for comfort, and you even give comfort to others who are also hurting.

Taking the path to recovery

You can try one of these remedies for sadness and depression; they may help you heal more quickly:

  • Make a list of the things you used to do back in the old days and add them to your schedule: You remember the old dayswhen you were happy, don't you? What kind of activities did you enjoy before? Visiting an art gallery? Then visit one again. Going for a jog or power walk? What's stopping you? Physical exercise makes your body release feel-good chemicals, called endorphins, that contribute to a feeling of well-being.
  • Smile more: Showing your pearly whites relaxes your jaw and makes you feel better — physically and emotionally. But wait until you see what it does for others — including your kids. They respond in kind.
  • Make a list of your accomplishments: Print it out in large, bold letters and hang the list where you can see it every day.
  • Write down all the things you like about yourself — or at least used to like about yourself: Are you a different person than you were before? No, of course not. You're the same person deep down inside — you're a nice, likable person with many positive qualities.
  • Spruce up your appearance: Stand up straight, buy a new wardrobe, change your hairstyle, or go to the cosmetics counter at your local department store and get a makeover. When you look in the mirror, you need to like what you see.
  • Invite a furry friend into the house: If you and your kids have never had a pet, now may be the time for a trip to the animal shelter. Studies have shown that having a pet helps reduce stress and can even add a few years to your life.
  • Help someone who's worse off than you are: Yes, as impossible as it may seem, some folks do measure up to this description. Get involved in your church, a charity, or a volunteer group that reaches out to others. If you don't want to join an organization, look for ways to reach out to one person at a time. Find someone in your neighborhood who's hurting or sick or who could use a meal, gift basket, or simple visit. The important thing is to climb out of that depressing rut you've been stuck. By the way, it's good to let your children get involved in your volunteer efforts.

Sometimes you just can't do it alone. If you're feeling depressed most of the time, or you're having trouble functioning in your role as single parent, you may need a little help from a professional therapist.

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