As moms and dads, we pamper our little ones nearly every day. C’mon, when was the last time you had a nighttime routine that included a bubble bath, massage, singing, storytime, and someone to tuck you in? We love our babies and would do ANYTHING for them (like go a week without showering...oops), but parents need a little TLC, too. Self-care can be tricky, especially when we’re strapped for time, energy, and emotional bandwidth. Oftentimes, taking care of your mental and emotional health looks less like a weekend getaway and more like finding small moments in your day to check in with YOU. Here are ten ways to get started.
1. Use Your Words.
When you’re a parent, some days are going to suck. You feel incapable. You see families on social media and envy how well-rested and put together they look. You regret not being able to do “more” for your kiddo. The next time you’re frustrated, stop and listen to that inner voice in your head (that is, if you can hear it over your baby’s wailing!). How do you talk to yourself when the going gets tough? Are you critical, resentful, uncertain, positive, or a mixed bag? The more we choose self-compassion over judgement, the more resilient we become in times of stress. Give yourself permission to pause and listen in. Acknowledge how you’re feeling, let yourself feel it, and if that voice inside is giving you a hard time, tell it to back off -- because you are doing great, and everything will be OK. :)
Try It Out: Practice reframing your negative thoughts. Instead of “I’m the worst parent,” tell yourself “I am doing the best I can right now.” Instead of “I can’t do this anymore,” try “This is challenging, but I am capable.” Think of some positive reframes that will resonate with you.
2. Give Yourself a Time Out.
Technology is a beautiful thing that has made parenthood so. much. easier. (God bless you, food and grocery delivery apps!) But technology also has its downsides. Most of us are addicted to our devices and all that doomscrolling can create a lot of inner “noise,” anxiety, and even feelings of isolation. Sometimes, self-care looks like setting down your cell phone, turning off your computer, and stepping away so you can stop missing out on the life that’s happening around you. When we impose regular “technology timeouts” on ourselves, we can finally experience the peace and quiet we’ve been longing for!
Try It Out: Add in a mini technology break per day -- like the first ten minutes after your tot goes down for their nap. And while you’re device-less, head outside for some quiet time. Your mind needs the solitude and your body will thank you for the hit of vitamin D.
3. Breathe Like a Baby.
Believe it or not, your newborn can teach (or, rather, re-teach) you how to breathe! Notice how their little bellies expand when they inhale and contract when they exhale? This kind of slow and steady breathing is aptly called “belly breathing.” As adults, especially when we’re tired, busy, and overwhelmed we tend to take quick shallow breaths without even thinking, making us feel more anxious and out of control. When we pay attention to the air going in and out of our lungs, and purposefully slow down, it helps to calm our nervous system and relax the tension in our bodies.
Try It Out: There are so many meditation apps available that can help you be more mindful of your breathing. Or, if you need one less reason to be on your device, practice the box breath method: breathe in for six counts, hold your breath for six counts, exhale for six counts, and repeat.
4. Make The Cut.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a massive list of responsibilities, think of one or two (or three) things you can remove from your schedule. When you’re a parent, saying “no” to certain obligations is a way of saying “yes” to yourself (and your sanity).
Try It Out: If household tasks are weighing you down, maybe it’s time to redelegate or outsource the chores. Remember that kiddos are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. Is yours old enough to put their toys away (maybe with a little prompting), or sort the laundry? If your budget allows, hire someone to mow your lawn, clean your house, or pick up your groceries, and spend all that free time doing something for you! ;)
5. Be Flexible.
Kids take a major toll on our bodies. We hunch, we bend, we slouch, we carry tension everywhere. If your body’s been extra achy, first ask your partner for a shoulder rub (duh!), then consider moving with a little more intention. When holding or picking up your baby try to keep your spine straight and engage your core and leg muscles (instead of your back). And whenever you’re hands-free, slip in some stretches to undo some of the damage.
Try It Out: For quick, beginner routines, check out Yoga with Adriene (plus, check out this fun video if you want to involve your kiddo). If your budget allows, consider visiting a chiropractor or physical therapist for a tune up.
6. Do your chores.
Kids and clutter are synonymous, but sometimes a good cleaning spree is just the ticket for a clearer head. It can be therapeutic to organize a messy closet, vacuum, or find items to donate. Once you tackle a project, you’ll feel super satisfied. Just make sure you’re cool with the fact that things won’t stay clean for long...you live with tiny humans, after all.
Try It Out: If you barely have ten minutes to spare, be less ambitious with your cleaning goals! Aim to accomplish just a couple *tiny* tasks a day, like doing one load of laundry or taking three minutes to unload the dishwasher every evening before bedtime.
7. Get Back to Basics.
Being thirsty, hungry, or hangry makes everything worse. When you’re busy feeding little mouths, it’s all too easy to forget about your own. Sometimes self-care means making sure you (yes, YOU!) are getting the proper nutrition you need to thrive. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just focus on drinking plenty of water (maybe with ice and a slice of lemon to make it more appealing) and eating nutrient-dense foods with every meal.
Try It Out: On your next trip to the grocery store, stock up on healthy snacks (hummus and granola bars with simple ingredients), fresh produce (most stores sell pre-chopped veggies that are ready to devour), and some healthy fats (like avocado that you can put on anything from toast to eggs). As you take care of yourself by prioritizing food and water, see if you notice a positive difference in your energy levels and stamina!
8. Ask and Receive.
Sometimes one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves is to ASK FOR HELP. No one expects you to do this child-raising thing all on your own. So if that means calling a trusted friend to see if they’d hold the baby or hiring a professional babysitter so you can go for a walk...what are you waiting for?! There are people in your life and community who want to be there for you, if only you’d advocate for yourself and your needs!
Try It Out: Rather than waiting until you’re desperate for a break, and then scrambling to think of someone to call, plan ahead! Pre-arrange some support for the coming week so you can rest assured that help is on the way!
9. Check It Off.
There’s something therapeutic about making a list, whether it’s a to-do list, a “worry list,” or a gratitude list. Writing anything and everything down on paper gets it off our minds and makes it easier to remember. Plus, who doesn’t love crossing things out and feeling super accomplished?
Try It Out: End each day with a brain dump. And remember, these lists are supposed to relieve stress, not add to it. So go easy on yourself -- when you're a parent to littles, it’s normal to only accomplish one or two things a day. C’mon, you kept you and your child alive today and that’s the biggest accomplishment of them all! ;)
10. Elevate Your Errands.
While it might *feel* like a luxury, making a run to the grocery store solo is still a chore. To make it special, plan to punctuate the trip with something that’s truly for you and you alone. Consistently making time and space for yourself, even in the smallest of ways, can help avoid burnout.
Try It Out: The next time you’re off to an appointment or running errands, find a way to treat yourself! Grab a coffee beforehand, catch up on a podcast, or stop by your favorite park for a quick nature walk. If you’re really strapped for time, buy yourself something special at the store -- just because!
Bonus Tip: Laugh. A Lot.
Sometimes all you can do is laugh at the chaos. And laughing is great self-care because it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormone levels, triggers endorphins (chemicals your body releases to relieve stress and pain), and more. Amazing, right?
Want to know the best thing about practicing self-care? When we consistently make time for our needs, it teaches our kiddos to do the same for themselves. Win, win!
As a busy parent, how do you find time for yourself? Let us know in the comments to inspire others in our community!
P.S. Check out our other blog post, "Self-Care is Much Easier (& More Important) Than You Think: Advice from Dr. Chung." It's a real eye-opener of a video with great advice!