Although often overlooked, 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 and implement better coping strategies if they witness their parents 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 self-assess 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 to 10, 0 is under-stressed, 10 is dangerously stressed)
• What shape am I in physically? (nutrition, fitness, sleep, weight, etc.)
• What shape am I in mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
• What areas do I need to prioritize?
• What gets in the way of me taking care of myself? (attitudes, time, lack of family support, etc.)
Know what works for you
Next, 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 activity can I engage in on a regular (2-3 x per week) basis?
• What helps me meet my emotional needs?
• What helps me distract myself in a healthy way from worries?
• What activities do I 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 activities and strategies include the following:
Research has shown a strong positive relationship between exercise and mood. This needs to be brisk enough to raise your heart rate, for at least 20-30 minutes, 3 times per week. The key is finding the right exercise for you and working it into your routine. The could include “incidental” exercise such as walking with the kids to school or to the shops, cycling to work or any of the following forms of exercise.
Be creative with your idea of what constitutes exercise. It doesn’t have to mean getting away from your family, or taking a block of dedicated time. You might put on some fun music and dance around a bit while you’re vacuuming (get the kids involved too). Turn a home yoga session into a lesson on bodies, breathing and mindfulness for your children. Do a few lunges while walking the dog. Look for opportunities to do a little extra in your daily routines.
The relaxation response is important in helping to bring our heart rate down and in restoring calm. As little as 5 minutes per day, can make a world of difference to stress levels.
• Deep breathing
• Progressive muscle relaxation
• Meditation or mindfulness (being present in the moment, or paying attention to the moment you are in)
• Having a bath
• Listening to music
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 your car for a few minutes 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 5 minutes to sit still in the middle of a hectic day. Find what works for you and your family.
Emotional / Social
Parenting can raise frequent and strong emotional reactions ranging from anxiety to anger. It is important for parents to process and contain emotions. Regular, intense emotions can cause chronic stress and hinder our capacity to think realistically and to problem-solve. There are numerous coping skills to deal with negative emotions, which can be incorporated in one’s life.
We all have different emotional and social needs based on our personality and levels of extroversion/introversion. More extroverted parents may find it more challenging to adjust to being home alone with children. Busy parents frequently have to combine parenting with meeting their emotional/social needs, for example by joining a mothers’ group. Other strategies may include:
• Coffee, dinner, movies, etc. with your loved ones
• Phone calls, emails, social networking, corresponding with friends and family
• Writing in a journal or doing art
• Seeing a counselor
Many new parents report that they miss the intellectual stimulation of work and have to find different ways of meeting their need for intellectual stimulation, which could include:
• Reading books, newspapers, journals, internet, etc.
• Taking up a hobby or interest (ie: book club, gardening, scrap booking, photography)
This dimension is about our connection to something greater than ourselves, not religion alone. Just as no two people are the same, there is not just one path to “spiritual” connection. Different strategies may need to be tried and tested.
• Joining a faith-based group or attending church
• Bushwalking or enjoying nature
• Meditation, yoga
Now you have assessed your stress levels and considered the dimensions of self-care, you are ready to write your own self-care plan. Time for ourselves does not need to take excessive amounts of time or come at someone else’s expense. It just takes a commitment and a little planning. Many of the dimensions can be combined – ie: physical/social/spiritual – a bushwalk with a loved one.
Under each dimension, write a list of all the activities you could undertake.
1) Commit to doing one activity from the combined lists, each day for the next week.
2) Schedule this in your calendar or diary, along with a reminder system.
3) At the end of the week, review your stress levels and commit to another week.
*Self-care for parents / Looking after yourself as a parent. Local Employment & Training
Solutions (LETS). Retrieved October 13, 2014 from
Recommended reading on self-care are:
The Art of Extreme Self-Care (2012), by Cheryl Richardson
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992), by Julia
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life (1997), by Richard Carlson
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012), by Brene Brown
Compiled by Christine Hall BA CYC, Youth & Family Counsellor