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Please Don’t Drop the Self-Care Ball

Parents are by nature carers. We intuitively put the needs of our children first. After all, they depend on us.  In times of stress and uncertainty, the demands of everyday life for parents are magnified, and all the more so now during this long period of confinement and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our roles have changed and, as we work from home, we are left juggling many balls simultaneously. Many of us have had to adapt to new and somewhat daunting roles: caregiver, teacher, psychologist, cook, cleaner, peace-maker, jester,  and so on. In an effort not to let any of these balls fall, the easiest one to drop is in fact the most important one — the one that allows us to continue providing care. That ball is self-care.

Debra Danilewitz, our School Counsellor, in her latest blog, noted that practising self-care as a parent and prioritizing your own needs is critical, especially at this time. Without devoting attention to self-care, the ability to respond to the needs of others is compromised.  By honing self-care techniques, we become better able to cultivate the personal and professional resilience required to effectively manage the multiplicity of demands that have become our current reality.  

Psychologists note that with a focus of self-care, people  benefit from improved mood and reduced anxiety which, in turn, enables us to enjoy enhanced relationships. So the question for busy parents, who feel pulled in all directions, is “how do we care for ourselves?” 

The practice of self-care is essential to promoting our own emotional strength. In order to ensure that we make time for them, self-care routines need to be deliberate and planned, and embedded into our day through a block on the calendar. 

According to Agnes Wainman, a clinical psychologist in London, Ontario,  self-care is “something that refuels us, rather than takes from us.” She explains that self-care is not selfish: it is not only about considering our needs; it is rather about knowing what we need to do in order to take care of ourselves so that we are able to take care of others as well.

Much has been written about ways to implement a self-care mindset. Self-care liberates us and gives us permission to make choices that foster a sense of inner peace and balance between the frenetic and often chaotic arena of our home and that which makes us feel empowered and strong.

Here is a compilation of ideas that can help parents promote their own self-care. I hope you’ll try some of them and that they’ll have an impact on your sense of calm and coping:

Emotional

  • List and acknowledge all the things you are grateful for.
  • Create a personal “no” list, with things you know you don’t like or you no longer want to do. Examples might include: Not checking emails at night, not attending gatherings you don’t like, not answering your phone during lunch/dinner, or not forwarding chain messages from your best friend. It is empowering to set limits. 
  • Give yourself permission to let some things slide (like screen time limits or folding laundry, for example) to give yourself a break during this time at home. Temporary relaxation of these practices is not going to have a lasting impact on your child’s or family’s life!
  • Do at least one activity that you enjoy every day: watch a Netflix movie, listen to your favourite playlist on spotify, cook a tasty meal, arrange to meet a friend on Zoom or do a special activity with your child/partner/parent.
  • Seek out opportunities to laugh. One idea is to find some of the many Corona day parodies online. 
  • Don’t be reticent to ask for help. We are all in this together and being able to help makes others feel connected and valued. 
  • Block time during your work day for a meeting with “Spiderman” or “Wonderwoman” or any other favourite character: use that time to relax, have a cup of tea, do some stretches or go for a walk.
  • Limit the amount of COVID-19 news you watch. Being informed is good, over-saturation can create avoidable stress. 

Physical

  • Make your meals a time to be excited. Choose a nutritious, healthy diet incorporating a colourful variety of fruits and vegetables. 
  • Ensure that you get enough sleep. In order to function optimally, adults usually need 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Build time for regular exercise into your daily routine. When exercising, your body releases increased levels of serotonin which not only enhance your energy level, but also your sense of emotional and physical wellbeing.  Here is a short 8-min workout that you might enjoy.
  • Follow up with medical care. Call in to your doctor if you feel unwell. Reassurance will help reduce any anxiety about unfamiliar symptoms. 

Create Highlights

  • Stay connected to your friends, neighbours and loved ones. You can do this on Zoom or by distance visits outside now that the weather is warming up. Be sure to keep a safe distance at all times.
  • Celebrate special occasions ceremoniously: a drive-by caravan marks a birthday in an unforgettable way.
  • Lawn signs and window posters share messages of positivity and inspiration.
  • Pay it forward: drop off a small token gift for someone. “Care-mongering” brings joy to you and to them!
  • Keep a journal: this is a unique and unprecedented time and logging your responses to the evolving reality is cathartic now and will surely be fascinating to read later on.
  • Reflect on and acknowledge highlights of the day and give yourself a shout out for your success!

In conclusion, be generous to yourself: understand that some days will not work out the way you want them to, so it is okay to start again tomorrow. Sometimes, walking away, taking a break, doing something else, and starting again tomorrow is the most productive thing to do. Finding that place of kindness and compassion towards your own humanity is at the heart of a healthy self-care regimen. Stay safe and well!

Beverley Young
Principal, Himel Branch