Parenting can be one of the most rewarding, but also most demanding, jobs in the world. Juggling home and work life has always been a challenge. Over the past few months, however, the demands upon parents have reached a whole new level; juggling childcare and work has been one of the hardest aspects of the whole pandemic for many families.
Many also went into survival mode, trying to protect themselves and their family through an unprecedented public health crisis. For many of us, our own health, well-being and self-care were put on the backburner. “What self-care?” I hear you ask!
Children have now returned to school and although there have been mixed feelings for many, a lot of parents may be breathing a sigh of relief that FINALLY, they can focus on what they need to do and get it done. However, it isn’t just your work you should be thinking about.
The kids being back at school also offers an opportunity for parents and parents-to-be to put themselves, and their own health and wellbeing, back on the top of their agenda. Let’s face it, self-care for parents has never been so essential!
If you haven’t a clue where to start when it comes to self-care, or you’ve simply forgotten, don’t worry, because these things can be learned, and can develop into healthy habits. Research shows that people can be taught to embrace self-care strategies to minimise the effects of burnout, including symptoms like depersonalisation, emotional exhaustion, and stress perception. It’s also helpful to develop particular self-care habits so that your self-care becomes a normal and automatic part of your daily routine.
Tip 1: Recognise the importance of self-care
When it comes to coping with the very difficult global situation we find ourselves in right now, it’s important to think about finding ways to look after yourself. The effects of stress are well documented. We know that getting the basics right, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, good sleep and finding ways to reduce stress are all vital for your psychological and physical health and the health of your family. The long term effects of stress can be wide-reaching, so investing some time and energy in self-care shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, but as an essential part of preventing massive problems in the future and ultimately protecting your family, by looking after yourself.
Tip 2: Set new goals
The first step towards change of any sort is to establish what you actually want to achieve first. In this case, think about what a state of wellbeing looks like and feels like to you. Does it mean having some daily “me-time” or perhaps feeling happy with your weight or levels of fitness?
Establishing your ‘big-picture’ goal is key to then being able to break it down into its component parts so you can take daily actions of self-care to get yourself there. See the start of the new term as your chance to create a goal for yourself, and get clear about what that is.
Tip 3: Practice mindfulness for a few minutes everyday
Learning how to centre yourself and step away from the noise around you can be a great way to reduce stress and anxiety and learn that your thoughts are not who you are. Mindfulness is something you have to get into the habit of doing so that you become comfortable and at ease with it.
Take ten minutes a day to focus on your breath and the rise and fall of your inhalations and exhalations. By being present in the moment and allowing your thoughts to enter your mind and let them go will help build up the skill of having an important stress reduction technique up your sleeve whenever you need it.
Tip 4: Prioritise foods that are good for your body and mind
There is a lot of truth in the phrase “you are what you eat” because healthy nutrition has been linked to a range of health factors like mood, physical health, and emotional regulation. It’s important that self-care strategies and methods for caring for yourself include the practice of eating well. Batch cooking healthy meals can also be helpful as it helps you to feel prepared. The activity of cooking can also be therapeutic in itself, let alone the fact that you can cook healthier meals for you and the family.
Tip 5: Step outside for some exercise
Getting some daily exercise is one of the best self-care habits you can get into because there is a range of health benefits. Moderate exercise on a regular basis has also been shown to be as effective as anti-depressants for treating light to moderate depression, so the effects on your wellbeing and mental health that exercise can have shouldn’t be underestimated. Try building daily exercise into your routine, such as walking the kids to school. A handy trick is to park further away from school or work; having to walk further helps build a routine that gives you natural opportunities for exercise and exposure to nourishing environments.
You could also consider taking the kids to a green space after school, like a local park. Your self-care routine will model good healthy behaviour for your children, and also help keep the whole family active and focused on their wellbeing.
Tip 6: Establish a healthy routine
Self-care can mean different things to different people; for some, it may be about having time to read a good book, for others it may be doing a home workout. The best kind of self-care is that which comes instinctively and naturally and fits in with your daily life and all the demands upon you as a parent. That means creating new routines that naturally lead to an overall increase in self-care.
An example of this kind of habit could be tracking what you eat, increasing your daily consumption of fruit or vegetables, but decreasing junk and other unhealthy snacks. You can make this a routine by simply getting into the habit of logging what you eat and being more conscious of your decisions.
Tip 7: Connect with your support network
Now that the kids are back at school, you can actually spend time with friends and loved ones in person, especially those whose children are also back at school. We need our friends and support networks around us now more than ever before. Social support is one of the very best things you can increase as part of your self-care routine: it reduces stress, increases optimism, and also leads to practical help and encouragement when you need it.
Now you might have a little more free time, it’s the perfect opportunity to reconnect with others you haven’t seen as much over the past few months, or make new connections, especially with those who have similar goals to you so that you can support one another.
The magic is that both receiving support and giving support to others can have great benefits for your mental and physical health. We have all learned lessons through social distancing: we need to be close to one another to feel good. So now you have some time again, you can invest in your relationships, and ultimately, you’ll be investing in YOU!
Noom, behaviour change and psychology programme with expert psychologist Honey Langcaster-James