Top Self-Care Tips for Parents: Reduce Stress and Regain Life Balance

woman and dog walking down a quiet country road with trees
Take some time for yourself each day

No one ever said that parenting is an easy gig!

During my day job as a school psychologist, I often find myself in conversations with amazing parents who struggle to maintain a healthy balance in their personal lives.  Parents who give their all to their children, partners, homes and careers then find themselves fizzled out, exhausted and stressed.  They realize that in trying to meet the needs of many people, they are neglecting their own self-care.

One of the most valuable pieces of advice I can offer parents is to give themselves permission to take care of their own needs as well!  

I love the expression, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”  How true that is! Think about it.   If you are continuously stressed, tired and overwhelmed, how can you give the best of yourself to those you love most?

Practicing self-care is not a selfish act, but a necessary one!  It’s an investment in yourself that has long-term benefits for your physical and emotional health, while enabling you to be at the top of your game each day. 

Following is a list of 10 easy ways that parents can practice self-care.  Try to select at least one of them each day and invest at least 20 minutes (more if you can) to concentrate on you alone:

Exercise

Walk or engage in some form of exercise that increases your heart rate for at least 20 minutes.  Regular aerobic exercise is one of the easiest ways to release feel-good endorphins that relieve brain fog, increase energy, reduce stress and improve positivity.  Research has shown that exercise can be as effective as medication for reducing symptoms of mild to moderate anxiety and depression.  Exercising outdoors gives an added boost of Vitamin D and Serotonin production, contributing to overall health and improved mood.  Just a quick spin around the block can work wonders.  If you haven’t exercised in a while, be sure to clear it with your doctor first before engaging in a more vigorous routine.

Healthy Eating

Picture of a healthy salad

Yes, you’ve heard this one before but it’s so true.  We tell our kids to eat their fruits, vegetables and whole grains but we need to do the same.  Processed and sugary foods may taste good, but they actually deplete our energy and contribute to poor overall health.  Try incorporating more healthy foods into your meals to improve energy and positivity.  You can still have your treats, but make them an occasional indulgence rather than a daily go to. 

Just Say “No”

We don’t have to say yes to every request to volunteer or help out, and it doesn’t make you a bad person for doing so. Saying “no” to some things will free up more time to say “yes” to the activities that you truly care about. You also don’t owe anyone a big explanation about why you can’t help out. A simple, “I can’t do that right now but I look forward to helping in the future” will suffice. Setting boundaries to protect your family time and health goes a long way in promoting self-care.

Get a Hobby

Photo of someone holding a pastry bag and putting white frosting on cupcakes

Do you like to read?  Set aside time to start that new novel you’ve heard about.  Like to bake?  Find some new recipes and get mixing.  Love to draw or craft?  Get back in touch with your artistic side.  Reconnecting with the activities that give you pleasure reawakens your inner spirit, reduces stress, and alleviates mental and physical fatigue.

Connect with Friends

Making time for friends and socializing is important for our emotional reserves.  Talking, sharing and laughing together are stress reducers with proven long-term physical and mental health benefits.  Due to Covid-19, we have to find different ways to connect but it’s still possible.  Zoom, Google Hangouts and Face Time are just three examples of the many apps that make it possible to have lunch with girlfriends, laugh together over game night, or even watch a movie “together” from your own homes while sharing live commentary.  Get creative and reconnect!

Delegate

As parents we often find ourselves taking on a multiple responsibilities at home for cooking, cleaning and managing schedules.  Give some of those responsibilities to others!  You may think it’s easier and faster to do most of these tasks yourself, but assigning chores to others can strengthen the family unit while teaching children valuable life skills and building self-confidence.  The tasks may not be completed perfectly at first, but that’s okay.  Show others how to do a task, guide them, and then let them at it.  After a few days, you will find that you have a little more time for you!

Take a Moment

woman sitting alone on the beach looking out to the sunset

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed and want to de-stress quickly, just take a moment.  Excuse yourself from the situation and step outside for five minutes.  Walk around the block or practice deep breathing. Sit outside and look at the sunset. A momentary escape can help you to recenter and handle a stressful situation with calm and patience.

Listen

woman closing her eyes while listening to relaxing music on her headphones

One of the quickest ways to lower your stress level is to listen to the calming sounds of nature, soothing music, or even a reassuring voice.  Research shows that calming sounds relax our fight or flight response (the physiological reaction we have in times of stress where our bodies must prepare to fight physical or psychological stressors). Try one of the cool apps that are designed to quickly de-stress their listeners.  “Calm” is an app that plays bedtime stories for adults, helps you practice meditation and provides nature sounds for free (you can pay for more advanced levels).  “Headspace” provides short meditations that you can practice anywhere.  Or just ask Alexa to play a mix of stress reducing sounds or music. Check out this article from Good Housekeeping that reviews eight top apps for reducing anxiety and stress.

Transitions

family watching television together

Daily rituals and predictability lower anxiety, speed emotional recovery and offer a sense of security during our day.  A ritual can be something simple like changing out of your work clothes when you get home, having a cup of tea each afternoon during a break, or even setting aside time in the evening to watch television with your family (my evening ritual with my husband).  Your mind and body look forward to these predictable signs that you are transitioning from the stressful part of your day and sliding into relaxation mode.

Get Enough Sleep

restful bedroom

You have heard this one before, but it’s so important. Your body requires regular sound sleep in order to function productively and reduce anxiety!  Lack of sleep boosts levels of stress hormones which in turn interferes with a restful sleep.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Practice some of the other stress reducing techniques covered above so you can get the 7-9 hours of sleep you need every night.  Set the stage for a restful and deep sleep an hour before bedtime by turning off your phone and computer, perhaps taking a warm bath, or engage in quiet reading. Try to keep your workspace out of your bedroom so your brain associates the space only with sleep (and you know what).

What are some of your favorite ways to practice self-care?  Please share them with us here on the blog.  I love how we can build a community where we learn from and support each other

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Joy Worth Having

4 Comments

  1. Salve Flores on February 27, 2021 at 3:53 am

    Here are some of my favorite ways to practice self-care:

    My family schedules game night once a week. We’ve had loads of fun playing board games and the turnout always unpredictable. I am most content during this family time especially when conversations are light hearted and we can be goofy and silly.

    I have joined FaceBook groups that align with my interests and have enjoyed learning and appreciating members’ posts.

    I take power naps! A brief 10 minute “getaway” or downtime is calming and gives me bursts of energy.

    I love meeting up with my dear friend (this blogger) with a power walk or stroll the neighborhood almost every week. I love sharing our discoveries of the past week and look forward to upcoming plans.

    I will continue to update my post as I remember other ways I practice self care. Thanks for the post and advice Rachel ❤️.

    • Joy Worth Having on March 2, 2021 at 4:20 pm

      Salve — thanks so much for sharing the ways you practice self-care. I love power walking with you too! We had family game night in our house a lot more frequently back in spring of 2020 when we were all learning to stay home. Now I think we’ve adjusted somewhat to doing other things but I want to bring game night back to our household. You are right — a chance to reconnect while having fun. I also discovered lots of interesting groups, podcasts and pages on Instagram and Facebook that I didn’t know existed and reflect my interests. I have to say my favorite self-care method is exercise. It makes you feel like a million bucks afterwards and the positive effects last throughout the day if I can walk in the morning. Looking forward to hearing more about your self-care ideas, Salve!

  2. Toni Hotinski on March 9, 2021 at 9:38 pm

    Reading…love it! Walking and catching up with friends, whether Zoom or face time.
    Where I am, things have been relatively normal.
    I love pottering in the garden (albeit small) always replacing a dead plant!!!! or helping my youngest with weeding his…which seems never ending!
    I listen to podcasts, just trying to find interesting ones.
    But, I have to say I love walking.
    Toni ❤

    • Joy Worth Having on March 9, 2021 at 9:42 pm

      Toni: Thanks for sharing your favorite ways of caring for yourself. As I read your list, I could imagine how relaxed those activities could make you feel. I keep meaning to become more involved with podcasts. I love learning new things and this is a great way to do it.

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