It can be easy for parents to spend so much time fretting about their children, that their own needs go unattended to. It is important to recognize that self-care is NOT selfish. Being good at taking care of others, means also being good to ourselves. Parents are children’s number one role models, and they will learn to take better care of themselves, form healthy boundaries with others, and implement better coping strategies if they witness their parents/caregivers doing the same.
WHAT CAN YOU AS A PARENT/CAREGIVER DO TO START PRACTICING SELF-CARE?
Take stock of where you are now. It is important to realistically recognize our strengths and weaknesses in relation to taking care of ourselves. To do this, it may help to ask ourselves a series of questions, which may include the following:
What are my current stress levels? (on a scale of 0-10; 0 being under-stressed, 10 being dangerously stressed)
It is important to consider self-care strategies that address all the dimensions of self-care from our physical, emotional, social and intellectual, to our spiritual needs.
What helps me relax?
What physical activities can I engage in on a regular basis?
What helps my emotional needs?
What helps alleviate my stress/worries in a healthy way?
What activities do I (or used to) love doing?
How can I combine some of these activities with family time, and also find time for “me-time”?
SOME TRIED AND TRUE SELF-CARE STRATEGIES INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Research shows there is a positive relationship between exercise and mood. This needs to be brisk enough to raise your heart rate for at least 20 minutes, 3 times per week. The key is finding the right exercise for you and working it into your routine. This could include “incidental” exercise such as walking or cycling with the family to school or the shops. Dancing while vacuuming or watching TV works too!
RELAXATION: The relaxation response is important in helping to bring our heart rates down and restore a sense of calm. As little as five minutes per day, can reduce stress levels. Not all people need a block of time to be alone to relax effectively. Relaxation can happen in the middle of your daily life. Sit in the car after dropping the children off at school, and listen to your favorite radio station. Practice mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment) while eating your lunch. Allow yourself a cup of tea and five minutes to sit still in the middle of a hectic day. Find what works best for you.
EMOTIONAL / SOCIAL: Parenting is frequently a lesson in patience, and has the ability to raise strong reactions such as anxiety and anger. It is important for parents to recognize and process emotions. Regular intense emotions can cause chronic stress, affecting our overall wellbeing as well as hinder our capacity to think realistically and effectively problem-solve. Since everyone is different, it is important to recognize what your needs are for emotional and social support. Extroverted people tend to benefit from the energy of being around others, while more introverted individuals often seek alone time.
INTELLECTUAL: There is philosophical and psychological belief that humans need to a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives in order to experience happiness. This sense of meaningfulness often (but certainly not always), presents in the form of challenging oneself intellectually. This can happen by reading, engaging in discussions with others that challenge your own worldview and belief systems, learning something new such as carpentry, gardening, sewing, cooking, arts, etc.
SPIRITUAL: This dimension is about connecting to something greater than oneself, or recognizing that we are all interconnected; spirituality is not necessarily defined as religion alone. For some, they feel a sense of spirituality being in nature, practicing yoga or meditation, engaging in creative pursuits or running.
Now that you have assessed your stress levels and considered the dimensions of self-care, you are ready to include some aspects of personal wellness into your schedule. Time for ourselves does not need to take excessive amounts of time or come at someone else’s expense. It just takes a little commitment and planning. Many of the dimensions of wellness can be combined – e.g: A hike with a friend or loved one combines physical, social, and spiritual wellbeing.