Being a parent brings inexpressible joy. But being a parent is also a lot of work.
A study in the US shows that mothers work an average of 98 hours per week. In Australia, the Australian Institute of Family Studies’ research puts that number at about 77 hours per week for mums and 75 hours per week for dads. While a bit lower, that’s still the equivalent of about two full time jobs.
This massive workload often means that taking care of yourself becomes the last job on the list. Unfortunately, failing to take care of you can start a downward spiral that causes you to become overworked and exhausted. And that can have negative repercussions for the entire family.
Negative Effects of Overwork and Exhaustion
When parents are overworked, exhausted and unable to care for themselves, they can experience burnout effects. These can include depersonalisation (where you have feelings of dissociation, or separation, from yourself or your surroundings), emotional exhaustion and increased stress perception (where your stress levels negatively affect your health).
These effects extend to the family as well. Parents who are burnt out have less patience, energy and enthusiasm to spread to their children and partners.
Managing Your Own Self-Care
Here are a few self-care strategies for parents. Even if you find yourself resistant to the idea of ‘self-care’, research shows that we can learn to embrace it. So, give it a try and experiment with the strategies to see which ones work best for you.
Take a walk
Exercise is an excellent way to energise both your body and your mind. If you have an exercise program you enjoy, great – keep it up! If not, you don’t have to join the gym and do intense workouts – taking a walk is a fantastic way to participate in self-care. Bring the kids in the pram or on their scooters, or get out on your own when your partner is with the kids.
Get out in nature
Spending time in nature is great for your psychological wellbeing. Take an early morning hike, if you can. Or take the kids to the park after school. Even sitting out in the garden will help you reset your mind and feel rested and relaxed.
Research shows there are an incredible amount of health benefits associated with meditation. These include stress reduction, decreased anxiety and decreased depression among others. And practicing meditation has never been easier. There are a great variety of apps, websites and audio files that can walk you through the steps of meditation and help you calm your body and mind.
Spend a few minutes alone
Spending a few minutes alone, even if it’s only five minutes a day, is a great way to unwind. Embrace the couple of minutes you get when your child takes a nap or when you’re waiting in the school pick up line. Or have a friend or family member look after the kids for a few minutes. Give yourself permission to recharge with a little alone time.
Spend time with family and friends
Social connections are vital for our wellbeing. It can be hard to carve out the time to see family and friends, particularly if they don’t also have kids. But scheduling a social activity for yourself not only gives you something to look forward to (which is a great feeling), it also gives your wellbeing a big boost.
Eat an apple
Sometimes the most basic elements of self-care are the easiest to forget. And this includes eating a healthy diet. Healthy food gives you energy. When you’re feeling exhausted, take a minute and eat an apple or a handful of blueberries. Or cut up some veggies to have with hummus. You’ll feel energised and better able to accomplish everything you need to do.
Take a catnap
Just like healthy eating, getting enough rest is another basic element of self-care that we can sometimes push to the side. But getting enough rest is important to feeling good.
Research shows that inadequate sleep can lead to mood disorders and even loneliness. And for parents who don’t get enough sleep during the night, daytime naps can improve alertness and motor performance, leaving you feeling better.
Check off something on your to-do list
Do a single chore or job that’s been on your list. You could empty one drawer, wipe down the kitchen bench or give away one bag of clothes. Congratulate yourself for completing it. Checking something off your to-do list that has been bothering you can free up a lot of mental energy.
Veg out on the couch
Sometimes the best self-care is to do pretty much nothing at all. Get a comfy blanket, cuddle up on the couch and watch a couple episodes of your favourite show. If your kids are around, find something you can all enjoy together. Try not to worry about all the things you aren’t doing, and just focus on being in the moment.
At the end of the day, it’s essential that you care for yourself first before you care for anyone else. It’s important for your own wellbeing and happiness of course, but also any effort you put into self-care will have huge payoffs for your children.
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network and Counselling Psychologist.
Please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our Clinicians; or send us an Appointment Request here via our website and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you.