When you’re a parent, self-care often slips to the bottom of the list. But taking care of yourself isn’t a luxury. It’s essential. And during this difficult time, when children are home and stress is running high, it’s more important than ever. Here are five tips from our clinicians that can help.
Make time for yourself
The pandemic has been long, and even though the end is in sight, we’re all struggling to maintain our mental health. Even now, much of the personal time that was part of daily routines pre-pandemic — commutes, time alone at home or at the store, social time with friends, sitting in a restaurant — is not available for folks with kids at home. Without it, we have to be intentional about creating space to recharge and decompress. This could look like taking a shower or bath, walking around the block alone (or with your dog), or designating time to read or simply zone out after the kids have gone to bed.
Prioritize healthy choices
The colder weather and ongoing stress we’re all experiencing right now can make it easy to slip into habits that feel good in the moment but can be detrimental in the long term. “Make sure you’re eating properly, try to get enough sleep (but not too much!), and create a routine that includes physical activity,” recommends Jill Emanuele, PhD, Senior Director of the Mood Disorders Center at the Child Mind Institute. This doesn’t mean pressuring yourself to get into tip-top shape, or not eating ice cream or binging your favorite shows. It does mean being thoughtful and intentional about how you’re treating yourself and your body. Small changes like making time to take a walk, do a short exercise routine, or choosing to go to bed a little earlier than usual can reduce stress and help you feel more relaxed and resilient.
“Perfectionism and the coronavirus don’t mix,” says David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “It’s time to be exceedingly realistic, both at work and as a parent.” Avoid burnout by setting realistic expectations and giving yourself grace if you can’t meet them. “Practice forgiveness and self-compassion,” says Dr. Anderson. Parents should remind themselves that these are unprecedented times. “There’s no playbook for this. Remember you’re doing your best during a very difficult time. Cut yourself some slack.”
It’s been long (long long long) year and anxiety is, understandably, rampant. With so much worry and uncertainty floating around it can be easy to absorb other people’s fears and concerns without even realizing it. If you have a friend or family member who’s in the habit of sending worst-case-scenario news or is prone to sending anxiety-provoking text messages, practice a little emotional distancing. Let them know you sympathize but that you’re taking a break from worrying news, or simply hit the Do Not Disturb button. You can always reconnect when things are calmer.
Reconnect with things you enjoy
Self-care can be as simple as taking a shower, but it doesn’t have to be. Finding time to get back in touch with hobbies or activities you enjoy or making the choice to learn a new skill can be a great way to practice self-care. Maybe there’s a knitting project you’ve always wanted to try, or you’ve been meaning to learn how to needlepoint. If young children at home make solo activities unrealistic, seek out activities you can enjoy together, like baking bread, or making art.
Finally, remember, being kind to yourself will not only help you stay calm during this difficult time, it will help ensure that you have the bandwidth you need to take good care of your family. When you’re running on fumes, caring for others can tax your already depleted resources to breaking point. But when you prioritize your needs, you’re filling the tank, emotionally and physically, and that means you’ll be in a position to offer comfort and care to others when they need it most.