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5 Self-Care Tips for Days When Parenting Gets Intense

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The #1 reason you don’t want to run out of gas.

You may have done it once or twice. Running out of gas is really inconvenient, right? So you see the importance of filling up, and you prioritize a trip to the gas station regularly. You know you need to refuel!

Many parents — especially those of us with more intense kids — feel that there’s simply no time for self-care. Some simply get out of the habit. We forget because we are doing all the things. It is like the gas station analogy. No one intends to run out of gas. It just wasn’t on the top of the list.

The #1 reason to move self-care to the top of your to-do list:

Neglecting our self-care needs, pushing through or numbing out can eventually lead to being less patient and understanding with our kids. Our kids are like the passengers in a car. They need us to remember to refuel.

Do you wonder how to make time for self-care?

Could you find a few minutes a day, if you knew that it would help your kid? I know that if I stopped scrolling, I could find a minute for a conscious breath. Below I’ll share five things I do when I need a quick infusion of energy.

There are things we can do to nourish ourselves that take very little time. The key is to label it as self-care and notice the benefits. You deserve to receive. It is important to acknowledge that and then do it. If it feels like just one more thing on your list at first, so be it. Tie it to something you already do every day and put reminders up where you will see them. Ask for help.

“Authentic self-care must be practiced bit by bit, with great determination. Of course, we need support from other people along the way.” –Gracy Obuchowicz, “Selfcarefully

I’m a meditation coach and inclusive yoga teacher, specializing in building resilience to stress and anxiety. I help parents find sustainable ways to nurture themselves and maintain emotional balance.

I’m also a parent who put myself through a lot of suffering during the early years with my intense kid. I wanted to be a good parent, and I thought that meant putting his needs first. I made him special meals but ate scraps off of his plate. I dragged us to playgroups when I was too tired to speak. Staying up late, I took on researching his quirky behaviors singlehandedly. The only consistent thing I was doing was putting myself last. I burned out.

Thankfully, I accidentally landed in therapy. I found a play therapist for my son. After scheduling his intake, I casually asked if the clinic also saw adults. They did! The therapist I saw reminded me how essential my own well-being is. I needed many reminders.

Once I returned to my self-care tools, however imperfectly, I was calmer. Then, I was able to parent my son with more ease and understanding.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time to change your self-care mindset. I’ve found that small wins are the key to creating a new habit, and celebrating those wins is the key to continuing that habit. The New York Times agrees: To Start a New Habit, Make It Easy by Tara Parker-Pope.

“When you’re burned out, you aren’t at your best… The antithesis of this burned-out feeling is engagement and a sense of positive energy and efficacy.” –Dr. Mark Bertin, “Mindful Parenting for ADHD

Even a tiny break can have great benefits. According to The Pandemic Is a ‘Mental Health Crisis’ for Parents by Jessica Grose in The New York Times, it is important to ask yourself what is realistic for you right now.

5 quick refuel tips for parents

It is important that you choose the activity yourself, you feel nourished by it, and you acknowledge that you are doing something nice for yourself. Do what you love. Find a ritual that you enjoy, and tie it to something else that is already a habit.

If you want some inspiration, here are my top five when I’m short on time:

1. Exercise for 5 minutes.

When I’m out of the habit of exercising, it is the last thing I want to do, but afterward, I have more energy and enthusiasm. I can buy into 5 minutes. Challenge your kid to a plank contest. Let them win. Get outside for fresh air.

“The biggest mood-boosting, stress-busting effects came from 5-minute doses of exercise… Everyone asks, ‘What kind of exercise is best?’ to which I respond, ‘What kind will you actually do?’” –Kelly McGonigal, “The Willpower Instinct

2. Breathe like you are fogging a mirror.

Watch the flow of your breath as it goes in and out. Imagine fogging a mirror with your slow exhale. You can breathe out through your mouth or nose, making a subtle sound. Let your breath come in through your nose naturally. Focus on the exhale. If you end up yawning, bonus!

3. Get a hug.

I know. So simple. Give and receive a hug, from someone who also wants one. You can DIY by wrapping your arms around yourself and squeezing, or rolling yourself up firmly in a blanket. Breathe it in, and be in the moment. Oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, is released when we hug.

4. Put your feet up.

Here’s my go-to restorative yoga pose for when I’m so exhausted that I can’t go on, but I have to. Set a timer for 3–5 minutes so you don’t have to check the clock. Find a wall, couch or chair. Lie on the floor and elevate your legs above your hips. Let them bend. Adjust the position until you’re really comfortable. Allow gravity to support you and blood flow to nourish your organs in this extremely gentle inversion. Roll to your side when the timer goes off, and take your time coming up.

5. Immerse in water.

I’m not talking about an unrealistically long bath, although I’ve been known to forego Netflix to sneak one in after bedtime.

You are going to shower anyway, right? Take a slightly longer shower and let yourself “soak it up.” Enjoy it. To give yourself an infusion of energy, try a cold finish: I take a regular hot shower, then turn off the hot for the last minute and rub my arms, legs, face and lower back under the icy stream. Alternatively, splash your face, temples or lower back and rub.

You deserve this, and so do your kids!

Caring parenting starts with self-care. Your emotional balance and sense of self are essential to the well-being of your whole family.

I just want to remind you that whatever you choose to do, it does not have to be a big deal. In fact, the simpler the self-care, the more sustainable it will be. Create a new habit and a new mindset. Start with something small that you can do often. Slip it into your current routine. Notice how you feel after practicing it. If you experience positive results, and welcome them, you’re more likely to form a new habit.

Your well-being is a valuable resource. It needs to be renewed. When you know how important something is, you are more likely to make time for it. How many times would you let your car run out of gas before committing to refuel it regularly?

Getty image by BRO Vector.

Originally published: June 8, 2021
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