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Carla-Jo lives with her 3 year old son in a small town in Somerset. She teaches mindfulness locally and online, and has just launched a podcast on the topic for single parents. In this blog, Carla-Jo talks about how mindfulness helped her look after her mental wellbeing as she entered the world of single parenthood.
Nearly two years ago I became a single mum with a 16-month-old son. I moved in with a friend’s mum while I figured out what to do next. I found myself thinking ‘wow I never expected at the age of 38 to be a single mum with a toddler’. So many feelings were whirling around inside me, a deep sadness around the breakup of my marriage, fear about how I would manage on my own emotionally, worries about being less financially stable, anger and shock at myself for getting into this situation, and deep guilt and fear around how this was going to affect my child and also his father. I worried about the hurt it was going to cause my family too. Even as I write this, I am reminded of all the emotion that was there. How on earth did I manage all those feelings without getting utterly overwhelmed and it deeply affecting my mental health? Mindfulness in a nutshell!
I had a regular and mostly daily mindfulness practice for nine years, training as a mindfulness teacher in 2014. This is what kept me steady and kept my inner trust alive through all the turmoil. I do think it is also important to see a counsellor/psychotherapist if that’s the support you need. For me, my mental health was generally good because of years of mindfulness practice.
So how did mindfulness help me with all of this? Firstly, with mindfulness practice, we begin to understand that thoughts may feel very real but they aren’t our reality. I had never ending thoughts linked to feelings of fear, anger, guilt, etc. I was able to not get lost in them as I understood that they were just mental constructs. For example I’d have the thought “how is this going to affect my child?”, which would lead to, “have I done the right thing for him?” which would then lead to “maybe I haven’t, is this going to affect his mental health?” which would lead to “oh no what if he can’t cope and he becomes really unhappy and this damages him for the rest of his life?!” It’s astounding where one fearful thought can lead! But with my mindfulness practice, I could see more clearly that this was happening and see the thoughts through kindness and a non-judgmental lens so they didn’t have as much control over me.
I also learned how to feel safe and comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. If we have a feeling of anxiety in our body, it feels uncomfortable which is normal. What we tend to do is either try to problem solve our way out of it which can make it worse or we distract ourselves from the feeling through TV, eating, shopping, etc. (a little bit of distraction is fine, it’s when it takes over our lives that it can become a problem). With mindfulness practice, we acknowledge the feelings in the body with compassion and give them space to be there and move through naturally and choose a wiser response to their presence. For me, this meant when I was feeling anger or fear or grief I wasn’t so overwhelmed or lost in them, I understood they were natural responses to my situation and I took care to look after myself with them.
Self-compassion and compassion towards others is such an important part of mindfulness practice. You can’t have true mindfulness without compassion. So cultivating self-compassion during this time and compassion for everyone around me was so important for my mental health and general wellbeing. When thoughts of the hurt people were going through became too much, I would pause and practice kindness and compassion meditations to help myself to generate feelings of kindness to myself during such a difficult time. Cultivating compassion for family, both mine and my ex-husband’s helped with my wellbeing as it allowed me to acknowledge my own feelings and feel more steady rather than guilt or hurt.
Finally, mindfulness and compassion practices help me not to feel so overwhelmed with the day to day life of single parenting, the intensity of bringing up a young child, working, and managing daily chores. As well as scheduling mindfulness meditation every day, I also incorporate it into my day. I punctuate my day with a three-minute breathing space. This is where I pause to check-in with myself, feel my body and follow my breathing.
I like to do these short breathing spaces as I move from one task to the next; they really help me feel steady. I can also practice mindfulness while washing up or in the shower; moments which are perfect for the mind to start fixating on problems or frustrations. It’s easy to get out of the shower feeling stressed if you’ve been lost in thought and worried about all the things on your plate. So instead, I bring my attention to the sensations of the water, the warmth on my skin, the caresses of the shampoo, the feeling of my feet on the shower floor; these moments help me to feel settled and calm as I move through my day.
Mindfulness and compassion practices are vital in enabling me to maintain good mental health as I move through single parenthood. I also know this has a massive benefit on my son, as he learns how to respond to the world by watching and learning from me. The ability to cultivate mindfulness and compassionate awareness is something that we all have the ability to do. It’s deeply empowering and life changing not just for you but for those around you. Life can feel so rich and meaningful despite the wildness of single parenting, it’s our birthright to live in joy and flourish; mindfulness has allowed me to do just that.
To learn more about Carla-Jo’s work, you can visit her website.
You can also listen to her new podcast where she interviews psychologists, therapists and practitioners to explore how single parents can use mindfulness to support themselves and their families.
You can learn more about the practice of mindfulness via the NHS.
For more information about what wellbeing support there is for you, you can check out our information page.