During these uncertain times, it may feel daunting and worrying coping with yet another lockdown. Our daily lives have been disrupted, we are unsure what tomorrow will bring, and the constant news and social media coverage on the Covid-19 pandemic doesn’t seem to help.
As such, self-care is essential, especially during these unprecedented times. Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. However, for many parents, self-care is often placed at the bottom of the list. Yet, self-care isn’t a luxury, it’s essential.
Parenting is inherently selfless behaviour. As a parent, every day you try to make your child’s life better. When you are already giving so much, it’s not selfish to look out for yourself as well.
Reframing what self-care is and isn’t, may be helpful. For instance, self-care is not a selfish act. Self-care is not only about considering our own needs; it is rather about knowing what we need, in order to take care of ourselves and being subsequently able to take care of others as well. That is, “if I don’t take care of myself, I won’t be in a place to give to my loved ones either”.
Making a conscious decision to care for yourself will not only benefit you, but will also help your entire family. Studies show that self-care is linked to improved mood and reduced anxiety, which can make parenting easier.
The following are a few tips to give yourself the care and love you deserve.
1. Make time for yourself
Be intentional about creating space to recharge and decompress. Pre-pandemic life naturally facilitated personal time as this was integrated in our daily routines, i.e., commutes to work, alone time at home [children at school], or dinner with your partner at a restaurant. With a lockdown this is not possible. Hence, it’s important to schedule “me-time” in your daily routine. This can include mindfully taking a bath or shower, going for a walk around your house, designating time to read or meditate, or simply zoning out after the children have gone to bed.
2. Adopt a healthy living attitude
This helps to build your immune system, reduce emotional vulnerability and manage stress more effectively. A healthy living attitude may include eating properly, getting enough sleep (not too much) and creating a routine that involves physical activity. This does not mean post-lockdown you have to be a model or bodybuilder. Instead, it means being thoughtful and intentional about how you are treating yourself and your body. Small consistent changes make a huge difference. This may include a short walk, yoga, 10-minute workouts courtesy YouTube, stretching exercises or anything that facilitates movement.
“Low” mood often results in reduced appetite and comfort eating, which feels good in the short term but in the long term makes you feel worse. Be mindful of balanced eating; incorporating vegetables, fruit and water, while reducing processed foods, sugars and caffeine. Small changes may also be choosing to go to bed a little earlier than usual, which reduces stress and helps you to feel more relaxed and resilient.
3. Setting boundaries
Given the collective uncertainty and worry floating around it is quite easy to absorb other people’s fears and concerns without being conscious of doing so. Try practising emotional distancing from persons who are likely to send you worst-case scenario news or anxiety-provoking articles. Let them know you are taking a break from worrying news and will reconnect when you are calmer. You can also filter your social media feed to control what you want to see. Creating a “no list” may also help with boundaries. This will include things that you don’t like or no longer want to do. For instance, not checking e-mails at night, finishing work from home at a set time, or not answering your phone during lunch/dinner.
4. Practise self-compassion and gratitude
When you are having a rough day and struggling, remember to treat yourself like your best friend and be kind to yourself. Self-compassion helps build your resilience to challenging situations. Remind yourself that these are unprecedented times, and that you are doing your best during a difficult time. Avoid burnout and frustration by setting realistic expectations and give yourself grace if you can’t meet them.
Practising gratitude consistently helps to train your mind to focus on the positive aspects of your life. Like any new practice, it takes time to see the benefits, so just keep trying. For starters, list three things that you are grateful for every night before going to bed. Research in positive psychology shows that gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater levels of happiness.
5. Reconnect with things you enjoy
Reconnecting with pleasurable or enjoyable activities is a good way to practise self-care. This means finding hobbies or interests you enjoy, or starting to learn a new skill. These can include learning to crochet or knit, baking bread, making pizza, doing an online dance class, crafting or scrapbooking. Think of solo activities and home activities you can do with your support bubble, such as movie nights, themed cooking nights, or games night.
Remember, self-care gives you the bandwidth that you need to care for yourself and your family. When you’re prioritising your needs, you’re filling your cup, emotionally and physically, which places you in a position to care and be present for others when they need it most. As the saying goes “you can’t pour from an empty cup”.