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