Self-care seems to be all the rage these days, with magazines, blogs, and celebrities extolling the benefits of massages, week-long cleanses, and yoga retreats. And while these things are all amazing, they obviously aren’t very realistically attainable for most parents.
As parents, we are often given contradictory messaging about the importance of self-care contrasted with how much we should enjoy and savour every single moment of being with our families. But it’s important to remember that self-care isn’t selfish. Instead, think of the safety instructions on any airplane: You need to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help others.
About the author
Emily Gold is a yoga therapist and teacher, doula, and public health specialist. She is currently living abroad, in Brussels, Belgium.
While it can sometimes seem that self-care is unattainable or even an additional stressful thing on our to-do lists, it doesn’t need to be this way. Self-care can be defined as anything that makes you feel good in a generally healthy way. Here are some of my favourite parent-accessible ways to care for yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Anything that gets your heart rate up is good for you. This doesn’t need to be a two-hour trip to the gym. Doing just 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise can be great, and we’re living in a golden age of home fitness. YouTube is abound with Zumba and other training videos and there are even kid-friendly ones if your self-care still involves childcare. With that in mind, give yourself a break and know that your Zumba experience may not be exactly like what you see on the screen. And if your toddler has created an obstacle course through your Zumba path, like mine did this week, it still can be enjoyable. Once you’ve moved or danced, take a second and give yourself a pat on the back. Choosing to move brings great healing powers!
The importance of nature in caring for yourself can’t be understated. Studies have shown that time in nature has many mental and physical health benefits including lower rates of stress and better sleep. In fact, some doctors are even now prescribing outdoor time in nature. However, you don’t need to go for a weekend-long hike. You can consider an early-morning walk through a local park, or even down the street. If you have a backyard and the weather cooperates, taking a barefoot walk through the grass has additional mental and physical health benefits and can offer a feeling of groundedness.
Do some yoga
I know I’m biased here, but as a yoga therapist I’m a big believer in the power of yoga for self-care. One reason is the diversity of yoga. When I’m feeling low and rundown, I know a powerful yoga practice can help elevate my mood and energy. When I’m tired or need relaxation, I know the power of a restful practice. And when I’m in need of focused attention, I know I can turn to my meditation practice. You don’t need to be a yoga teacher to be able to do these practices. YouTube is abound with amazing yoga classes and apps such as InsightTimer and Calm offer meditation practices for all levels, including many under five minutes long. Plus, yoga can be a great family activity as well! Here are 6 great mood-boosting yoga poses you can do with your kids.
Take five minutes
If you are feeling too tired or overwhelmed to practice self-care, try giving yourself five minutes of movement! Even as a yoga teacher I sometimes feel like I have to drag myself to my mat. When I feel like this, I give myself five minutes (I even put a timer on) and start practicing. Every time, I keep going further. Five minutes of movement is almost always enough time to get our nervous system recalibrated out of a stress response. If after five minutes you really don’t want to be doing your activity anymore, you can just stop.
Remember, your self-care doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s
When and how you practice self-care is completely up to you. If you’re an introvert like me, you may need to carve out this time, waking up even 10 minutes earlier than your kiddos to practice something healing. Or you might like trying to do something healthy before bed like gratitude journaling or meditating. You may also find that your preferred method of self-care changes or evolves over time. I know personally while I typically enjoy slower yoga practices and meditation, I’ve been incorporating more power yoga and Zumba into my self-care. Your children can also be included in your self-care regimen. A healthier diet can be adopted by the whole family and many exercises can be practiced by adults and kids alike.
And sometimes getting things done IS self-care
We think of self-care as bubble baths, yoga, and smoothie bowls but sometimes getting the time to knock something off your to-do list is the best self-care. I’m not someone who generally enjoys cleaning, but when things get bad, I love having a few hours to fully clean out my space. And these days that may mean asking your partner to take main kid duty as you blast the music and clean the kitchen. There is no shame in chores being self-care if it makes you feel better. And it can often help your family! My husband’s preferred self-care is cooking, and trust me, we all benefit from a happy husband/dad and full tummies!
Self-care can also take the form of simply treating yourself kindly
This can be stepping away from social media or the news in a way that feels right for you. I’m a social media addict but recently, I’ve been leaving my phone downstairs at night. Until I make my way downstairs the next morning, I am free of Facebook, Instagram, email, and the news. This means that it isn’t the last thing I see at night, the first thing I see in the morning, or what keeps me up in the middle of the night. You can consider limiting social-media consumption by removing apps from your phone or timing your use. Another way to treat yourself with kindness is to keep a gratitude journal. Beginning or ending the day by reflecting on all you’re thankful for can be reassuring and uplifting, especially if you take the time to thank yourself for all you’ve done. You may also consider adopting a mantra, something simple like “I am enough” or “I’ve got this” to be repeated before bed, when you wake up, and whenever you face a particular challenge.
Finally, don’t forget the power of your breath
Sometimes one mindful breath can make all the difference in the world. I encourage you to try it right now. Take a deep breath into your belly and let it out slowly—4, 3, 2, 1. If that felt good, do it again! The breath is always in the present moment and if things are feeling overwhelming or unmanageable, coming back to the breath is a quick way to come back to yourself.
Taking care of yourself is essential. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Yet, as a parent, it can often feel like more of a chore than a treat. Thinking of self-care not as something that happens only when “everything else” gets done, but as an essential part of your day, and making it something that can be achieved with limited time and space, can make it more accessible.
Read more about self-care:
The science of self-care: How tiny habits make a big difference
How to fit self-care into your day, even when short on time
5 tips for parents who say “what is self-care?”