When you are a parent, self-care often gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list. After all, you have kids that need your help with homework, getting dressed, basic daily living skills, etc… However, when parents don’t make time for themselves and engage in self-care activities, they are more likely to be stressed, tired, anxious, depressed and have low frustration tolerance. But taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. If you aren’t decompressing and engaging in activities that you enjoy and recharge you, then you aren’t going to be able to sustain momentum. Especially during the current COVID-19 Pandemic.
If you as the parent begin to experience low energy, frustration, anxiety, depression or any similar symptoms, you will not be able to keep your children from experiencing the same. Kids are very in tune with their parents' emotional state. They may not be able to vocalize or cognitively understand what’s happening, but they are able to pick up on your emotions fairly quickly and easily. If you are feeling anxious or agitated, they will then become uncomfortable and mirror those emotions. This in turn will cause more stress, frustration and faster burnout.
Being “on” and at the ready for your children at all times can cause burnout and turn things that can be everyday enjoyments into feeling like everyday chores. For example, just playing with your kids could begin to feel overwhelming or frustrating. However, if you are recharged from regular self-care, you will be able to enjoy those moments more often. Self-care is not a selfish act but rather it allows you to be the best parent you can be.
What does self-care look like?:
Self-care is anything that you do that is enjoyable and recharges you. But ultimately it’s making time for yourself on many different levels. Below is what that looks like at each level.
- Be creative -- painting, drawing, creating something can all allow you to express your emotions (even baking and cooking have been shown to use the creative parts of your brain and boost mood).
- See a therapist -- talking to someone about the stressors of parenting, work or working on coping strategies is always helpful.
- Cry -- allow yourself to cry it out.
- Write -- journaling is very therapeutic and allows you to get your emotions out of your head.
- Find things that make you laugh -- movies, books, shows
- Say no to extra responsibilities -- saying no is very important, especially if you already have too much on your plate.
- Exercise -- on your own preferably but can be with the family
- Sleep -- this one can be hard with younger kids but it’s still important to try to make happen. This could look like asking a relative or friend or even a babysitter to watch your kids while you take a nap.
- Eat right -- this means getting enough fruits and veggies as well as taking vitamins to help with any gaps in your nutrition.
- Get a massage -- massages help with relaxation which can help you recharge
- Be affectionate -- either with your partner or even with your kids. But being affectionate is proven to lower stress levels.
- Take a hot shower or bath -- hot water raises your internal temperature which allows your body to relax more effectively. You can also add certain essential oils like lavender to increase the relaxation experience.
- Go for long walks -- again preferably without kids
- Have a cup of calming tea -- chamomile tea is great.
- Stretch -- stretching is a great way to relax and can be done anywhere.
- Engage in a sport -- tennis, basketball, soccer, etc..
- Spend time with friends -- go out to eat or get drinks, go see a movie, have a game night
- Schedule time to talk to another adult each day.
- Facetime or use video calling -- since we can’t get out of the house physically right now, use technology to help with socializing.
- Join parenting social group -- look online to find parenting groups that meet up
- Join a community sports league
- Read -- read all those books you’ve been meaning to read. Read for fun or for educational purposes.
- Play games -- there are tons of games online that you can play that boost your cognitive skills
- Do puzzles -- any kind of puzzle is great for your brain
- Listen to podcasts or radio shows -- there’s plenty of podcasts on almost every subject. Take advantage of it.
- Write -- write stories, poems, songs
- Watch documentaries -- with all the streaming platforms out there you are bound to find something you’d like to know more about.
- Engage in old or new hobbies
- Find a project that you’d like to complete and would be rewarding
- Go to religious services -- a lot of them are offering them online now due to social distancing. Some record them for you to watch at later times if you can’t do it live.
- Meditate or pray every morning or evening
- Do volunteer work or help out others in your community
- Contribute to causes you believe in
- Engage in social activities that are uplifting
- Spend time outdoors and enjoying nature
How to set boundaries with others, even your kids:
It is important to set boundaries with others so that you can regularly engage in your self-care activities. Setting boundaries can be hard at first and you may even feel guilty. But it is important to remember that you can not be or do your best if you are not recharged and able to decompress. Below are ways to set boundaries with others, even your kids.
- Define your boundaries: let others including your children know that you are engaging in activities away from them in order to recharge and be ready to play with them later.
- Make expectations known: let others know what you expect from them while you’re engaging in the self-care activities (i.e.: don’t call/text, don’t come in the room, etc…) and what they can expect from you (i.e.: what time you’ll be home, where you will be, how to contact in an emergency, who they can reach out to instead of you for non-emergencies, etc…)
- Validate others feelings regarding your absence but don’t give in: others including your kids may try to make you feel guilty for taking time for yourself. But explain to them the importance of you being gone AND how you understand that they are sad or upset about it. Validating feelings doesn’t mean you agree with them but rather that you understand why they may feel that way.
- Stick to your boundaries: consistency is always key. If you are not sticking to your boundaries, others will not stick to them either.
Tips for finding time for self care:
Knowing and doing are two separate things. You may know that you need to make time for self-care but how do you do it? Below are different ways to make that happen, even during the social distancing and kids being home from school.
- Enlist family, friends, neighbors or even a sitter to watch your kids while you take a walk or spend some time in another room by yourself.
- Tag team with your partner: Ask your partner to watch the kids while you go do something and then switch.
- If you aren’t able or can’t leave the house, try to just take a shower or bath alone.
- Take a day off of work just to engage in a self-care activity.
- Ask your partner to take a day off to stay with the kids so you can have a self-care day.
- You and your partner can take a day off while the kids are at school and do something together.
- Hire a sitter so you can go out with friends or go see a movie or anything
- If your child still takes naps, do something for yourself while they are napping
- Schedule it like any other appointment. This will make it more likely that you will keep it.
- Take time when you can. Be flexible when opportunities arise and you find yourself with time on your hands. Even if it’s only a half hour.
Lastly, sometimes you are in a situation where you can’t take time for yourself. For example, with the social distancing. Below are activities you can do that promote self-care with your kids. Plus it will help them de-stress and re-energize.
- Practice taking deep breaths -- there are lots of youtube videos online to help with doing this correctly.
- Have a dance party
- Go for a walk
- Watch a funny video or show
- Read each other jokes
- Read a book together
- Draw or color together
- Listen to music together
- Do each other’s hair
- Dress up together
- Make a comic or a short story
- Play games
- Make a fort
- Plan your favorite vacation or your perfect day
- Look up receipts to cook now or later
Self-care is vital for everyone but especially parents. Don’t put yourself last. It’s like the safety tip when flying. You need to put on your oxygen mask before you can help anyone else, even your kids.