Over the past year, parents have been taxed with the immense challenge of navigating the pandemic while also ensuring that their children’s needs are being met. For many parents, this has meant juggling work from home while also supporting their childrens’ online schooling, on top of generally helping their families cope with increased isolation, boredom, and uncertainty. As parents have struggled to provide comfort and stability to their children during a vastly uncomfortable and confusing time, many have placed their own needs at the bottom of the priority list. This is only natural: amidst navigating all the challenges that the pandemic has created, it can feel like an insurmountable task to also dedicate time towards oneself. This is particularly true for parents, who tend to self-sacrifice their own needs in the interest of their children. However, it is important for parents to remember the importance of self-care, which is the practice of intentionally attending to your own physical and emotional needs. Self-care promotes positive health outcomes, including resilience and an improved ability to cope with daily stressors. For parents, these things are crucial in strengthening their capacity to best support their families.
Many parents will agree that self-care sounds lovely, but at the same time, it can feel overwhelming to determine precisely how to incorporate it into their daily lives. The good news is that self-care comes in many forms and is, at its root, anything you do for yourself that feels nourishing. This means that what constitutes self-care differs from person to person. Furthermore, what self-care is to you may fluctuate on a day-to-day basis. For example, some days, exercise may feel like self-care, whereas you may experience it as an additional stressor on other days. Therefore, a key to practicing self-care is checking in with yourself regularly and determining where your needs are and are not being met. You may ask yourself, “how have I been sleeping?” “have I taken a “break” lately?” or “when was the last time I laughed with a friend?”. The answers to these questions may guide areas of need within your daily routine. Based on what you find yourself lacking, here are some emotional and physical self-care routines that may serve you well:
- Engage in physical exercise/movement that makes you feel good (e.g., yoga, biking, walking, dancing, etc.)
- Eat nutrient-dense foods
- Engage in a skincare routine (e.g., do a face mask or simply dedicate a bit of time to cleansing your skin each day)
- Get a massage
- Develop a bedtime routine and prioritize getting enough sleep
- Prioritize your own routine medical/dental care
- Get your hair/nails done
- Take a bubble bath or a relaxing shower
- Spend dedicated time with a friend or loved one, in person or via phone or video-call
- Say no to things that do not bring you joy or purpose
- Declutter a specific space in your home and get rid of things that may be weighing you down
- Use positive self-talk
- Listen to music that evokes positive emotions
- Turn off your electronics for a predetermined amount of time
- Refrain from checking the news
- Spend time doing a valued hobby
- Plan family time doing something “out-of-the-ordinary” for your family, such as a picnic or a board game night
- Spend some time alone
- Attend religious services (online or in-person)
- Engage in a gratitude practice
- Spend time in nature
How to Incorporate Self-Care into an Already Busy Schedule:
Again, a major challenge for parents is determining how to fit self-care into their already busy schedules and stick with it over time. Here are some things that may help:
- Start small. At first, pick a few self-care activities that do not require too much time or energy and commit to engaging in these activities a few times a week.
- Incorporate self-care into things that you are already doing. For example, you can integrate mindfulness techniques into everyday tasks through mundane-task focusing, which involves redirecting wandering thoughts to the task at hand during daily chores that you would be doing anyway. For instance, while folding laundry, when your mind begins to wander, gently redirect your attention back to the activity and focus on the five senses to help guide your focus (e.g., what do you see, feel, hear, smell, taste?). Also, you can try engaging in gratitude practice while you are in the shower or brushing your teeth by thinking through the things that you are grateful for and challenging yourself to identify something new each day.
- Identify the specifics: when you are attempting to begin new habits, it can help to identify exactly what you will do, when you will do it, where you will do it, and for how long. It can also help to implement a “cue” to prompt yourself to engage in your new habit (such as an alarm or a note to yourself). Over time, this level of planning will not be necessary as your new routine becomes habitual; however, it can be helpful to be very intentional about making these changes in the beginning.
- Check in with yourself regularly. How are you feeling before and after your self-care activities? How are your energy levels? What can the answers to these questions teach you about the impact of your new practice on your wellbeing?
- Adjust your self-care routine over time. Pay attention to what works for you. Using this information, adjust the activities you are doing and gradually increase the quantity of time and energy you dedicate towards taking care of yourself.
- Remember that it is essential to be realistic. Self-care is not an all-or-nothing endeavor: a little bit each day goes a long way. Also, it is important to be compassionate towards yourself regarding your ability to stick with a self-care routine. Don’t expect perfection immediately, and be proud of yourself for making small efforts here and there.
- Finally, try to frame self-care as something that is neither self-indulgent nor a waste of time. Self-care improves your wellbeing, which supports your ability to take care of others. If you feel emotionally, physically, and mentally fulfilled, you will be better able to take good care of your family. When framed from this perspective, self-care is, in fact, both an act of self-love and an act of love for others.
By: Meghan McMackin, PhD Supervised by Misti Nicholson, PsyD