Too often, parents let their own care fall by the wayside in favor of their kids'. The cliché of the frazzled, over-giving, selfless mom exists because it’s often true. And it makes sense; it’s easy to put nearly everything else before our own mental and physical health. (I know this all too well — I gave myself stress-induced shingles as a work-from-home mom of two preschoolers.) But it’s important for parents of all genders to slow down and take a moment to recharge and regain sanity. But where do you even begin to try and find a little quiet in the chaos?
We’ve rounded up easy tips from self-care experts on how to take care of yourself in manageable ways. Therapist Megan Costello has some great ideas, trainer Amy Kiser Schemper has quick workout pointers (and a valuable reminder), and meditation expert Light Watkins (author of Bliss More: How to Succeed in Meditation Without Really Trying) has great tips for mindfulness.
Have you ever heard of float therapy? If not, you’re not alone — but this water-based treatment is a growing trend. “Float therapy is an interesting and unexpected method of self-care,” says therapist Costello, who particularly recommends it for those already practicing mindfulness meditation. “Sensory deprivation can be transformative when combined with techniques like mindfulness and progressive muscle relaxation,” she explains. So what’s involved, and how does it help? First, you'll enter a "float pod" or tank filled with warm saltwater, meant to create a feeling of weightlessness. “When you get in the tank, breathe and notice where you hold body tension,” advises Costello. “Practice releasing the muscle tension using breathing and visualization. Continue those techniques daily to reduce overall body tension.” Sounds great, right? Get on in and float.
"More and more, I find that parents are struggling with two key areas of self-care,” says Costello. One of those areas is "in time," meaning essentially self-reflection and time spent attending to internal states. The other is connection, aka friendships. Making friends with whom you can share your daily trials and tribulations is so important — for all of us, but especially parents. “Maternal rates of depression and anxiety are lower in mothers who report close friendships and strong community connections,” says Costello. Pretty good motivation, right? And lower rates of depression and anxiety aren’t the only benefits to mom friends. “Women who have close friendships and communities become more empathic, supportive and well-adjusted parents.” Read more on how to find your tribe here.
When it comes to getting in a little bit of me-time, technology can be your friend. Apps and tech make it much easier to incorporate daily mindfulness, journaling, meditation or even prayer, says Costello. She recommends setting a reminder or using an app to prompt you through meditations, devotions, etc. “Choose one activity to do mindfully — showering, walking, even folding the laundry can become self-care if you are focused on using that opportunity to practice mindfulness.” And so can "forest bathing."
Apps or not, meditation is great self-care. It can even counteract the lack of rest so many new parents experience, says meditation expert Watkins. But if you’re unsure of where to start, have no fear. It doesn’t have to be daunting. “Meditation, when properly understood, takes no more effort than scrolling through social media or watching television,” she says. “So if people can make time for that, they will happily make the time for meditation. The important thing is to understand how to meditate with ease first.” And how does one meditate with ease? “The techniques for newbies are the same as those for experienced meditators,” Watkins explains. “Be E.A.S.Y. (embrace, accept, surrender, yield) with your thoughts — don’t resist or fight them — and you'll find the experiences to be much smoother and more enjoyable than ever before."
To make time for yourself, take turns with child care, advises Watkins. “Form mom-meditation groups where you’re together with a group of other parents, and take turns meditating while one mom watches the toddlers. This way, you know your child is safe, and that will allow you experience more settled mind experiences.” And you don’t have to use that child care rotation just for meditation: Get your nails done, go to the library — whatever makes you feel like you for a little while. It takes a village, right?
Most of us know exercise is amazing self-care, but it can be tough to find time to “officially” work out. But every little bit counts, says trainer Kiser Schemper. “Finding a quick YouTube video to do at home, doing five minutes of stretching when you wake up or before bed, turning up the music and having a dance party with your kids — it all adds up!” And you can improvise with moves here and there, she notes. “Exercise doesn't have to mean driving to gym, taking a class and getting home two hours later — it can be doing a few squats or lunges while your push your kids in a swing or push-ups on the countertop while you make dinner.” Or yoga with kids, anyone?
Kiser Schemper says her biggest tip for moms is just a reminder that “taking care of themselves isn't selfish; it's one of the most selfless things they can do for their kids.” Sometimes that’s hard to realize, but it’s true. “Often, we talk about self-care as ‘Taking time for you’ and ‘Doing something just for you,’" she explains, "which makes us feel like it's a selfish thing, when it's the opposite. Being the healthiest version of ourselves is the best thing we can do for our families.” And at the end of the day, that’s what parents and kids want.
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