How to reduce stress as a single parent (to fit with your limited time, babysitting and financial resources)

‘Single parenting is the hardest, most emotionally challenging, fatigue-inducing and energy sapping torture I know and I really do love my kids!’ 1 I wrote those words probably ten years ago when it was the full on primary school years. Now it’s bigger kids, bigger issues (life direction, jobs and partners) and soon to be empty nest. Single parenting is stressful. Learning some techniques to manage stress is an important self-care strategy for any single parent.


The stress of single parenting

As a single parent you know how hard it is. You have no-one to share the daily workload with. No-one to discuss issues or problem solve with. No-one to download to about your day or to care for you when you are sick. Hence, the often repeated mantra from me that you cannot single parent alone (see blogs Why every single parent shouldn’t parent alone and Increasing your support).

You also need some stress management skills.

Signs of stress

The first step in managing stress is to recognise when you are stressed instead of waiting for burn out and/or physical illness to stop you. That was usually my warning sign and it’s a bit late! It’s better to recognise some of the signs of stress and do something about it early on.

Some of the signs of stress are:

  • Muscle tension (head, neck & shoulders)
  • Feeling anxious or nervous
  • Moodiness
  • Feeling depressed
  • Nervous movement/restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep problems
  • Grinding teeth or clenching jaw
  • Pent up anger
  • Headache
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Poor focus/concentration

Reducing stress

As a single parent you can reduce your stress by using some of the 10 strategies to practice balance as a single parent which includes how to action time management and mindfulness, and ensure that you have support.

As a single parent you may not have the time, babysitting or financial resources to attend relaxation classes, but you can easily build some into your daily routine. You can also learn and employ techniques such as relaxation breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery. These are easy to slip into the single parent schedule. I now use a combination of all three when I go to bed each night as a quick and easy way to unwind and stop my mind from rehashing the events of the day, family issues, and prevent my mind from preparing the ‘to do’ list for tomorrow and anticipating the next days’ problems.

Let me teach you to do relaxation breathing. Watch the video by clicking here. Relaxation breathing is incorporated into other forms of relaxation.

Progressive muscle relaxation is designed to reduce muscle tension.  For a handout with general procedure and relaxation sequence click here. Some people with chronic conditions find progressive muscle relaxation can increase their pain so know your body and what is helpful for it.

Guided imagery is ‘like a guided day dream’2 creating mental images to take your attention to another place and time, a place of quiet and peace where you can relax. Let me take you through an exercise in guided imagery click here. In this exercise you float worries off down the river. Other scripts may have you pack your worries into a box and close the lid. While doing this exercise with my daughter, she used to ask for more time to stuff the box with her worries! Leading groups through this, most people don’t stop to open the box on the way back.  You can read guided imagery scripts to yourself to become familiar then reconstruct the scene from the script in your mind, have someone read it for you or make a recording of it and play it.

Putting legs on it

Why don’t you trial a stress reducing strategy and see if it works for you.

There are additional strategies in Huffington Post article ‘20 scientifically-backed ways to de-stress right now’.


Melnick, M. (2013) 20 scientifically-backed ways to de-stress right now

Better Health Channel: Stress

Better Health Channel: Breathing to reduce stress

Inner Health Studio: Free relaxation scripts included guided imagery, visualisation and physical relaxation techniques for personal use (see restrictions on website)

Mills, H, Reiss, N, and Dombeck, M (2008) Visualization and guided imagery techniques for stress reduction, MentalHelp.Net

Relaxation Breathing and Guided Imagery videos are part of the online course ‘Restoring Balance’ launching Tuesday 1st November.


  1. Legge, V (2010) New life in the mourning, Sid Harta, Australia, p 144-145
  2. Lorig, K et al. (2006). Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions – 3rd ed. Bull Publishing Company. U.S.A, 2006, p 78

Photo credit Aaron Burden

You may also like

Leave a comment