“You should really take care of yourself…” “Put your own oxygen mask on first…” We hear advice like this all the time, but many of us choose to dismiss it, or cringe, or rebel. What makes self-care such a turn-off?
I’ve been casually surveying parents of children who struggle (with anything that requires extra caregiving), and the number one reason they cite for not being into self-care is that it seems indulgent. Why take care of yourself when you have kids who need you? Besides, many of us feel like we can manage “for now”. Self-care is often associated with activities that require more time or money. Wouldn’t we all like to meditate 40 minutes a day, get frequent massages and take a long respite vacation?
Another reason parents are skeptical of self-care is that it seems like yet another item to add to their to-do list. Why add more to a list that’s already longer than your arm? It’s just more stress. “I already feel driven and distracted by my daughter’s needs,” said one mom.
The idea that self-care is something we really “should” be doing is a problem too. Practicing self-care means we’re not doing something else we “should” be doing, like reading up on special education advocacy or following up with that specialist. It adds to the guilt.
Then there are the rebels, who say they feel like eating cupcakes when they hear about self-care. Self-care is for other, precious people. What difference will it really make anyway?
Some parents tell me they’re just too exhausted to practice self-care. One mom said “If I stop racing around, I won’t be able to stand the pain of admitting where I am.”
It’s clear self-care has a perception problem.
I wish we had another term for it. Because self-care doesn’t have to be big, indulgent, effortful, expensive or time consuming. There are tiny tweaks we can make to our everyday habits to restore and revive. Maybe we should think of these adjustments as “micro-boosts”.
Here are three simple micro-boost ideas (in case you’re curious):
Draw boundaries. In our culture, we’re conditioned to be proud of our busy-ness. But we need to be realistic about what’s actually possible. Cut yourself some slack. It’s not human to be perfect. So how about giving yourself credit for what you did do today? Say “no thank you” to unnecessary undertakings that don’t fill your cup.
Treat yourself like a friend. The idea of self-compassion used to sound sappy to me, until I heard about the science behind it – and tried it. Being kind to yourself triggers oxytocin – the “love” hormone associated with trust and bonding – making you more relaxed, resourceful and creative. Try this mantra when times are tough: “This is hard. I’m doing my best.”
Grow grateful: Picture someone or something for whom / which you are grateful and try to absorb the feeling that thought imbues. One mom told me she was thankful for the pills that keep her son’s body functioning. Another was glad she didn’t have the flu. Gratitude, however small, renews appreciation and blocks negative emotions.
These are simple actions you can take any time, any place to pour some energy back into yourself. We all want to be calm, compassionate and resilient parents, and these steps can help. Self-care doesn’t have to be a “big” deal to be powerful.
What do you think about self-care?