10 Tips for Parents to Practice Self-Care
There always seems to be so much going on, and there will always be things that are out of our control. One thing we all can (and need to) focus on is coping with it all by taking care of ourselves, one day at a time. We get it. There’s never enough time in the day. We may be dealing with kids, work demands and what feels like a million other responsibilities. But, we have to take care of—and make time for—ourselves.
It’s common for parents to feel like the only reason they need to take care of themselves is so they can better take care of their family. Yes, managing your own stress has a positive impact on your parenting. At the same time, you’re allowed to prioritize your own needs to take care of yourself. You matter too. We all need to be reminded sometimes that we can’t pour from an empty cup and that it isn’t selfish to take care of you.
10 ways parents and caregivers can practice self-care
- Acknowledge your feelings, and allow yourself to feel them. The only way to deal with feelings is to name them and work through them. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Whatever you feel is real and valid. Sometimes just acknowledging what we feel can provide a sense of control and lower our stress.
- Avoid comparing your feelings to others’. It’s common to compare our circumstances to another person’s and think we shouldn’t feel a certain way. For example, if you think someone is going through something harder than you are, you may think you’re not allowed to feel stressed or upset. But your feelings and experiences are just as real and valid as anyone else’s. Similar to how we’d encourage you to not minimize or dismiss your kids’ feelings, we encourage you to not invalidate yours either. Everyone’s situation is unique, and we’re all allowed to feel whatever we feel.
- Practice healthy habits. It sounds simple enough, but try to prioritize eating a balanced diet, moving your body and getting enough quality sleep. Practicing healthy habits can sometimes help prevent stress, and it helps us feel better. Have you ever snapped when you were hungry (aka hangry) or tired (aka cranky)? Staying ahead of the game by getting good sleep and eating well can help keep the little things from becoming bigger things.
- Follow a routine. Routines create predictability, and knowing what to expect can offer a sense of comfort and security. Try to keep at least one simple routine, such as waking up or going to bed at the same time each day
- Give yourself a break, and let go of your inner perfectionist. Things won’t always go as planned, so we need to have realistic expectations. Give yourself permission to bend where you need to—even if it’s something you wouldn’t normally do. Cut yourself some slack. You are doing your best. That might mean saying yes to things you normally say no to or vice versa. It’s OK to make exceptions and adjustments as needed to care for yourself. There’s no textbook to follow, and there’s no one right or wrong way to do it. Find what works best for you.
- Set clear boundaries. It’s easy to get sucked into working 24/7 and being “on” at all times, but we need to set limits so that we don’t burn out. Maybe try shutting down your computer at a set hour and committing to not checking email for the rest of the evening. Or maybe limit the news to only a few updates per day and turn off the constant notifications. There’s nothing wrong with staying informed, but receiving continuous alerts and notifications can make us feel even more anxious.
- Focus on what you can control. Our thoughts can quickly spiral and overwhelm us when we think about all the unknowns and possible worst-case scenarios we could encounter in life. Try to focus on the present moment and what you do have control over. For example, instead of worrying constantly about the state of the world, try focusing on how you’re doing your part to create the life you want for yourself and your family. Even though you can’t control many things happening in the world, you can control your own actions, reactions and choices.
- Take 5. Many of us go into overdrive with never-ending expectations and to-do lists—always thinking about the next conference call, the kids’ schooling or the next trip to the grocery store. But it’s important to give yourself a break each day to do something that’s only for you, even if it’s just for 5 minutes. Whether it’s taking an extra-long bath or shower, doing a quick workout, reading, closing your eyes for a quiet moment, or practicing a relaxation strategy, take time each day to do something that’s only for you. There’s nothing selfish about it; it’s essential.
- Make time for laughter and joy. When we feel overwhelmed and stressed, it can seem like a struggle to find joy. It may even feel inappropriate or unrealistic to have fun while there’s so much on your plate. But laughter can actually improve your mood, relieve stress and help your body relax. So make time for laughter every day—whether it’s watching a funny video, checking out the latest memes or Facetiming with a friend who always makes you laugh.
- Practice gratitude. Even if it’s just one thing, taking the time to recognize what you are grateful for each day helps shift your focus to what you do have instead of what you don’t. It can be as simple as shifting “I’m exhausted. The last thing I want to do is drive my child to sports practice” to “I’m grateful I get to spend time with my child on the way there and can have time to myself while they’re at practice.” Two things can be true at once: You can feel both overwhelmed and grateful for what you’re capable of.
Self-care is an ongoing process and journey. Some days you might feel like you’re crushing it, and other days you might feel discouraged, realizing you haven’t done much to care for yourself. It’s not all or nothing; do what you can to care for yourself in small and big ways. And of course, try to be kind and patient with yourself along the way.