Finding time for self-care

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It is that time of year again. The holidays are approaching, which for many families brings added financial and emotional stress and a whole new array of demands on our time. All of a sudden calendars become crowded with winter concerts and recitals, work luncheons, gift exchanges, baking swaps, family get togethers and other social commitments. The days are shorter, darker and – here on the West coast – wetter, meaning a lot more time spent cooped up inside with kids that may be bouncing off the walls. Colds and flus are running rampant through daycares, playgroups, schools, workplaces, and, of course, our homes (when you are a parent, there is no such thing as a sick day!). Seasonal stress can have negative mental and physical effects on our bodies and our minds and combined with the everyday work of taking care of a family – big or small – it is enough to push even the most together and organized parent towards the brink of parental burnout. The last thing you probably think you have time for is taking care of yourself and recharging your drained batteries; it may even seem selfish. However, it is times like these, when we feel we don’t have a moment to spare, that making the time for self-care becomes especially important. It may end up being the best gift you can give yourself and your family.

Self-care can mean different things to different people. It can involve meeting your basic needs like eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep. And, especially if you are a new parent, even managing those ‘simple’ things may take some serious effort. But, self-care can also mean making space in your life for doing things you really enjoy. Think back to that time before you had kids – what kinds of things made your heart sing? It can mean taking a walk in nature minus kids, sitting in a coffee shop with a good friend, taking a class, learning to play an instrument, going to a movie or dinner by yourself, spending time with your partner one-on-one, curling up with a good book, or even just spending an extra 15 minutes in the shower. Many experts break self-care down into meeting one’s intellectual, spiritual, emotional/social and physical needs, but how those are defined will vary from person to person. Think about if you are meeting those needs in yourself, and if not, what can you do to renew yourself in each dimension?

Whatever you decide it means to you, it is important to make the commitment to yourself and to give your time for self-care the same priority you give to your time caring for others. Many people find it helpful to actually schedule it into their day planners or calendars. Another trick is to take those little chunks of time that present themselves to us through the day – during your commute, or when the kids are engaged in some independent play, or when it’s your partner’s turn to make dinner or bathe the baby – and ignore the little voice in your head that tells you you should be ‘doing something’. Instead, take that time to sing along (loudly) to the car radio, or read a trashy novel, or just put your feet up and relax. Some people like to set the alarm an hour before the kids usually get up and enjoy the morning calm with a cup of coffee or tea or go for a walk; others like to stay up an extra hour and enjoy a glass of wine and a TV show, movie, book or just cuddle with their partner. If you find yourself going through your days and weeks without any of those moments presenting themselves to you, remember that it is okay – and probably wise – to ask for help. Getting another adult to support you in making the time to take care of yourself – whether it is your partner, a parent, a friend or a neighbour – can go a long way in making sure it becomes a regular part of your routine.

While being a parent of young children often means that a week away at a yoga retreat, meditation seminar, or an all-inclusive, adults-only beach resort may not be in the cards, carving out some personal time and incorporating activities into your life that make you happy can help to relieve some of the stress and fatigue of parenting through the holidays. Not only can it make you a calmer, healthier person, it can help make you a better parent.

For more tips or information on how to incorporate self-care into your daily routine call or email Information Children.