The term “self-care” gets casually thrown around all the time. Overwhelmed at work? You need self-care. Kids stressing you out? Engage in self-care. Problems in your marriage? Self-care. Feeling down? Self-care. For some people, the term itself may sound abrasive, almost like an accusation that you’re not doing enough. As a parent, finding time for self-care is no easy feat, and our best intentions for making space are often overruled by temper tantrums, needing to get dinner on the table, and bedtime routines.
All that said, the value of self-care is immeasurable. You know when you get on an airplane, and the flight attendant says, “In case of emergency, put the oxygen mask on yourself before you assist others?” There is true sagacity in this guidance. You can’t be there to help your kids, your spouse, your parents, your coworkers, your friends, etc., etc., etc., if you can’t breathe. But self-care does not have to be a hard-fought endeavor. There are ways to tend to your needs that don’t require immense amounts of time, money, and, most importantly, stress!
The key to self-care is to practice it mindfully – meaning that you stay present in the moment. When you are taking time for yourself, your mind may wander to think about all the things you have to do today or how worried you are about the staff meeting tomorrow. That’s okay. Just notice that your mind drifted, then try to bring it back to what you’re doing. It takes practice, but it gets easier. Read on for some simple guidelines to build mindfulness into your daily dose of self-care:
Quality Over Quantity
If you’re able to get away for a spa day or take a 90-minute spin class, that’s awesome. Good for you! But for many of us, that kind of time for ourselves is just a pipe dream. That’s okay! What matters more than the amount of time you can give to yourself is how you use the time you have.
I encourage parents to be creative about how they use the time they already have for themselves. For example, taking a shower. Even if you don’t have time to take a shower every day, or your shower is only five minutes long with a crying toddler banging on the door the whole time, you can make that time count by mindfully engaging all of your senses:
- Watch the stream of the waterfall coming out of the showerhead. Notice how thick or thin the stream is, what color the water appears, how it splashes on the ground below you, what water beads look like as they accumulate on your skin.
- Listen to the sound of the water pouring down, the squishy sound of soap as you lather it in your hands, the sound your feet make as they slide along the floor.
- Buy shampoo with your favorite scent. Inhale deeply as you lather and let the smell coat your nostrils. Pay attention to what feelings come up – the sense of smell is very closely associated with memory and emotions!
- Taste the water as it streams past your mouth. What does it taste like? What does the temperature feel like? What is the texture like?
- Feel the slipperiness of the water on your skin. Feel how soap changes from smooth to bubbly as you rub it between your fingers. Pay attention to the sensation of shampoo running from the top of your head, down your back, between your toes, and off your skin.
You might be surprised how many daily activities can be transformed into moments of self-care with intentional practice. Even washing the dishes or folding laundry can become a grounding time for yourself to focus on how these activities engage all five senses.
So often, when we do get alone time, we want to zone out. How many times have you sat down to an episode of television at the end of a long day only to realize 22 minutes flew by and you can’t remember anything that happened? It may seem desirable to zone out, but we get so much more out of zoning in. Meaning engaging with that moment. If you’re watching a comedy, notice what it feels like when your body erupts in laughter. If you’re watching something sad, attend to the changes it evokes in your body and state of mind. Even if you feel too exhausted to actively stay present, notice that feeling and honor where your body is in that moment.
This may sound simple, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with a parent for a 2:00 pm session and noticed they looked pale and tired, only to have them realize they haven’t had anything to eat or drink all day. Sometimes we get so caught up in everybody else’s needs that we completely forget to think about our own. It’s okay. You are doing your best. But just like that oxygen mask on an airplane, you won’t be able to tend to other people’s needs if you don’t meet your basic ones first. Sure, there may be days when you don’t have time to sit down for breakfast. But you can plan ahead by always having snacks in your bag – such as a granola bar, some trail mix, a packet of peanut butter, a couple of clementines – anything quick, portable, and ideally filling! It’s also essential to make sure you carry a bottle of water with you. It would be way more disruptive to end up hospitalized for dehydration than to stop and take a sip of water every once in a while!
Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce stress, improve mood, and even increase productivity. If the above suggestions feel confusing or challenging to implement, you may want to start with something more guided. A quick YouTube search for “mindfulness meditation” will give you a selection of guided meditations of differing lengths of time – some are 1-2 minutes, some 5-10, some up to 30, depending on what works for you. The app Headspace also has a great selection of guided mindfulness tapes to get you going.
Whatever you do to engage in self-care, remind yourself that you are not just indulging yourself. Making the space for self-nourishment is not only self-serving; it serves your entire family because it means you will have the mental and physical energy to continue to be there for them, too. It’s also a great way to model for your children that everybody must take care of themselves! You need to have your own needs met, and you deserve to take some time for yourself. Happy self-caring!