Articles of Interest

Self-Care for Parents

By Kelly McClennen, ASN, Nurse

Self-care for parents may sound like a contradiction in terms, and unfortunately, for many of us, it is. We know what it is like as parents – the laundry never ends, someone can’t find a shoe, dinner doesn’t cook itself, etc. When we spend most of our time taking care of others, taking care of ourselves becomes an afterthought.

However, neglecting our own self-care can eventually manifest itself into a variety of physical, emotional, or relational symptoms. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to be able to keep taking care of others.

Taking steps towards better self-care doesn’t require dramatic changes. Small, consistent steps have been shown to lead to longer lasting results. There are many simple ways that we can care for ourselves.

Have Fun – Participating in activities that you enjoy is good for you for multiple reasons. When we are operating in a state of chronic stress, it is not uncommon to get stuck in the “Fight or Flight” state. Participating in enjoyable activities lets your body know that it’s ok to relax. Having fun lowers your level of stress hormones, releases serotonin, and boosts your energy level.

Get Enough Sleep – When the “To-Do” list is never-ending, sleep is frequently the first area that suffers. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep on a consistent basis. Insufficient amounts of sleep stimulate an increase in stress hormones, which then makes it harder to sleep again the next night.

Eat Well – Eating healthy foods has a multitude of benefits. Physically, it helps us by providing more energy and improving our immune systems. Making healthy food choices also helps to prevent future medical issues, like heart disease or diabetes. Healthy food choices can also help us to be happier and can help to make our moods more stable.

Get Outside – Whether you are taking a walk or working in your garden, just being outside is beneficial in many ways. There have been multiple research studies that have shown that spending time outside improves our immune system and lowers our blood pressure. These improvements can last for days afterwards. Being out in nature has been shown to reduce depression and help people to have a more positive outlook.

Mindfulness – Mindfulness is developing awareness of ourselves and everything around us. In our busy, multitasking world, that is not always how we operate. Mindfulness can be practiced in a variety of ways such as meditation or breathing exercises. Like the rest of the items on this list, the more often you participate in it, the more benefits you will experience.

Minimize Social Media – You don’t need to eliminate social media completely, but take a look at how much time you spend on it each day. The average adult spends 109 minutes per day on social media. What could you do with that time back?

Social media is also having an impact on our relationships and how we interact with others. We have more frequent interactions online, but the connections are not as deep as a one-on-one conversation. Social media can also have subtle effects on our self-perceptions. No one’s life looks like it does on Facebook or through an Instagram filter, but viewing other people’s posts can still create the feeling that you should be “doing more” or doing something “better.”

Exercise – Of course exercise is an important part of caring for ourselves. Regular exercise can help you to stay healthy by maintaining a healthy weight and being stronger. Exercising now can also have future benefits by helping you to prevent health issues like high blood pressure or diabetes. Additionally, regular exercise can help to boost your energy level and to improve your mood. Exercising for 30 minutes per day is the usual recommendation for most people, but 10 minutes of exercise, three times a day can still be helpful.

Laugh – Remember the last time that you had a deep belly laugh so hard that you had to catch your breath afterwards? Remember how relaxed you felt? Laughter can help your body to relax for up to 45 minutes. Laughing also increases your immune system and releases endorphins (our natural “feel good chemicals”).

Say “No” – Setting boundaries and advocating for yourself is not easy and may not feel like a natural thing to do. It may feel very uncomfortable to say “no” to a request, but it probably won’t feel as uncomfortable as joining a committee that you don’t have any interest in or baking four dozen cupcakes by tomorrow morning.

All of these steps are helpful and important, but whichever ones you choose, the most important factor is consistency. Changing long-standing patterns is never easy, but don’t give up. Decide what refreshes and nurtures you and make that a regularly scheduled priority. Don’t wait to do it until you “have time” or you will never have the time.